Our new CBD street furniture could change the face of Melbourne

What parts of our city are you most proud of? What pieces feel the most like “Melbourne”? Perhaps it is one of our icons like the MCG or Flinders Street Station. Or maybe it is our laneways and bluestone footpaths. They feel luxurious to walk on, and have become synonymous with our city.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said however for our street furniture. Our stainless-steel seats, lighting, bins and tram shelters are functional but are entirely soft and generic. We interact with these city objects every day, yet they foster no community pride and conjure no sense of home. Their design has nothing to say about our creative and diverse city.

Stainless steel seating in Bourke Street.

Stainless steel seating in Bourke Street.Credit:Joe Armao

With news that the City of Melbourne is reviewing the design standards for our street furniture, it is time to lift our ambition.

One of the most beguiling abilities of good architecture or design is its ability to conjure identity. We need to be unleashing this power on our street furniture so that it sings “Melbourne” the same way that Flinders Street Station, Federation Square or the MCG does. We should be able to look at these objects in isolation and feel they intrinsically belong in our vibrant city, like a yellow cheese stick across a freeway.

To achieve this, we need to be looking to our past for inspiration.

Ideally in any city we should be able to visually appreciate the layers of history. In Melbourne it is commonplace for our 19th and 20th century buildings to be interlaced and interwoven with contemporary alterations and additions.

These layers can be seen in places like the shot tower at Melbourne Central, the old GPO at Bourke Street and at the Shrine of Remembrance. These places tell a story, but this story is not complete. While our 19th and 20th century buildings are well represented, our city streets have very limited visibility of our Indigenous heritage.

Street furniture provides an ideal canvas to tell a story.

Street furniture provides an ideal canvas to tell a story.Credit:Darrian Traynor

There are exceptions in places like Birrarung Marr, but far more needs to be done to properly embrace and recognize the Woi Wurrung (Wurundjeri) and Boon Wurrung peoples in our built environment. The refresh of our city’s street furniture gives us a chance to further embrace and celebrate Indigenous culture and history.

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