At Cities People Love we recognise that solving complex city problems is only possible together. In this edition we showcase three initiatives focused on addressing social and environmental challenges through collective problem-solving and knowledge-sharing.

They explore how we can transform our urban environments to be more creative, more just and more resilient through the act of connecting government, academics, industry and the community. These initiatives clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of partnership models that are coordinated, strategic and inclusive and share the lessons that they learnt along the way.

Our best opportunities for tackling climate change, addressing housing affordability, creating more spaces for a productive economy, and delivering healthy and connected communities are found together. We hope that this edition gives you pause to think about more collective, cross-organisational approaches that can maximise the impact of your work in delivering cities people love.

A pop-up event at the Immigration Museum as part of precinct activation.

Re-establishing creative production in Melbourne's CBD: Learnings from a precinct-collective approach

Turning Circle Collective formed in mid-2020 to investigate opportunities for re-establishing creative production in Melbourne’s CBD. Even then in the early days of the pandemic, it appeared there would be increasing and ongoing vacancies in office and retail spaces as rolling lockdowns forced a new acceptance of working from home. Previous down cycles in Melbourne’s economic life demonstrate precedents for creative businesses stepping into vacant spaces in response to discounted rents. We saw this as a mechanism for growing new local economies and initiated a precinct-led intervention focused on four blocks bounded by William, Collins and Queens Streets and the Yarra River.

From the outset, the project was conceived with a long-term view of 7 to 10 years. It was quickly evident, transformation would occur as a result of incremental changes over time and with the existing neighbourhood partnering in the process. Turning Circle Collective, with the Immigration Museum (our key local, cultural anchor) began an open-ended dialogue and Neighbourhood Circle was the 'organisation' that emerged – an innovative grouping of precinct residents, small and large businesses from different industries, landowners and state government institutions.

The Turning Circle Neighbourhood in Melbourne's CBD

The importance of partnerships and conversations

These collaborative dialogues were deepened by regular 'afternoon teas', facilitated by Neighbourhood Circle at the Immigration Museum, where all interested parties were invited to participate, contribute and observe. The ability to link into existing ‘outside’ networks of each group further broadcast Neighbourhood Circle’s ambitions, and in 2022 attracted one of the Committee for Melbourne’s 2022-23 'Future Focus Group' project teams, interested in developing a pilot project with Neighbourhood Circle. The dialogue process provided a structure for the strategic and dynamic 15-month partnership that followed.

Initially, this partnership reaffirmed the 2020 principles, which shape what and how the process operates. These focus on being self-organising, inclusive, committing to creative production, experimentation and small-scale interventions, building a self-sustaining governance model, advocating for neighbourhood benefits, and building partnerships.

Following research into local and international examples of community-led models, a new governance model was formed to operationalise and materialise the ambitions and principles of the diverse groups engaging in the transformation. At its centre was an Executive and Sustainability Committee (EaST).

Neighbourhood Circle Governance Diagram

Meeting since early 2023, membership of Neighbourhood Circle’s Executive and Sustainability Committee (EaST) includes Turning Circle Collective, Immigration Museum, RMIT University, Moral Fairground, resident groups, landlords, small business and creative enterprise. The aim to include as many neighbourhood voices in the discussion and process as possible is deliberately ambitious, bringing together residents, small and large businesses across a range of industries, landowners, and state institutions all with differing priorities and expectations.

The aim to include as many neighbourhood voices in the discussion and process as possible is deliberately ambitious, bringing together residents, small and large businesses across a range of industries, landowners, state institutions all with differing priorities and expectations.

The project team created a new Neighbourhood Circle website and a series of hyper-local prototype walking tours with a post-experience survey which invited participants to engage with ideas of neighbourhood identity, challenges and future priorities for the area including the desire for creative spaces, beautification and restoration, the promotion of history and sustainability through support for local artisans, traders and small businesses. These results produced the beginnings of a process that we have embraced as further work in the near future.

Impacts within the precinct

Precinct Activation

Activating the precinct has and will take many forms. A weekly evening events program was delivered during the winter months in 2023. Supported by City of Melbourne, a diverse program of digital stories from the neighbourhood, workshops, walking tours, pop-up markets, music, food, film showings, book launches, and music and entertainment was implemented with numerous precinct partners. It was challenging to attract audiences on wintery mid-week evenings (part of the conditions of the grant), and highlighted the conundrum when the impact priorities of available government grants may not match the priorities we’ve identified for the precinct - even when there appears to be alignment of ambitions for the city’s future.

