Citizens for Melbourne: 2018

A year in the Our City, Our Square Campaign

On 20 December 2017, the Victorian State Labor Government announced — 3 working days before Christmas — that Federation Square’s Yarra building would be demolished to make way for an Apple Flagship store.

Public outrage ensued. Almost 80% of over 10,000 people responding to a poll in The Age agreed that an Apple store in Fed Square was not the best use of public space. Three petitions went up on Change.org opposing the proposal. These petitions, of which we hold two, have currently accumulated over 100,000 signatures.

Citizens for Melbourne formed in response to this public outcry and set up the ‘Our City, Our Square’ campaign to represent and give voice to the people whose right to speak and comment on the proposal has been silenced by the implementation of Planning Amendment C134 – which removed all right of public exhibition and public comment.

We began by facilitating over 800 public submissions to the Melbourne City Council’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting on February 4, 2018. At this meeting we spoke in support of Councillor Rohan Leppert’s motion to hold the State Government to account for their decision to replace the Yarra building with an Apple store.

On February 13, we participated in the Open House Melbourne ‘Apple in Federation Square Public Debate’ in the Deakin Edge theatre at Federation Square. Around 400 concerned citizens attended this debate and our side won by a significant margin.

Our campaign has been active in the media, demonstrating a high level of public interest in the issue. In addition to writing articles for the Herald Sun, the Age, ArchitectureAU, The Conversation and Architect Victoria we have provided commentary to national and international newspapers, online publications, television and radio.

People from all walks of life have exhibited concern for the issue. The issue became a key talking point during the City of Melbourne mayoral by-election when we asked mayoral candidates for their positions on the Apple store at Federation Square. Eight of the fourteen candidates opposed the Apple proposal, four candidates did not respond and only two voiced their support.

During the mayoral by-election we ran the “Fed Square NOT Apple Square” poster campaign which plastered Melbourne and its inner suburbs with posters opposing the proposal. We held a press conference to launch the campaign which was covered by The Age, The Herald Sun, Channel 7 news and Channel 9 news. Mayoral candidate, Sally Warhaft, turned up to voice her support.

People have consistently shown their interest in the changes happening at Federation Square. We ran tours of Federation Square for the Open House Melbourne weekend at the end of July and for the 15th anniversary of Architects for Peace. We have given numerous talks in many different forums to many different audiences.

In August, we helped a Brisbane-based public space activist group to organise a fruit themed, anti-Apple store in Federation Square, flash mob which made the Channel 7 news in both Victoria and South Australia.

We set up an online store with a range of fundraising merchandise, including t-shirts, hats and tote bags.

We support the National Trust Australia Victoria’s nomination of Federation Square to the Victorian Heritage Register. Our association facilitated over 600 submissions to the Heritage Council of Victoria in support of the heritage recommendation.

We organised a protest rally for ‘Fed Square NOT Apple Square’ on a cold Wednesday evening in September attended by around 200 people. At the rally I called on the Andrews Government to put people first in public space. Simon Ambrose, CEO of the National Trust Australia (Victoria), spoke about the heritage value of Federation Square. Colleen Peterson from Ratio Planning Consultants talked about the importance of assessing the community benefit of proposals like this through a robust and transparent planning decision-making process. And to conclude, City of Melbourne Councillor, Rohan Leppert, urged us to contact our State Government political decision makers and our local politicians to tell them how much we value Fed Square.

We hope that if nothing else we have helped people to speak publicly through our activism. The State Government has relied heavily on the pro-Apple arguments of Donald Bates, one of the original architects of Federation Square. However, his co-director at LAB Architects, Peter Davidson — although unable to make public comment due to a stroke he suffered some years ago — attended our rally. Peter has made his opposition to the proposal clear to us and has gifted us the use of one of his beautiful artworks as part of our fundraising campaign.

We have met with politicians from both sides of politics. We were vocal during the Victorian State Election campaign asking parties and candidates for their positions on the Apple Store at Fed Square. We have spoken with politicians from all sides of politics. We have facilitated over 600 hundred emails to our state politicians in opposition to the proposal.

In November the ‘Our City, Our Square’ campaign won two 2018 ArchiTeam Awards. We were joint winners of the ‘Contribution and Innovation’ award and were awarded the ‘Sustainability Medal’. The jury citation for the ‘Sustainability Medal’ stated:

This public campaign presents a sustainable approach to public space, broadly conceived across environment, social and economic spheres. At its core, the project aims for a more sustainable environment by mobilising our community to save a recent building that fundamentally works and provides a significant public asset. Quite simply, retaining a building eliminates the need to expend resources on a replacement, thus conserving the embodied energy, social capital, cultural value, creative investment, and financial investment in Federation Square, completed only 16 years ago.

This campaign asks architects to act as citizens as well as consultants. It reminds us that sustainability goes beyond design, changes to lifestyle and technological advances. In fighting for a long-term perspective on the city it acknowledges the social value of our built environment and considers sustainability on the level of the city.

We developed a People’s Plan for the square in consultation with our 3,700+ strong supporters. Unlike the State Government we are interested in what people have to say. We will use our ‘People’s Plan for Federation Square’ as the basis for our advocacy in the second year of our campaign.

In December, we sent our submission to the Heritage Council of Victoria in support of Heritage Victoria’s recommendation that Federation Square be listed as a place of State-level cultural heritage significance on the Victorian Heritage Register.

In February 2019 (after a well-deserved break) we were back on board with a bang as Federation Square Pty Ltd applied for a heritage permit to demolish the Yarra Building and replace it with an Apple store in an attempt to short-cut the Heritage process already under way. At the time of writing we have facilitated over 2100 submissions objecting to the permit and will make a detailed submission on behalf of our association before submissions close on 13 February 2019.

To counter the heritage application and the attempt by Federation Square Pty Ltd to undermine the heritage value of its own asset — Federation Square — we launched a tongue in cheek crowd funding campaign to buy back Federation Square or at least fund the short fall Federation Square management claim they need — $40 million. Conceived of and organised by our Vice President Brett de Hoedt with our Secretary James Lesh and supported by all, the crowd funding campaign garnered national and International news media.

Over the course of our fight we have gained a deeper understanding of Federation Square, which includes but is not limited to its management and governance structure, its architectural character and quality, its social and historical significance and its programming and curation.

Federation Square is more than the sum of its built elements — it is Victoria’s most important civic and cultural public space and Melbourne’s town square. Public space is where citizens come together to express their collective civic identity. It is not only built form that defines this. Buildings form the backdrop to public life and good architecture can help facilitate it. However, public space is socially produced. Its meaning, content and form are negotiated over time through a variety of different processes — public protest and celebration, government policy, corporate and private interests and the like. The Citizens for Melbourne and our ‘Our City, Our Square’ campaign are playing our part in negotiating the meaning, content and form of public space in Victorian and in turn, in Australia.

Throughout this process we have made friends and allies. Federation Square has brought us together as a group and together with the many other people who are also part of this fight. Our association is part of a large community of people who oppose the demolition of the Yarra Building to make way for an Apple store. We have become part of Federation Square’s history just as it is now part of ours.

Tania Davidge

President, Citizens for Melbourne