Chapel Vision is the City of Stonnington’s latest initiative in a series of projects addressing change in the municipality. The subject of the Structure Plan study is the Prahran/South Yarra Principal Activity Centre, Stonnington’s financial and cultural hub, which includes the tourism meccas of Chapel Street and Toorak Road. The study, led by MGS Architects, seeks to address deficiencies in the social, land use, environmental and physical fabric of the Centre. Core issues including poor pedestrian amenity and safety, traffic congestion and user conflicts are symptomatic of the form of urban osmosis that characterises the area.
This osmosis is signified by the influx of tourists and shoppers and concurrent outgoings of residents for employment, education, neighbourhood and recreation services. It is partly the outcome of poor land use decisions, lack of targeted investment and a dysfunctional physical and social network. While core education, neighbourhood shopping and open space do exist (albeit in need of improvement) the basic frameworks required for their effective access and use do not. In addition the relentless pressure for access to facilities and parking combined with the absence of an overall vision has seen a progressive occupation of park and open space areas with facilities and infrastructure.
The capacity of Chapel Street, Toorak Road, Commercial Road, High Street and Greville Street are largely consumed by street level retail activity, public and private vehicle transport and related infrastructure, whilst the secondary network of streets, lanes and open space corridors has largely been neglected or consumed by bitumen tarmacs for car parking. Likewise the above ground levels that lie behind the heritage facades remain largely unoccupied and the heritage fabric threatened. As a result, the creative and prosperous open and white collar residents who have choices, often leave their neighbourhoods to access places of amenity, employment and even convenience retail, thus reducing expenditure within the Activity Centre, thus contributing to traffic congestion and reducing opportunities for community engagement and strengthening. The movement this inevitably generates often serves to mask the problem of a centre that cannot sufficiently service its own residents: [‘A large number of pedestrians walking in the city does not necessarily indicate a high level of urban quality. However a substantial number of people choosing to spend time in the city is proof of a lively and attractive public realm.’ – Jenny Rayment, ‘Melbourne’s urban transformation into a Place for People’, UDF 72, December 2005]
The imbalance arising from this focus on street level commerce is perhaps best highlighted by the centre’s greatest deficiencies; its lack of offices, its poor interconnectivity of streets and spaces for walking and residential accommodation. As identified by SGS Economics, the centre has the potential to sustain an additional 50,000+ sqm of office floor space, correlating to well in excess of 3000+ office jobs, as well as over 3000 new dwellings. Each, if carefully sited and dispersed as part of a place management outcome would contribute to the vitality and safety of the centre’s streets and urban spaces on a day-to-day and evening basis.
To be sustainable, there is recognition that the centre must diversify its focus. It must improve the opportunities for employment, promote the role of creative enterprises and promote it as a place to live. To achieve these goals there is an imperative to dramatically enhance the safety, capacity and quality of its walking and integrated public transport solutions, community facilities and open spaces.