AN OPEN LETTER TO PORT PHILLIP CITY COUNCIL
Concerning Fitzroy Street ...
In my opinion the Councillors for the City of Port Phillip, PTV and Vic Roads should have to personally reimburse the 18 or 20 businesses which have turned up their toes and given up in Fitzroy Street. If it had been that just one or two failed then one could possibly blame the operators but being there are so many who have gone broke it would seem that there is more to it than just an incompetent operator or two. From top end to plebeian, they have all failed to meet their owners expectations lost money and had to just close.
Who’s to blame? The overriding answer is simple – people are in public authority positions of power wherein they can make decisions about which they have little expertise, historic perspective or strategic view. This describes the Port Phillip City Council, senior city management, PTV and Vic Roads. As far as the council are concerned, a bunch of people elected on some criteria far removed from what should be essential skills. There are many examples proving this point such as at least 18 years of no action on the Port Melbourne foreshore despite having an acceptable urban design framework for the whole period. Examples such as the stupidity surrounding the original design for the triangle site which thankfully, due to public force, was eventually withdrawn but still cost us millions of wasted dollars. Another example is the cost of car-parking. A 10 year old reading ‘statistics for dummies’ could analyse usage [read tourists], rates against time and costs and see that there is a correlation between high costs of parking and empty spaces. Drop the costs and people will come and nett profit for the council would remain as is. Simple but too hard for some people to digest.
A fourth example is Fitzroy Street and its destruction as a must-go-to destination for both Melbournian’s and tourists. This is a direct result of a weak council failing to recognise what Fitzroy Street was all about and acquiescing to minority groups and statutory authorities by allowing these groups to create urban havoc all without a feel for the area, its history and its future.
When there are 18 vacant shops in one smallish street, with past tenants ranging from high end restaurants to boutique businesses - just closing down - there can be no escape from the fact that there are major issues with the street itself. Traders across all levels walking away from millions of dollars says quite clearly that the street is the problem and not the traders.
Given the inescapable fact that the street is the issue then what’s happened? Once again the answer is simple Fitzroy Street has become a throughway but in fact it should all be about recognising that not every street in every suburb needs to transformed into a super fast tram route with channelled traffic and dedicated bike lanes. This is because some roads deserve to be slow and visual so the strolling rubberneckers can see, taste and enjoy. Not every street needs a few more tons of concrete to create unneeded and unwanted super fast throughways for cars, trams and bikes.
St Kilda is ‘Melbourne quirk’ and that’s what people expect and want to see and be a part of whilst being kept safe away from the disaffected.
Changes to Fitzroy Street have destroyed its character which in turn means that it has lost the ability to attract both tourists and normal Melbournians. It does however attract the bottom end of society and the drug affected. With the ‘ice’ epidemic it has now become seedy and dangerous. Take the Gatwick Hotel for example – it is a dangerous place.
The solution is unfortunately not simple.
Firstly, and in the immediate short term, the disaffected have to be removed. CCTV is but one of the critical tools to make that happen. Councillor Touzeau said, whilst recently voting against the installation of CCTV, ‘everyone has the responsibility to make the sort of world we want to live in’. This is just plain stupid and far removed from the real world. Especially so given the Council created the problem in the first place.
Secondly, Fitzroy Street needs to be made a ‘slow’ destination street by creating a streetscape for both pedestrians and destination visitors through creative parking. There is no need for a somewhat dangerous bike lane and there is no need for any tram super-stops other than at the beach end [already installed] and St Kilda station end [already installed]. The middle bit needs rethinking.
There is need to remove the dangerous and little used bike path and replace it with 60 degree free parking because car parking correlates to visitors. Then add lots of mature trees breaking down the long visuals, large quirky sculptures and more non-food retail. Then add public seating in the middle of the road under the canopy of shade trees where people can just sit and watch the slow trams and the streetscape; after mandatory facia regeneration.
We need the development of a ‘tourist’ precinct where wandering becomes an art form instead of a dice with dropkicks.
I personally remember the days when we ventured to dinner at Tolarno’s [since closed as Mirkas - once again] wandered around after dinner and absorbed some of the quirkiness of the street before returning to our dormitory suburbs. Successive councils have destroyed this ambience.
This council has to make a decision.
Are they going to recreate Fitzroy Street by removing the disaffected, recognising that Fitzroy Street is not a speedway for trams, cars and bicycles and spend some of our money creating a streetscape which will attract tourists and locals alike seeking a quirky but safe immersion experience.
This is a no-brainer – YES.
And with a properly designed triangle site and Acland Street precinct we have a chance at creating a world class tourist area. Let’s not wait another 20 years.
Say thirty million dollars over 3 years is absolutely nothing in terms of the financial return and the benefits to all Melbourne.