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Editions
August 09 Edition Cover

Seeking liveability and sustainability

31 May 2011

Seeking liveability and sustainability Image

Meg Holden, PhD, is Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Geography at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. She is currently in Melbourne as part of an international research project comparing sustainability plans and outcomes in urban waterfront redevelopment projects around the world.  She prepared this report especially for Docklands News readers.

Since the origins of the redevelopment of Melbourne’s Docklands, this area has been treated as a place apart from the established city.

At first, it was to constitute Melbourne’s Millennium Mark on the world. Later it was green living and its buildings were to demonstrate to the market environmental leadership and commercial viability. Now,

in its second decade, Docklands is to be about “people” and become a canvas for cultural prosperity.

It is worth asking why Docklands should be treated as a place apart from the rest of the City of Melbourne and, if it is someplace different, what kind of difference Docklands seeks to make. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Melbourne is the world’s second most liveable city. Being liveable is not the same as being sustainable, however.

For liveability to be sustainable long into the future, cities need to think about how they depend on other places and people to keep them afloat, and how prepared they are to cope with changes and challenges into the future. They need to take the long view as well as the wide view.

Currently outranking Melbourne as the world’s “most liveable city,” Vancouver, Canada is home to a waterfront redevelopment precinct facing a similar crisis of identity and disconnection from the city as Docklands.

The area is called Southeast False Creek, the first phase of which was completed to house the Olympic athletes visiting for the 2010 winter games. Docklands is almost six times larger in size than Southeast False Creek but, given that Docklands includes a much more substantial business development component (an anticipated 40-50 per cent mix with residential land uses), the projected residential capacity of the two sites is quite similar – upwards of 15,000 in the case of Docklands and up to 16,000 in the case of Southeast False Creek.

The built form of the residential component of both developments is similar, consisting primarily of medium and high-rise apartment buildings, closely interspersed with greenways, public transit, shops and services and featuring access to both a significant waterfront and a busy central city.

Southeast False Creek was held out as the last piece of inner city waterfront to be redeveloped in the post-industrial aesthetic, with access to the seawall and those million dollar views.

Southeast False Creek established high green living goals and is only the second community in North America to meet the demanding LEED Platinum Neighbourhood standard for green precinct development.

It was also intended to provide for unparalleled luxury urban living in order to attract new investment from around the world when “the eyes of the world” were on Vancouver during the Olympic Games. Here, the development ran into problems: the global financial crisis hit, the developer declared bankruptcy, the complement of buyers did not materialise and those who bought from the plan are now suing the City of Vancouver to get their money back.

Within their respective cities, Docklands and Southeast False Creek suffer from similar crises of identity.  It’s partially an image problem, partially a locational disadvantage, partially a historical problem, partially a problem of founder’s syndrome and the opportunity costs that come with taking a risk on a bold, new place. Together it is a bit of a mess.

Yet both neighbourhoods have significant opportunities. While Docklands may be the part of the city that Melburnians “love to hate,” many also grant that Docklands may well become the place to be in a decade’s time, once it has aged-in-place and has filled in its wind-swept plazas with interesting features and faces.

Big new pieces of city like these do not arrive, ready-made, as mirrors and extensions of liveable cities. But in time, with careful attention and consideration of the diversity of things we need to make our cities great, they can become integrated with their city and push it closer to sustainability, too.

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