By Meg Hill
On August 22 the state government released its recommendations from the review of Federation Square initiated last year and announced an upgrade to the square.
The review, which more than 1800 people participated in, found that Federation Square was valued as a place to experience arts and culture, to participate in exciting events and festivals, and to come together and celebrate as a community. Its recommendations and key initial actions included:
- Greater recognition and celebration of First Peoples culture and continuing connection to the site;
- Adoption of a community-driven vision emphasising Federation Square’s cultural and civic impact and the need to enliven the space with captivating experiences;
- A commitment to embrace the Yarra and better connect with the adjacent arts and sports precincts;
- Adherence to design principles and strategies to ensure any future physical changes “must aspire to match the quality of the original”, to be enabled in part by the creation of a design advisory board; and
- Incorporating Federation Square in the government’s creative industries portfolio alongside other cultural and civic icons such as National Gallery Victoria, Arts Centre Melbourne and State Library Victoria.
The Government said the accompanying upgrade was the biggest in the square’s history and encompassed a “new vision for the ironic site as a civic and cultural hub that embraces the Yarra and showcases the best of Victoria to locals and visitors”.
The upgrade will see $20 million injected into the Square from the Government’s Building Works stimulus program and include a new “immersive Regional Experience Centre showcasing the state’s best food and wine”.
Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley said Federation Square’s importance as a cultural and civic heart of Melbourne had grown this year.
“These things that were important to Victorians pre-COVID will be more critical than ever as we reconnect and recover as a community and rebuild our creative and visitor economies,” he said.
“Federation Square will continue to evolve as a dynamic cultural destination that reflects the best of Melbourne and our creative state.”
Citizens for Melbourne, who initiated the Our City, Our Square campaign last year in opposition to an Apple store proposal in the square, welcomed the review’s recommendation.
“The Fed Square review is a big step forward for public space in Melbourne,” president of Citizens for Melbourne Tania Davidge said.
“The review recognises that civic, cultural and community values – rather than commercial and corporate interests – must guide the future governance and use of Fed Square.”
“It’s fantastic that Fed Square has been brought into the Creative Industries portfolio, recognising its civic and cultural contribution to our state.”
“Fed Square will not be managed and valued as a public institution. We hope that this new arrangement will allow Fed Square to access the ongoing government funding it needs to ensure its future as our city’s town square.”
During the review process, the City of Melbourne had made a public bid for governance of the square – asking the State Government to consider a partnership with the Council.
But Chair of the Council’s Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio Cr Rohan Leppert said the recognition of the square’s civic and cultural space was the most important outcome.
“The City of Melbourne did put in a bid but that’s secondary I think,” he said.
“The main thing is making sure the government has the principles right for the future uses and management of Fed Square and I think they have.”
“Even though we don’t have all the details yet, the values and principles that have been articulated and putting Fed Square into the creative industries portfolio shows that the government understands that this is a civic and cultural space.”
“Who manages it, whether it’s the council or the state government, is secondary to that – the main thing is that the state finally agrees with the people of Melbourne and recognises the civic and cultural importance of the space.” •