I read an article last week about the gentrification of one of Melbourne’s oldest suburbs: Collingwood. It came as no surprise; those who visit the area will have seen it change in recent years. As I write there are 637 apartments being built there across five projects. That’s five very big developments, which are in addition to the many that have sprouted in the area in the last few years.
Collingwood from its foundation attracted large industrial developments, and within its boundaries housed more factories than homes. Warehouses dominate its street, many of which today are no longer used as they were originally intended, due to the disappearance of traditional manufacturing techniques with the advent of automation, and much cheaper labour available off shore. Many of these buildings have now been skilfully converted for residential use and retail. It is a wonderful re-use of these spaces, which are so easy to work with: they are essentially large empty volumes, yet are filled with something lacking in so many newer buildings – character. Their old red bricks, beautiful roof trusses and hand crafted wooden window frames, create warmth through the textures of their materials.
I love Collingwood, and would be happy to live there. However it is changing rapidly, and in a manner that concerns me. These large developments are at a scale far greater than that which made up the suburb originally; some of the new residential developments proposed and under construction will reach 17 storeys. The area was predominantly 2 – 5 storeys in height. Below is one of the new projects being built in the area…
Our growing needs:
This raises a very difficult problem. We are drawn to these areas due to their character and old world charm, yet demand to live there outstrips supply. Developers feel the answer is to build huge new buildings to accommodate more people, but to do so requires the removal of the old buildings to accommodate the new ones. With our population growing at an alarming rate, there is the need to use the space we have available more efficiently by putting more on it. The alternative – urban sprawl, does not work as we don’t have the infrastructure to support it.
Keeping our heritage:
What then will be left of the Collingwood so many of us love? This brings me to part two of the issue. We need to retain enough of what makes the suburb so popular – its history. To do so requires greater heritage controls, which the council has not been quick or stringent enough to put in place to protect those beautiful old buildings we have already lost. We can’t keep them all, but the job of heritage controls is to keep that which is significant, and also enough of the rest to maintain the character and individuality of the area.
There are two apposing forces at play. We need to increase densities, but at what expense, our heritage? What’s the answer? There is only one I feel – compromise. Both can be managed. My belief : put a cap on heights for new buildings, and put in place more heritage controls to protect what is still left. This allows enough of the old stock to remain, whilst newer projects are allowed to only be incrementally taller, perhaps 1-2 floors higher than their neighbours, so the new does not dominate the old, whilst allowing more to live in the area.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below. Long live the old red brick warehouses of Collingwood.