Leveraging proposed investment in Melbourne’s Greenline Project

Our ongoing engagement with the Greenline Project since its inception in 2021 has positioned the precinct and the Immigration Museum as a key connection point between the Greenline and the CBD, leveraging the historical and heritage values of the precinct and aligning this major infrastructure investment to local knowledge and community aspirations. This is now formally documented within the Greenline Master Plan.

Emerging creative enterprises

Our initial ambitions for re-establishing creative production were influenced by the assumption that the increase in hybrid work and preference for non-CBD work hubs would put downward pressure on demand for CBD office space. As has been widely reported, this has been a phenomenon in cities nationally and internationally [2].

Vacancy space audits were undertaken in September 2022 and October 2023. The most recent analysis indicates the precinct has a 20% office vacancy rate, compared with the Melbourne CBD average of 16% [4]. Through the audit, the emergence of industry clusters became apparent and existing creative enterprises were identified and invited into the Neighbourhood Circle process. Project 8, a new contemporary art space, itself a partnership between the landlord and University of Melbourne’s VCA, Visual Art School. Project 8 has become an active member of Neighbourhood Circle and the strength of this relationship is reflected in their ability to sit across multiple participant groups, being both a creative business and a landlord.

Addressing the lack of resources

A lack of financial resources creates a more haphazard working timetable, as the project becomes everyone’s side hustle, rather than primary focus. As we continue, deciding where it's most appropriate and valuable to spend time and energy is critical – both to stir the passion of those involved and to ensure we are not duplicating work being done by others.

The City of Melbourne’s Neighbourhood initiatives, for example, could complement what Neighbourhood Circle's community-led approach has identified as priorities and be part of an ongoing dialogue and partnership approach.

Learning from a community-led approach to urban transformation

Forming partnerships is essential for designing interventions for change. As we have seen already, a strategic and dynamic process can deliver substantial and innovative outcomes. While working with limited financial resources continues to be challenging, impacting the pace with which priorities can be actioned, the Turning Circle model has demonstrated early benefits from a community-led, precinct approach.

Forming partnerships is essential for designing interventions for change.

Leveraging this model to achieve our original ambitions for re-establishing creative production in Melbourne's CBD means prioritising from here:

  • Re-engagement with major landlords and businesses in the precinct
  • Further community engagement as a pathway to unpacking neighbourhood identity
  • Building on the precinct activation program
  • Developing a graduate designer program to support transition into the first years of professional practice
  • Developing a business case for landlords to consider potential creative tenancies

There was never doubt that transformational change would take time and patience. This is challenging for some of our partners working with similar priorities but seeking outcomes on shorter timelines. There is a need to continue to evolve our cross-organisational, collaborative model knowing that these differences exist, and to keep this innovative and inclusive model focused on successful urban transformation.

Wendy Lasica

Wendy is an award-winning theatre producer, developing and touring new work with internationally renowned theatre makers. At the beginning of her career, she worked extensively in New York, including founding The Field, an organisation supporting the development of emerging artists. Wendy has also been a board member and director of multiple live arts organisations. More recently Wendy retrained as an urban planner and in 2014 established a niche practice working at the intersection of cities and culture. She also teaches RMIT Interiors design studios and has tutored at University of Melbourne in Urban Design Theory.

Michael Trudgeon

Dr Michael Trudgeon is a founding design director at Crowd Productions, a Melbourne based design studio, incorporated in 1983. His practice focus is on designing strategies to prototype new spatial solutions and user programs for commercial architecture projects and sustainable product service systems. The practice has completed numerous significant built projects including national roll-outs of cinema complexes, financial services networks and major exhibition installations. Michael is a professor of design in the School of Design at RMIT University and co-ordinator of the Master of Design Innovation and Technology Major Project program, the final design studio program. He has he taught into the Masters of Architecture design program in Melbourne and overseas. He has taught masters and undergraduate students in architecture, interior design and industrial design since 1985 at RMIT, the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

Samantha Hamilton

Samantha is the CEO of Rock Art Australia. She has worked in numerous international and national cultural organisations and has extensive professional experience in the preservation of cultural heritage. She has held leaderships roles in the public and private sectors through employment and volunteer committee positions including Arts Centre Melbourne, Museum Victorian and the Australian Institute for the conservation of Cultural Materials, the Australian Museum and Galleries Association and as a consultant for numerous local council and remote community organisations. Samantha is passionate about community agency and developing and delivery community led projects and programs.

Rohini Kappadath

Rohini is on the Leadership Team at Museums Victoria, Australia’s largest public museums organisation, as General Manager of the Immigration Museum. She brings three decades of diverse professional and corporate experience across technology, professional services and creative industries. In 2015, Rohini was awarded the Telstra Victorian Business Women’s Award for her strategic vision and leadership.