March 27 2013

Mobile Activation: How Melbourne’s Food Vans Can Stimulate the City’s Disconnected Docklands Area

Melburnians pride themselves on their food culture, and they will go to any lengths to find good food. The city’s multicultural background, coupled with residents’ fascination with global gastronomy trends, has changed not only what city goers eat, but how neighbourhoods and streets are designed and function.

Local Workgoers and Foodies line up for a midweek lunch

Ethnic Restaurants in many established suburbs such as Coburg and Footscray are now “Instagramed” and frequented by ambitious gastronomes, whilst the agglomerations of bars and restaurants in the CBD’s once dimly lit and penurious laneways has changed the way they are perceived; for now, they contribute greatly to the city’s identity and image. Just as the city’s love of food has organically changed the urban design dynamics of the city, so has the new Docklands been an inorganic development that has struggled to engage with the lifestyles of Melburnians.

Docklands occupies Melbourne’s port district, and was opened as a new precinct for Melbourne in 2004. Planned to consist of a myriad of apartment towers, retail/commercial strips, and a sports arena (Etihaad Stadium), Docklands sparked a lot of developer interest but has struggled to activate engaging or sustainable public realms. Issues such as a giant Ferris wheel (akin to the London eye) that has been in construction for three years due to mechanical issues, large empty pedestrian links that make tumble weeds out of weekend goers that dare utilize them in the winter months, as well as a lack of green or recreational spaces in quantity and diversity of activities catered for have tainted the reputation of the precinct.

Visitors enjoying the space as well as the novelty of the Food Vans

In late 2011, Places Victoria (a Government Urban Renewal Authority) issued a tender for the installment of a temporary greenhouse and café project that would activate Harbour Esplanade. Hoping to ride the crest of the new trend of mobile dining in Melbourne, the installation of the greenhouse and food trucks were able to attract tourists and city folk alike to the area. The proud residents could now boast that they had a neighbourhood asset that wasn’t moulded by a developer. The project has established a model that future government or private entities can employ to activate the moribund sectors of Docklands by making small scale innovative entrepreneurial activity possible in a way that reflects and cultivates the city’s strengths. It is a form of public/private partnership that creates a win/win situation for many: it improves the image and “hipness” of the docklands, gets visitors used to going there, activates city space with an appropriate city use and so incrementally builds up its reputation, and, at the same time provides a jolt of economic activity.

Is the mindset of “build it and they will come” too often embedded in the minds of developers without adequate thought being given to the characteristics of a site? Or how the site may connect with the lifestyles of city residents?

Credits: Photographs by Steven Petsinis. Data linked to sources.

Steven Petsinis

Steven Petsinis is an Urban Planning graduate from Melbourne, Australia. He has been involved in Urban Research and Development projects in Medellin, Colombia and Saigon, Vietnam and is currently pursuing his masters in Melbourne, Australia. His main interests lie in land use and social planning, sustainability, as well as studies involving globalization and it's effect on third world communities. He has recently spent one year travelling throughout North and South America, as well as Europe, where he has gathered material and inspiration for his upcoming blogs for The Grid.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 at 9:43 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Social/Demographics, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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