Changing our thinking inside the grid

By Ellen Sandell

This COVID-19 pandemic has hit us all hard, but for those who spend their lives in our CBD and inner city, it’s really changed things dramatically.

Before the pandemic, inner-city Melbourne was the bustling, busy, vibrant heart of our state. But now, we are having to grapple with streets that are emptier and quieter than we’re used to, and so many businesses, cafes, bars and arts venues that have fallen silent.

With the fall in tourism and international students, and the exodus of workers from office blocks, the city is a very different place than we remember.

Along with the challenges, the pandemic and lockdown have also forced us to really take notice of what we value about our local area: the little pockets of green space, the hidden delights down a laneway, our neighbours and community.

Now, as governments and councils start to grapple with how we rebuild our vibrant inner-city, it’s the perfect time to think about what we actually want our CBD to be and how we make it a great place for people to live, work and play.

This is exactly what I’ve been doing in Parliament these past few months.

Do we have to go back to a city where so many people are forced to sleep on the streets, or do we want a city where everyone has a safe home and safe streets?

While apartment living has so many benefits, do we need to rethink how much power we give developers to design our cities, often at the expense of the residents who actually live there? Maybe it’s time to change our owners’ corporation (OC) laws, remove developer donations from our politics and think about creating quality homes for people in the inner city, not just unregulated quasi-hotels or tiny shoe boxes in the sky.

Do we need to give over so much of our streets to cars, or can we do transport and outdoor living and dining better?

And maybe it’s time we re-thought about how we look at work – so that casual workers and people in insecure work are better protected through the bumps and shocks our world faces.

These are the questions I’ve been taking to the government recently. In Parliament my colleagues and I moved for changes to the outdated OC laws to make things fairer for residents and limit developers locking in residents to long, unfair contracts, and to make it easier for residents to do things like put solar on their roofs. These are laws which haven’t changed in the past 15 years!

We’ve also pushed again for donations reforms and for the government to break their ties with Crown Casino after the damning findings of money laundering and other illegal behaviour coming out of the NSW inquiry. We’ve increased our campaign for more money for public housing and homelessness services, and called for more support for casual workers and small businesses affected by the most recent snap lockdown.

While this pandemic isn’t quite over, I sincerely hope that 2021 brings us a lot more joy (and less pain) than 2020. Our city still has some challenges ahead, but I’m confident that our CBD will bounce back. But as it does, we should also use this opportunity to fix some of the inequalities and problems we have faced for a long time. We can build back better, not just go back to the exact same way things were before.

I’d love to hear about your experiences of lockdown in the CBD, and what you want to see for the city going forward. If you have questions or ideas, don’t hesitate to get in touch at 146 Peel Street, North Melbourne by emailing [email protected] or calling us on 9328 4637.

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