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Melbourne's Creative 'Do-Over'

By Adrian Doyle

Published: August 25th 2021

So, all these shops in the city have closed. And now there are whole sections of the CBD up for lease. As COVID does its best to slowly suck the creative soul out of Melbourne, I have been thinking what it could mean for Melbourne.

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s Melbourne was a very different city, it was a suburban city. People lived in the suburbs and worked in the city. This meant that the city was filled with workers on the weekdays and on the weekend, it was completely different, it was taken over by bohemians, artists, musicians, shoppers, and party goers. This left areas of the city unused and hidden. It meant that space in the city was plentiful and cheap, which meant galleries, underground bars, music venues, comic shops, craft boutiques, coffee shops and studios where able to exist in the hidden laneways and buildings that were not being utilised. This was very important to Melbourne as it meant that it had a very strong and interesting and centralised creative community. This built Melbourne’s reputation as a creative city, allowing it to be a unique interesting and charming city.

During the past 25 years the way we engage with the city has changed. People have moved in, and apartments have popped up everywhere. The city became full of students and travellers as Melbourne’s reputation as a creative and interesting city helped instigate an unprecedented increase in both Melbourne’s population and particularly the population of the CBD. This period also seen an uptake of foreign investment in the Melbourne property market.

The obvious problem with this increase in population is the demand for property. And from the late ‘90s creatives and small business began to struggle as rent started to increase. From 2000 to now there has been commercial revolution in the city, with construction in every part of the CBD as hundreds of giant monolithic skyscrapers were built to fit the increase in population. This meant that all the creative spaces, the cool little lanes, the strange shops and the studios were forced to move out so that the city could grow.

This gentrification of Melbourne had a massive effect on the creative scene as the centralised art community was broken up and basically all creative industries had to move out of the city.

The CBD is clearly once again changing, as COVID is slowly bringing the city to its knees, vast areas have once again become vacant. I know the owners and the property market are still hoping that they will fetch the handsome rents from a few years ago. Melbourne has changed and this will not be the case. The city is over built and there are empty shops, apartments, warehouses, and now with people working from home the dynamics of the city has changed forever. It will never again be like it was pre-COVID, the travellers have stopped, the students have gone and the city is empty.

I believe it will take 20 years for the city to recover and that is if the creatives are allowed back into the city. It seems like the best way for the city to recover is to ask landlords of empty space to allow artists or small business to move in. This will make Melbourne cool again and then the people will come back. The more Melbourne gentrified the more it became like every other city. Now in a strange way and with generosity and careful management we get a do-over. If you have any space that could be used for a creative, then please contact me and I will connect you with someone that needs a cheap space. We have all kinds of people that require all kinds of spaces. A used space is better than an empty space.

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