Three fundamental questions to shaping the future of Southbank

Three fundamental questions to shaping the future of Southbank

By David Hamilton - President

As the air becomes warmer and the blossom trees spring into bloom, Southbankers are yearning to spend more time outside. But where can we go to enjoy these approaching balmy nights?

Quality, useable green space has long been lacking in a community dominated by high-rise buildings and vertical villages. It was a sentiment that came out loud and clear from the recent Participate Melbourne survey. While the results from the survey told us a lot of what we already knew, and validated concerns we hold in relation to traffic, safety, and the lack of social amenities, it also poses the question – how connected to the City of Melbourne are Southbankers?

So, let’s start the conversation.

Considering we live in a suburb with more than 22,000 residents, why was the take-up of the Participate Southbank Survey so low?

Community insights can be very effective because they identify gaps or potential issues that may not be known by the council. But with participation of around 600 actual residents did the City of Melbourne achieve its goal of obtaining a strong representation of the community of Southbank?

Our thoughts are “probably not” but that isn’t a criticism of the Participate Melbourne team. It demonstrates how different Southbank is and how difficult it is to bring people together to articulate a shared view about this location. Southbank is not a simple neighbourhood location; it has several vastly different small districts. Southbank East, around Kavanagh St and the Arts Precinct, is different from Southbank West and the old Village areas. We learned that from the last Census.

The 2021 census tells us that out of the 22,000 residents that reside in Southbank, 15,000 are under the age of 40. Once upon a time Southbank used to be considered a transient community, but more recent data has uncovered a desire for residents to put down more permanent roots and stay for five years or more, meaning Southbank has developed into a dynamic and bustling neighbourhood. The census also challenges many of the perceptions about ethnicity, language, diversity that have gained some currency.

Adding to the complexity of the area is the fact that Southbank has become the home to a hospitality industry along its northern border along the Yarra that is targeting the wider Melbourne market, as does the arts industry on its eastern boundary. Both are convenient to residents but are not neighbourhood or local in their outlook and their business models do not lend themselves to a neighbourhood focus.

The Participate Melbourne process is the beginning of the dialogue with the city. It needs to be supported wholeheartedly by all residents. The council is reaching out to us. It is refocussing its service delivery and making itself more accountable to locals for the services it delivers.


The difficulty it and the community in Southbank face is that despite the “newness” of the building stock, the area is deprived in terms of community facilities and social development.  In fact, the very structure of the vertical villages contributes to that as has the lack of planning by past state and local governments. This has left the residents and the council now trying to play catch up, so we all need to work together with the council to make the vision for the neighbourhood model a reality and changes what happens local in the future.


So how can council ensure it reaches a broader cross section of community? The neighbourhood program is a great start, and by encouraging residents to get involved with volunteering and community building it will lay the foundations to a more engaged community

One of the disappointments arising from the council’s work is the view of people that the “economy of the future” in Southbank is hospitality and retail which abound here but not necessarily where people live. Hopefully the “economy of the future” has a bigger vision than that whether it be Web3, or other knowledge-based industries as the focus.

Perhaps arts bodies here can transform from places where things exist to become places where voices are heard especially local. The importance of the social environment in which they exist, and technological change should dominate them whether it involves algorithmic creation or digital.

We as a community need to drive creative thinking about our future, we need to get inspired, and we need to inspire the council so it can bring its resources and political force to bear on other levels of government to rebuild Southbank’s social infrastructure and economic base.

The next steps in the participate process will unfold on November 22 right here is Southbank when the City of Melbourne’s Future Melbourne Committee meets here for the first time. This will also coincide with the launch of its Resident Portal opening a communication channel between locals and the council. All a precursor to moving services into Southbank and making the council’s service providers more accountable. None of this would have been possible without the energy and commitment of the Lord Mayor and the Deputy Lord Mayor to driving this change in focus.

It is time for residents to engage in a more actively with the council, so its officers listen, learn, and adapt. An engaged community is a powerful community and Southbankers have the potential to reframe the future.

So, Southbank3006 is asking, three fundamental questions …

  • How do we make localised services happen to reframe the social development in Southbank, so we are no longer the deprived south of the city?
  • How do we work with the council to make Southbank a centre of low traffic neighbourhoods with the creative use of open space to enable community gardens and pocket parks to meet in?
  • What does the economy of the future look like for Southbank – it has to be more than more coffee shops and afterhours dining?

We want your ideas, your thoughts, we would love for you to reach out to us at [email protected]

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