By Dr Janette Corcoran
December is traditionally move-out-month in our vertical villages – but if the City of Melbourne has its way, we may see many more move-ins!
Few would have escaped noticing our many empty shop fronts, and the impacts of these vacancies are well known.
From a consumer perspective, many retail vacancies signal less choice and a duller shopping experience. And this negativity tends to feed upon itself – with people not going there because people aren’t there. Visual decay then follows, marked by closure signs, graffiti and litter. To halt this spiral, business associations and local councils often initiate “shop-front” programs, typically offering rent-free periods for artists or fledgling enterprises.
Regrettably, this is not the only high vacancy rate confronting the City of Melbourne.
Residential apartment vacancies are also worrying.
And while empty apartments may not be as obvious as empty shopfronts, apartment vacancies also bring spiralling impacts. For just as the shoppers’ experience dulls with retail vacancies, so too the residents’ experience suffers when apartment buildings empty. The absence of neighbours and associated reduced services promote a sense of isolation (“will anyone hear me scream?”). Additionally, large concentrations of vacancies bring financial stresses. Unpaid owners’ corporation fees lead to reductions in expenditure, with garden maintenance and minor repairs being early cutbacks. Over time, this signals vulnerability and becomes an unintended invitation to the unauthorised.
The good news is that the City of Melbourne is paying attention to our high residential vacancy rates and in their Bounce Back Event (October 21) announced a “Live Melbourne Campaign”.
While details are scant, it appears that the City of Melbourne will be promoting the advantages of living in the city – and likely this will centre around the benefits of being close to all that the city has to offer. While agreeing this aim, it is hoped that proximity is not the only feature promoted. Rather, it is hoped that, along with the benefits of location, that the Live Melbourne Campaign will promote our high-rise lifestyle and all this has to offer, including community. Indeed, and as has been highlighted by Residents 3000 (the residents’ association for Melbourne CBD), it has been the residents and their shared connections that have weathered COVID-19, stopping the inner city from becoming a real ghost town.
It is of importance, then, that the type of lived experience promoted by the campaign is a holistic residential experience, and not the more transactional short-stay experience. This would not be welcomed by the likes of We Live Here, nor by residents who want to see our vertical villages strengthened by fellow residents, rather than used by visitors.
So, assuming this campaign is about attracting new residents (rather than short-stayers), might we see rent-free trials (akin to the shopfront program) or, and more likely, vouchers for local experiences? But perhaps the council could be encouraged to include some specific value-adds designed to ease the transition into this new vertical lifestyle. By means of example, “deals could be done” regarding furnishings (as we all know the challenges here!). Perhaps discounts with furniture subscription services, such as Breeze Furniture, an Australian company which lets customers rent, keep or swap homewares on three- or six-month subscriptions.
But whatever the package, the residents’ associations – Residents 3000, Southbank Residents’ Association and Docklands Representative Group – will be taking a very keen interest in the Live Melbourne Campaign •