Time for a new vision

By Major Brendan Nottle

As the new parklets begin to appear around the CBD, the City of Melbourne and state government are to be congratulated on acting creatively and nimbly in implementing new ideas to help return the city to normal.

We’ve seen Paul Guerra, the CEO of Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) and Australian Hotels Association (AHA) (Vic) CEO Paddy O’Sullivan advocating hard on behalf of their many members to help see the city re-activated to enable our currently decimated hospitality industry to be alive and thriving once again.

The energy, flexibility, nimbleness and creative thinking, all designed to return our city to the one we knew and loved before COVID-19 struck is to be highly commended.

At the risk of being branded as a naysayer, I really do have to ask the question about whether our city will ever really return to “normal”?

Various corporates are indicating that their employees’ productivity has actually increased since many of them have been working from home. Some corporates are in serious negotiation about reducing their CBD property footprint by up to 50 per cent. Other corporates are considering the option to contribute to the development of mini CBDs across metropolitan Melbourne and even in regional communities. This would be for the purpose of developing working spaces for employees in close proximity to their homes.

The unintended consequence of these potential developments is that foot traffic in the Melbourne CBD will remain minimal, hence having a profound impact on small businesses, particularly cafes and restaurants. A further unintended consequence would be an increase in property vacancies in the CBD.

If this was to occur, the city runs the risk of having certain areas become ghettos; precincts to be avoided at all costs.

The energy and focus that has been initiated by many to return our city to normal is absolutely necessary and to be highly commended. But is it time now for our city’s best thinkers to be gathered to consider some revolutionary thinking that will potentially re-purpose those parts of the city that remain dormant as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or dare I say it, as a result of further outbreaks. Is it time to seriously consider re-purposing unused shopfronts as housing or cheap rent for start-ups or artist colonies?

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