We want Melbourne to be a city of possibility and it certainly felt that way as people filled our streets with enthusiasm and elation when restrictions lifted at the end of October. Melbourne has always tingled with a dynamic energy, and after a challenging pandemic period, the buzz is coming back.
We recently commissioned research to help us understand city sentiment following this latest lockdown and the early findings show there is a real eagerness to return to the CBD – for work, study and for play.
On our first weekend out of lockdown, there was a 2000 per cent increase in foot traffic in the CBD and a 1200 per cent jump at Lygon Street as people celebrated the end of lockdowns. Spending surged with more than $350 million spent that weekend.
We recognise though that a sustained effort will be required to reignite the city over the longer term. Based on efforts and discussions so far, I am confident that every industry and sector is aligned to bringing Melbourne back better.
The City of Melbourne is throwing everything we can at our renaissance. In June, we delivered a record $789.9 million budget including a $244 million investment in capital works projects that create economic stimulus and jobs now, and positive legacies for the future.
Our budget is big in size, it’s big on delivery, it’s big on confidence.
We are getting things done – fixing potholes and footpaths, the cleaning of graffiti and emptying of rubbish bins – all the elements of roads, rates and rubbish that local government is expected to deliver well.
It’s a record capital investment in our city-shaping projects like the renewal of Queen Victoria Market, our urban renewal areas in Arden, Macaulay and Fishermans Bend and the landmark Greenline project – which is set to transform four kilometres of our city’s Yarra River waterfront into a lush and lively public realm from Birrarung Marr to Bolte Bridge.
We’re also investing almost $20 million on community and sports facilities. There’s more than $60 million to create new open space, maintain parks and gardens, plant trees and save water.
We are renowned for events and events drive our local economy: data shows the biggest spending days in the city are when we have events underway. We’ve partnered with the Victorian Government to jointly invest $300 million in activities that will attract people back to our city. From premier international events to home-grown festivals we want to remind Australians that we are the undisputed events capital.
Our expanded Christmas Festival extravaganza is also underway. Think decorations and lighting projections, outdoor markets, a scavenger hunt, Christmas movies and live performances.
Vacant shopfronts across the city are confronting and represent the tough times experienced by our local traders. So we are working with local artists, entrepreneurs and landlords to transform vacant shopfronts with original pop-up business ventures and lively installations.
We know people are hungry for city hospitality. After the success of outdoor dining last summer, we’re serving up a second round. We’ve waived permit fees for outdoor trading (including retail) and bought $1.1 million of parklet infrastructure, which has been gifted to businesses to allow them to serve as many customers as possible.
We want to make it as easy as possible for people to travel into the city. On top of the $5 city car park discounts on offer, we are also advocating for public transport incentives to major events. More protected bicycle lanes, an e-scooter trial and expanded pedestrian zones will also facilitate travel around the city.
We know that city workers and international students are the lifeblood of our city, which is why we’re doing everything we can to facilitate their swift return.
We supported international students that remained here with food vouchers and online programs. We are working with the universities, industry and State and Federal governments to establish a plan for the safe return of students. We expect international students to return in time for a strong start to the 2022 academic year.
City workers are a critical part of our economy and pre-COVID made up almost half of our daily population.
We know that our city rhythm has changed as a result of the pandemic but workers will still set the beat. There were encouraging returns of almost half our city workforce in the bounce-backs after previous lockdowns and we expect more workers back into workplaces once we hit the 90 per cent vaccination threshold when masks in the office can come off.
With so much on offer, this really is the best time to consider living in the city. If workers set the beat, our residents are the lifeblood of our city. We have plenty of room to accommodate more people and affordability has never been better. We’ve launched our This is your local marketing campaign to celebrate our world-class lifestyle.
You get so much more when you live in the city. As a city dweller, your ‘local’ is the best this country has to offer – your local shops are QVM or Collins Street, your local park is the Royal Botanic Gardens, your local gym is Melbourne City Baths, your local gallery is the NGV and local sports ground is the MCG.
While we plan for short-term initiatives to support immediate reactivation, we have remained dedicated to progress on big city issues.
Affordable housing remains a priority. Our Homes Melbourne initiative will increase the supply of transitional, social and key worker affordable housing. This will help us address the current shortfall of 6000 affordable homes in the city. We are also progressing our Make Room project to provide more safe accommodation and support services for people sleeping rough in the city.
Responding to climate change remains a priority. We’re leading the charge in green innovation with our Power Melbourne project, a network of batteries across the city to support the local renewable energy grid and accelerate the transition to an all-electric, renewable powered city. Power Melbourne will encourage the adoption of renewables, create new opportunities for research, education, training and jobs in the green technology sector, and help build Melbourne’s reputation as a centre for clean energy innovation.
The days ahead will require business at all levels, government at all levels, and the community at all levels to work together. The bold plans we have in place for Melbourne will create economic opportunities and embrace cultural, community and environmental outcomes that reignite the city now and establish positive benefits for our longer term future.
That’s my role, and the role of my fellow councillors here at the City of Melbourne; to lead a city recovery that is coordinated and swift to make sure that Melbourne is renowned as a thriving place for all, a city of possibility.
To find out what else we are doing to support people and businesses as the city emerges from lockdown, visit Reignite Melbourne.