The great CBD rip off

Editorial comment,
by Shane Scanlan

Melbourne CBD residents are being short-changed when it comes to community services.

About 40,000 people live within postcode 3000 and a further 6000 apartments are currently under construction.

The residential population will soon be 50,000 – the equivalent of a major country town – and yet there are practically zero community facilities and activities.

It’s as if the City of Melbourne believes that the buzz and vibrancy of the city is its own reward for residents. But it’s the residents’ presence in the first place which has created the buzz and vibrancy.

The council itself admits this.  Two years ago it hosted a self-congratulatory exhibition, Postcode 3000: A City Transformed?, which celebrated the achievement of returning residents to the central city.

Its promotional material said: “Today, Melbourne is internationally recognised as one of the world’s most liveable cities, with a vibrant, urbane downtown. There are many reasons for this dramatic turnaround but the return of residents to the downtown 21 years ago is generally acknowledged as a major contributing factor.”

The same promotion goes on to say that council staff had been the recipients of more than 120 local, national and international awards for their efforts.

Locals have rewarded the CBD in so many ways.  But there is nothing coming back.

The community facilities and activities are in the long-established residential suburbs to our north and west.  And it’s perhaps not surprising that this is where five of Melbourne’s six resident councillors live (the other five councillors don’t even live within the municipality).  No councillors live in the major residential growth areas of CBD, Southbank and Docklands.

Unlike the CBD, even Southbank and Docklands are starting to get long-overdue services.   The Boyd Community Centre in Southbank is a vibrant hub of community activity. Its Facebook page speaks of a range of offerings from “the mindful art of Integrative Qigong” to walking groups and art activities.

The Library at the Dock in Docklands lists 22 “live events” on its webpage – including table tennis, learning how to make string, the art of Japanese pickles and learning to knit with big needles.

These activities may not be to everyone’s taste but, the point is, nothing is being offered within the CBD where the residential population is exploding.  In the CBD, particularly, there is an even greater proportion of overseas-born residents who, you would reasonably expect, would be in even greater need of community services.

The City of Melbourne has done very well from its apartment-tower-fuelled growth.  Unlike fast-growing outer metropolitan councils, it has (relatively speaking) not had to fund new roads, street lighting or footpaths to house its new residents.

It likes to brag about its low rate increases. But an examination of its budgets shows that this is because of massive increases in the numbers of rateable properties and corresponding increases in revenue.

On the expenditure side of the ledger, it can be seen that staff are the people who are doing the best from the extra revenue.
The city’s website says community infrastructure projects are being conducted in Carlton, North Melbourne and Docklands.  It has completed projects in Kensington, Docklands, Southbank and Carlton.

Open space is rapidly diminishing from the CBD, often with the blessing of the City of Melbourne (the last two examples being in Little Collins St at the McKillop St intersection and at the Rialto site on the corner of Collins and King streets).

The council likes to engage in the intellectual exercises such as apartment design standards. But there is no awareness or interest in looking after the people who have  underpinned its recent financial success.

When it comes to the CBD, its “community” interests can be found in smoke-free zones, homelessness strategies, street violence and other macro issues.

This community is socially isolated, transient, foreign and very young.  Just because it is not protesting in the streets does not mean it should not be looked after.

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