Pall Mall forms a distinctive boundary between the tightly formed city centre and the trees and memorials of Rosiland Park, sloping beyond the non-perennial stream from which Bendigo took its present name. The city grid is enlivened by one symmetrical bow-shaped street arcing through it, with the Town Hall as geometric centre-point. Within this grid a finer mesh of shopping arcades and pedestrian routes reinforces the city’s intensity and human scale.
Bendigo burst out of scruffy bushland in the mid-nineteenth century in response to about 50 million ounces of gold in the quartz reefs below it, and the industrial enterprises required to extract and process this bounty. Rather than maturing gradually from agricultural origins it was an ‘instant city’, which perhaps explains an unapologetic self-confidence and preparedness to be innovative.
Bendigo booming again
Bendigo is again booming, with the municipality about to pass the 100,000 population mark, strong growth that matches many ‘sea change’ localities and a broad-based economy that reduces vulnerability to sectoral fluctuations. The city centre is building on its rich inheritance, revitalising and complementing its early urbanity. From the 1990s, successive initiatives have enhanced and strengthened the city centre, initially through public realm improvements including rehabilitation of neglected shopfronts, removal of obscuring accretions, extensive street tree-planting and consistent paving upgrades.
The formerly run-down terrace shopfronts lining the View Street hill have transformed to a cosmopolitan strip of cafÈs, bars and collectables shops. Stimulating this was a bold public investment in the creative economy, involving purchase and demolition of a 1960s motel to enable expansion of the Art Gallery into a modern showpiece complementing its traditional core. With international exhibitions unseen in capital cities, the Gallery stimulates about $20 million annual spin-off expenditure in the city.
A broad-based vision for the city centre has achieved stakeholder consensus, providing guidance that encompasses economic, physical and cultural perspectives, along with recognition of the city’s distinctive identity. The Bendigo CBD Plan recently achieved accolades including a prestigious PIA (Victoria) Award for Planning Excellence ahead of a formidable field including major metropolitan projects. To ensure effective delivery of this vision, the City has established a ‘place-based’ senior position dedicated to coordinating implementation across sectors and between specialist responsibilities.
Bendigo has achieved the status of Australia’s first ‘Child-Friendly City’ accredited by UNICEF. Applying the motto that ‘A city that is good for children is a good city for everyone’ is influencing the quality of place for all age levels. Recent physical projects include the new headquarters of the Bendigo Bank, a seven-storey complex in the city centre that has achieved a five Green Star rating. Approval has been granted for a truly mixed use development, involving retail, office, residential and car parking elements stacked vertically on a compact site. A joint design process has informed a new Australian Technical College within the city centre that sets a benchmark for quality in institutional and commercial buildings.
With ongoing public realm enhancement, the blend of new and old architecture in a compact core and its holistic change management approach, Bendigo is providing a highly legible demonstration model from which larger activity centres can draw lessons and identify opportunities to achieve more sustainable futures.