The robust CBD garden providing calm amongst the chaos
In a densely populated corner of the CBD, a small garden plays a modest but important role in meeting the human and social needs of local residents.
Some years ago, residents of the Drill Hall social housing units on Therry St persuaded the City of Melbourne to turn a nearby abandoned car park into a community garden and public recreation amenity.
The project, at the corner of Therry and Victoria streets, soon gained funding from the council and support from the wider local neighbourhood around the Queen Victoria Market.
The council was readily persuaded to use an accessibility-friendly design and provide paving, new seating and planter boxes.
Local volunteers joined the social housing residents to maintain the garden, creating a good model of social diversity and inclusion as well as accessibility.
The bureaucratic process behind this story may be mundane reading, but the City of Melbourne deserves credit for encouraging the social housing residents to set up their own independent incorporated association.
This enabled them to apply for grants for social housing projects and later supported a second incorporated association to run the garden itself.
The strong connection, almost pathway, between the garden and the social housing units is symbolised by their lifts – Art Lift 1 and Art Lift 2 – displaying resident works with garden/art themes.
This was intended, like the garden, to make the lifts more welcoming, calming and accessible, especially for those suffering from claustrophobic fears – even more so if trapped in the lift.
What counts overall is how people engage with the garden space, and on the good days strange and wonderful things have been observed:
Wheelchair drivers elevating themselves to ridiculous heights among the sun flowers.
“Garden guerrillas” surreptitiously planting their favoured seedings, cuttings etc., next to where the Lord Mayor officially turned her spade.
The resident magpie fluttering down from its spotted gum tree nest to investigate the fuss.
Local artists introducing their whimsical creative spin onto a canvas board array twisting with colour and energy among the plant boxes.
An organic anarchy and energy embraces humans and nature alike, popping up also, as mentioned, into the social housing lifts, where art and garden scenes jumble together in an ever-changing colourful array.
Lately, on not-so-good days, the garden is not immune to the harder stories of the world. They also demand a social space.
The tents of the homeless appear, disappear, and reappear, as city officials battle for control.
The garden, caught in between, gets battered, plants uprooted, left exposed to die.
It becomes an unwelcoming eye in a storm.
A barren sullen hostility overwhelms fertility and creativity; everyone is denied a city breathing space that should be shared by all.
The garden, nevertheless, is a survivor.
Many Drill Hall residents have experienced homelessness; they well know the garden cannot help solve the problem without becoming a problem itself.
The garden replaced a space that was an arid arena for dull pointless bureaucratic head-butting with a green and pleasant space.
It survived an attempt to inundate it as an outdoor waiting area for a proposed drug injection room.
It insists on maintaining, in a very heavily built up and densely populated area, a modest but important role meeting the human and social needs of local residents, while serving also as an amenity for the broader passing public.
To sum up, the Drill Hall Garden has become an integral and organic part of the communities and voices described above.
Their drive and energy will ensure its durability and its future for everyone.
It is a great city place and should be supported as such. •