Dipping into the public realm

By Laurence Dragomir 

In a slight change of tack for the month of April (no, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke), rather than providing a snapshot of planning and development activity within the CBD, I thought I would instead focus on a particularly eye-catching public realm concept.

This columnist was fortunate enough to be invited to a media event in the form of a cruise down the Yarra (or Birrarung) organised by Open House Melbourne as part of NGV’s Melbourne Design Week. 

Dubbed “Waterfront” the event provided attendees with the opportunity to get up nice and close with the river and environment, while also providing the stage for Yarra Pools and WOWOWA Architects to present the latest concept designs for a swimming pool by the Yarra.

Earmarked for Enterprize Park on the northern banks of the Yarra, the concept would reimagine the river’s edge, connecting Flinders St to the water while also activating both the rail viaduct undercroft and the park itself with meaningful recreational program.

Despite it just being a concept at present, the renders convey the intent and possibilities of a Yarra pool. Citing examples from across the globe as well as local history, the team says there’s no reason why the concept wouldn’t work here.

In addition to providing city workers, residents and visitors with somewhere to cool off in the summer, the design considers the needs of various users and stakeholders and is based around a set of guiding principles which have also helped inform the business case.

Kayaking enthusiasts can dream of travelling up or down stream and mooring or launching from the Yarra Pool, while those sleeping rough in the park at night would have access to toilets and showers.

The city’s Northbank which has long been derided as the ugly and shadier bank of the Yarra has seen a number of projects proposed over time to activate it. Some such as the Melbourne Aquarium and Arbory have been realised (although the former is looking a tad tired these days) while others such as the redevelopment of Flinders Street Station and the next stage of Sandridge Bridge have failed to be realised.

It could be argued that the destruction of the former Fish Markets on Flinders St to make way for an at-grade car park for the Olympics is one of the greatest planning bungles along the northern edge of the river. 

Developer Far East Consortium has since developed the site into a mix of residential, office and retail uses known as Northbank Place – although in the eyes of this columnist the current buildings don’t quite live up to the ornate beauty and detail of the Fish Markets. 

Rebecca Walk – a series of colourful follies along the interface to Batman Park developed in parallel to Northbank Place currently accommodates a haphazard mix of kebab shops and textile shops, with talk of a revamped Rebecca Walk launching soon (although it remains to be seen).

A High Line based on New York’s was also mooted by Lord Mayor Sally Capp as part of her campaign for office, providing a raised “green” link between Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross for pedestrians and cyclists.

CBD News editor Shane Scanlan queried the City of Melbourne regarding the status of the council’s version of High Line during its Future Committee meeting on March 19. 

Responding to Shane’s question, the director of city strategy and place advised that a co-design charrette process with various stakeholders had been undertaken to explore the opportunities for such a proposal.

How the Yarra Pools concept ties into any potential High Line remains to be seen, however one would suspect due consideration would be given to how the two concepts could co-exist.

For anyone doubting the viability of a pool in the Yarra, to paraphrase WOWOWA’s Monique Woodward, the aquarium next door to the site is basically just a big pool for sea life. 

This columnist supports the concept of a Yarra Pool and swimmable Yarra, and I encourage all other Melburnians to do the same.

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