One cliché often uttered when we’re faced with the heritage demolition is “well, that’s progress I guess …”, but is this statement really all that true?
Where do we find most of our city’s artist spaces, music venues, pop-up businesses and the meeting places – the elements that drive so much of the cultural and economic progress of the city? It’s in the idiosyncratic and malleable spaces created by layered heritage buildings and laneways.
Clearly Melbourne’s diverse built heritage plays an important role in nurturing social and cultural progress that wouldn’t exist in a city dominated by car park podiums and generic modern retail spaces.
But perhaps we mean progress to only mean the progressively higher bank balances of developers and certain kinds of economic growth? But even there, the retention of heritage alongside appropriate development provides unique selling points for developments and long-term value exceeding the potential short-term costs of retention and has been shown across the world to be a driver of economic growth and tourism.
The idea that a new building of whatever kind is inherently more progressive than an historic one seems to belong more in the misguided urbanism of the mid 20th century than in any true idea of progress.
Heritage preservation movements arose in similar circles to that of other progressive social movements in the late 20th century and most proponents of contemporary urbanism will tell you that nurturing a sense of community and scale with urban heritage and fine grain character is the best way to create good and liveable cities.
New developments and additions to our city also add other kinds of benefits, but for Melbourne to be a truly progressive city we need to champion development that’s more inclusive of heritage and ensure we don’t fall prey to progress dictated by short-term and often narrow conservative motifs.