Testing our resolve

By Tristan Davies - Melbourne Heritage Action

A development currently advertised for 7 Hosier Lane, which seeks to plonk serviced apartments on top of a building with a heritage facade in one of our key laneways, should be seen not only as a heritage issue, but as a litmus test for the kind of city we all want to live in.

Hosier Lane has long been recognised as one of Melbourne’s main attractions, a nondescript cobblestone laneway turned into a hive of creativity and counter-culture in the heart of the city.

We don’t perhaps realise how lucky we are to have a city where more can exist in the CBD besides corporate culture and generic tourism (visit Sydney if you want to find out), something we believe developments like this are continuing to threaten. 

Heritage listings and height limits have so far kept small creative spaces and laneways alive, but more and more we are seeing heritage and counter-cultural values used solely to sell a gentrified version of our city. 

This is illustrated in the new apartment floors proposed here, which use colour to mimic the graffiti below, all the while threatening the authenticity of the street level experience.  

The proposal, which will also boot a social enterprise cafe, op-shop and youth projects organisation out of the building, seeks to install into Hosier Lane more gentrified tenancies, and serviced apartments on a “boutique” scale of affordability. 

The idea of co-opting graffiti culture for retail has already seen controversy recently, with the addition to the lane of Culture Kings and its attacks on “unauthorised” street art last year, bringing to the boil conflicts between high-yield retail and street art culture. 

This development will potentially further this conflict, with the serviced apartments bringing constant passive surveillance and a changing nature of visitor to the lane, adding potential that street artists will no longer visit the laneway they helped turn into a destination in the first place.

Development has an important place in our city, but sometimes we have to know when to leave things as they are, regardless of how well activated or renewed a place may potentially be.

Melbourne needs to think carefully about what kind of city it wants to become. We shouldn’t aspire to becoming just another generic world city with little authenticity or reason to be visited beyond work, high-end retail and gentrified tourism.

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