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The Docklands vision - circa 1998

Today's content comes directly from the vault; dusted off and ready for inspection. During the late 1990's the then Docklands Authority published an irregular newsletter that although now yellow, worn and stained gives a fair indication as to the expectations maintained by those in charge of delivering Melbourne's new waterfront during that time. Dated November 1998 the fold-out newsletter provides a fantastic glimpse of Melbourne prior to the new millennium.

What immediately stands out is the lack of infrastructure throughout the area.  Traversing Docklands over the last twelve years with trusty camera in tow and having no recollection of Docklands prior to its current metamorphosis, it's truly disturbing and impressive that such a large area of land so close to a major metropolis was underutilised for so long.  With the Bolte Bridge and La Trobe Street / Collins Street extensions not yet constructed, it truly resembled a wasteland.

Cast your view to the second image below and you'll see a very lonely Crown Casino dominating Southbank's panorama; how times have changed!  For Docklands at least the land parcels had at this point been defined, although time would subsume the names Yarranova, Entertainment City and Commonwealth Technology Port, replaced by NewQuay, Waterfront City and Digital Harbour.

See below the official Docklands render of the day, a concept far more advanced than earlier ghastly visions which bore an uncanny resemblance to a Mulgrave office park.  For the countless articles of diatribe against Docklands over the years, the precinct has managed to stay true to the render in certain respects.  The general height, bulk and density of realised buildings is fairly similar to the image below.  NewQuay and Yarra's Edge in particular have delivered to date basically what is seen below.  Whilst the central precinct, Victoria Harbour, has in reality a denser built form, Batman's Hill was at the time the exception.

Covered by Urban Melbourne previously, Bruno Grollo's then world's tallest Grollo Tower was one of two parties vying for the right to develop the Batman's Hill precinct.  History shows that neither gained the right to develop the whole precinct, rather it was portioned off to separate developers with the last slice recently granted to Lend Lease, and now subject to further planning.  Whilst many think that Docklands struggles on a micro level, it will never be known whether a better outcome could have been achieved by development plot by plot, rather than precinct by precinct.

Would the urban realm have been enhanced by each individual site being subject to a tender process?  Docklands may have therefore followed a more organic growth, slowly expanding westwards whilst maintaining the feel of the CBD rather than a large master planned enclave.  Gone would be the pockets of development surrounded by vast tracts of empty land which has only in recent years been corrected as the suburb continues its expansion.  

In isolation the 1998 Docklands vision seemed to provide a fair balance between the practical expansion of Melbourne's CBD whilst taking into account the desire for open space, density and height considerations.  The mind boggles at what would be proposed for the precinct if Docklands were a blank canvas today.  Fifteen years ago Melbourne had yet to experience its shift toward apartment living, Southbank was yet to boom and Fishermans Bend, E-Gate and the CBD North/Arden Structure Plan were foreign concepts.  

I'd suggest the 1998 vision provided a decent platform for Docklands to base itself upon.  Consider now that the precinct is approximately 60% complete; it has been a long haul with many years to come and I can't help but think that one day into the distant future when Docklands is near ringed by far larger developments that public sentiment will shift more and more in favour of the precinct.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

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