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20 REASONS I HATE ‘URBAN RENEWAL’

By Inheritance 2015, inheritance.org.au

They call it ‘Urban Renewal.’ The politicians love it, developers love it, foreign investors love it, my average neighbour doesn’t really want to know about it, but I hate it. And here are a few reasons why…

Urban Renewal is the reason I have to sit in traffic for 25 minutes just to get from one side of my suburb to the other. By car.

Urban Renewal is the reason I have to stand on the edge of the road for 10 minutes and then play chicken to get from one side to the other.

Urban Renewal is why I am forced to look up at overbearing nondescript cheaply constructed boxes of up to 10 stories high in suburban growth ghettos with inadequate parking, natural lighting and open space. Meanwhile affordable blocks of land and perfectly good houses are being swallowed up and kids have to make do with honing their ball skills on Sony Playstations.

Urban Renewal is the reason the sun now sets in my mother’s backyard at 2pm, as it is totally eclipsed by the dark side of a neighbouring block of ‘townhouses’ (ie. units).

Urban Renewal is the reason my favourite row of Federation shops has just been chewed up by bulldozers and reincarnated as some ugly monolithic drab grey box with concrete cancer and render peeling off like snakeskin after only its first full year of inception.

Urban Renewal is why I have to park two streets away if I’m not home by 3pm and three streets away on bin night.

Urban Renewal is just another name for a marketing ploy that sees foreign investors take over our housing stocks and inject large sums of capital into the market to drive prices up and outpace many local buyers out of the possibility of owning their own home, most probably ever.

Urban Renewal is a quick way of propping up the local and state economies by giving people the false impression that it is boom time in the building industry and consumers have got way too much money to burn on housing.

Urban Renewal is the reason there are no more backyards in my neighbourhood. No more trees, no front yards, no side yards, no sparrows, no fairy wrens, no caterpillars, no Green Grocers, no Brown Bakers, no Black Princes, definitely no Yellow Mondays and no butterflies. There is a lot of concrete though, and concrete cancer, and the odd dwarf shrub for border embellishment.

Urban Renewal, funnily enough, assumes everyone wants urban renewal… I don’t. I like my suburb the way it is. That’s why I chose to live there.

Cartoon Center City Highway congestion

Urban Renewal is why there are torrents of rainwater flooding down the gutters of my street from duplex driveways every time the heavens open up. There is nowhere else for the water to go.

Urban Renewal is the reason property developers cruise my suburb in black Audi Q7s eyeing off their next blue ribbon investment that will make them another big brown envelope full of money.

Urban Renewal is a sweeping term that demands blanket slash and burn mentality. Nothing is left of my old neighbourhood – no heritage, no community, no environment, no funky warehouse conversions, no links to the past, no resonating cultural vibes, nothing.

Urban Renewal is a way of turning one block of land into two, three or four and then charging more for each subdivision than the original.

Urban Renewal is why I have to basically fight my way to drive into my local shopping centre/school/health care service. I then have to virtually compete in hand to hand combat in order to find a parking spot, and defy all odds Indiana Jones-style to get my choirs done and return to the car in time before I get a ticket or worse, have to battle through peak hour.

Urban Renewal is the reason I try and stay away from driving anywhere on weekends now. It’s just not worth the effort.

Urban Renewal is why I am too scared to invest all my hard earned savings into the house of my dreams, as who knows what will be built next door to the house of my dreams the minute I move in.

Urban Renewal is why I try not to get too excited about a beautiful old heritage building in my neighbourhood. I find it makes it a lot easier when the thing is replaced by a gaping big hole in the ground next time I jog by.

Urban Renewal is a fallacy that would have us believe the only way to make our suburbs pretty and safe is to knock everything down and build everything new again, this time with dinky shops on the bottom and multiple stories of residential dwellings on top (and lots of basement parking to store our black Audi Q7s). That way we can all be proud of our suburbs. Give me a break.

Urban Renewal is probably the reason why I have to put my child’s name down three years in advance to get her into some overpriced childcare facility. Same with school. It’s probably why I have to get to the train station at 5am to get the only parking available. It’s probably why I have to stand in the train too. And wait at the pharmacy, and the ATM. And get to the park three hours early to reserve a picnic table on a Saturday morning. And line up ten-deep outside the Vietnamese bread shop that does those special pork rolls I like. In fact it’s probably responsible for every little part of my life that I find shitty and annoying.

So thank you, Urban Renewal, you are making such a difference to my life, and will continue to do so, I’d imagine, for some time yet…

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THE SHAME FILES: LONSDALE HOUSE, 2 years on

Almost two years ago in January 2010 an iconic Melbourne art deco building, Lonsdale House, built in 1934 from two previously standing Victorian warehouses of varying size, was handed over to the wrecking ball and lost forever. Owners of the site, Myer applied to demolish the building in order to allow a new entranceway to their new Emporium super shopping centre, and the City of Melbourne graciously agreed, despite a howl of public protest and the formation of supporter websites, petitions and the inauguration of the Melbourne Heritage Action group. Even having its famous stylised towers appear on the cover of Robin Grow’s Melbourne Art Deco history book couldn’t save Lonsdale House; now that famous tower lives only in photographs and fading memories.

Robin Grow’s book

Author and president of the Art Deco & Modernism Society, Robin Grow, was bemused at the time… ‘‘They just gave it up. They said they were more than happy for it to be demolished,’’ he said. ‘‘If the City of Melbourne isn’t prepared to defend buildings that are subject to heritage overlays then what is the point in having the heritage overlays, it is outrageous, What we are getting is replacing a classic building appreciated by people all over the world with another set of shops, What’s this going to look like in 10 years?’’

One of only 20 existing art deco buildings in Melbourne’s CBD, Lonsdale House was not protected by Heritage Victoria, and the project went ahead under the dreaded guise of having “state significance”. Many people felt outraged, however Vic Planning Minister Justin Madden was less critical, claiming the development ‘‘married the significant heritage features of the site with contemporary urban architecture’’. It seems the 1.16 Billion dollars invested into the Myer Emporium project simply negated any would-be heritage intervention for Lonsdale House.

image The Grapevine blog

So what’s the replacement, why the need to tear down an irreplaceable piece of unique 20th century architectural history? Well, quite shamefully, it was actually demolished in order to widen the service lane for Emporium retail deliveries. And what has risen in its place is another gaudy glass box screaming at passers-by to come in and buy from the cavernous retail sprawl so similar to anywhere else in the world. So an icon of Melbourne, a tourist attraction, a building worth pointing out, is gone … replaced by more inane glass and scaffolding shopping boxes.

Emporium replacement. Stunning, isn’t it? So worth it.

Readers outside of Melbourne may not be aware of this previous demolition, and I want to remember the architecture, and point the finger at those who signed its demise, putting developer profits before any sense of community want, or even a sense of performing their sworn duty to protect our heritage assets, at which they have failed miserably. This cultural asset has been stolen from the people of Melbourne without consent, considerably cheapening the city’s architectural diversity and weakening the streetscape surroundings. City of Melbourne council, you didn’t stand up for this building, and Minister of Planning Justin Madden, you sold out an icon. In order to stop this happening again, don’t think it will be forgotten, this is just the beginning…

An inglorious end for a Melbourne icon, 2010. image flickr

Main image, thedesignfiles.net
Follow this link to Art Deco and Modernism Society
Follow this link to Melbourne Heritage Action