Making residential living a council election priority

By Janette Corcoran

The City of Melbourne elections are fast approaching but how prominent is residential living in candidate priorities?

Residents know well the impact of COVID-19 on the fabric of the City of Melbourne (CoM). 

We live it. We see it 24/7.

And naturally, COVID-19 recovery is a priority for CoM candidates with many already presenting their plans for business revival – getting workers back into the city, expediting construction and kick-starting hospitality (with various promotions for eating and drinking “the block”).

But what is astounding, by its absence, is any genuine focus upon residents, especially us vertical villagers. 

Once again it appears that many candidates think that a choice has to be made between promoting economic recovery or supporting residential liveability – when, in fact, residents, public spaces and business can all proposer, if they are designed to work together.  

Take the issue of energy efficiency. 

We are well aware that our residential buildings and our individual apartments are deemed energy guzzling. According to NABERS (National Australian Built Environment Rating System), our common areas consume up to 60 per cent of our energy and constitute approximately 25 per cent of our administrative fund levies. Then add to this our individual apartment energy consumption (which the City of Melbourne has identified as problematic for vertical dwellers as we consume up to 25 per cent more energy per person than those living in detached dwellings).   

To me this appears an obvious business opportunity, and one which also brings liveability benefits. This point is agreed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which jointly advocate energy efficiency as a “jobs machine”. In their recent Special Report on Sustainable Recovery, the IEA and IMF analysed multiple energy-related stimulus options – and energy efficiency in buildings (both retrofits and new builds) came top of the list. 

Also supporting this are Australian groups such as the Energy Efficiency Council, the Property Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Social Service. In fact, according to Tennant Reed, the Australian Industry Group is “barracking for energy efficiency upgrades, because they are a way to score five goals off one kick. You can grow jobs, you can cut costs, you can improve health, you can strengthen energy systems and you can slash emissions at the same time”.    

Now let’s shift attention and consider the field of design.    

Our less-than-spacious apartments cry out for clever solutions to make the most of our compact and communal lifestyle. Over the years I have seen the design sector, in countries such as Italy, Japan and the USA, develop suites of transforming and multi-purpose furnishings, including robotic-walls (like ORI). But locally, our design choices remain very limited.  

However, there is growing recognition of the importance of the design sector in kickstarting Australia’s economy post-COVID-19. According to Prime Minister Scott Morrison: “Good design, created by smart people in smart industries, is essential to a country that wants to grow and be prosperous.”  And this was the logic behind a “design-led renaissance” strategy where the Australian Design Council is bringing together captains of industry, innovators, entrepreneurs and thinkers to reshape the nation post-COVID-19.  And this would appear a strategy that fits well with CoM being a knowledge city – and also one known for “good design”. 

We know there is no silver bullet to recovery. But the point of the foregoing is that there are real ways in which our city precincts can be sustainably rejuvenated for the mutual benefit of residents and businesses. 

But to do this requires a critical shift in mindset.  

It requires putting residents at the centre of council decision-making and designing around real local needs (after all, local government is supposed to be for locals). 

I have been writing this column on vertical living for more than four years. My aim has been to highlight challenges and advance issues important to high-rise apartment residents. 

But, as current electoral campaigns show, residents are still on the periphery. 

This is why I have decided to stand in the forthcoming council election as a candidate for Residents First. Alongside two other locals, Mary Masters and Samantha Tran – our stated aim is to make residential living a council priority •

And to know more about us and our plans, please visit: residentsfirst.com.au – and VOTE 1 Residents First!

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