Melbourne is at once a rebel and a class act. The dynamic and independent arts scene means creative spaces and projects flourish, while engaged citizens, artists, and entrepreneurs realize they can achieve things here that simply would not be possible elsewhere. The past year has seen rapid gentrification creep into even the most neglected areas of the city. In the CBD and many inner-city suburbs, huge rent increases have forced many businesses and residents to leave, while critics have denounced so-called efforts at regeneration as a threat to the city’s diversity. But, even as their space becomes contested, the city’s creative community has shown remarkable resilience. For every live music venue or artist studio under threat, a new one pops up. As areas that were once bastions of bohemia become unaffordable, members of Melbourne’s creative class explore pockets of the city that they previously overlooked.
Hub for progress
Schoolhouse Studios offers affordable spaces for artists and businesses. The studio occupied what was once a school but was forced out when the site was earmarked for development. Support from a property developer and a successful crowdfunding campaign enabled the artists to secure a new, permanent location in a huge warehouse in the alternative, artsy suburb of Collingwood.
Melbourne city council members have shown that they understand the importance of maintaining and creating space for the people who have made the once-derelict warehouses attractive to property developers. Creative Spaces is a newly revamped City Council-run website that currently boasts 1,000 active listings for affordable studios, desk spaces, warehouses, and pop-up venues around the city.
Once a working class heartland and historically home to brickmaking, brewing, and bootmaking, the suburb of Collingwood has undergone a rather rapid gentrification this past year. It’s now home to some of the most interesting bars and cafes. However, a large development plan for Smith Street, the area’s main thoroughfare, has forced the suburb’s creative residents to take refuge in the industrial back streets. Smith Street Action Group, an organization calling for responsible development of the area, has publicly and loudly opposed the development plans.
Plans to build a multi-billion dollar 18-kilometer toll road, a project known as the East West Link, has become one of the most contentious issues facing the city. The Trains not Toll Roads opposition movement—loud, organized, and connected with thousands of Facebook likes—insists the money should be spent on a better public transport system. The fact that a would-be infrastructural issue has managed to divide the city so profoundly is indicative of the conflict between Melbourne’s developers, residents, and political parties.
To mitigate the pervasive problem motorists face when finding a parking spot, a homegrown startup called Parkhound launched earlier this year, allowing residents to list a spare residential parking space for a nominal fee. Though the concept of renting out parking spaces has been banned in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, Parkhound’s co-founder said he has received cooperation from the Melbourne council, who see it as a way to address urban congestion.
Edinburgh Gardens is a popular city park that often takes on a festival vibe with music, bikes, and picnickers. The gardens have become a popular place to celebrate New Year’s Eve, although restrictions were placed on alcohol consumption this year after a huge 2013 clean-up bill. The move was met with opposition, however, from Melbourne residents who pointed to other Australian cities where the same problem has been met without an outright ban.
Just 3 miles west of Melbourne is the suburb of Footscray. Still sometimes referred to as “Footscary” (the scenes of racial violence in the cult film classic, Romper Stomper, were filmed at Footscray Train Station), the suburb is now better known for its arts center, Vietnamese noodle houses, and some of the best African restaurants. With the redevelopment of Footscray’s train station recently completed and further plans to turn the western suburb into a university town, what was once one of the city’s no-go places has turned into a hub of multiculturalism.
Melbourne is eerily quiet during January, when the majority of residents migrate south to the beach. It’s not unusual for local cafes, small bars, and independent businesses to close for the first three weeks of the year, particularly as most leisure activities in Melbourne revolve around food and drink.
Jane Marx is a social entrepreneur, a refugee rights advocate, and a coffee lover. She is the founder of Long Street Coffee, a local coffee shop that provides hospitality skills training and employment to refugees living in Melbourne.