Sorry, Melbourne: You’re Probably Not Going To Get An Incredible CBD Canal By Ripping Up A Major Street


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Melbourne has always been one of Australia’s most innovative cities. In the past few months alone, the CBD has seen the introduction of free public transport, the return of overnight arts festival White Night — one of the few times in history a city has gifted its people with multiple fire-breathing dragons — and a surreal plan to restore a giant ballroom in one of the major train stations.

Now, an idea presented in The Age has sent the city into an unbridled state of excitement. The story quickly became one of the most-read posts on the newspaper’s website and has garnered hundreds of interested comments as well as a deluge of support on Twitter. This is legitimately more attention than we gave to the fire-breathing dragons.

But here’s this thing: if something looks to good to be true, it probably is.

The Idea

It turns out, there is a secret underground creek that runs the length of Elizabeth Street into the Yarra — seriously — and well-known urban design firm Village Well thinks we should totally get in on that shit.

Like a bunch of new homeowners maniacally ripping up old, daggy carpet in the hopes of finding perfect hardwood floors, these landscape architects have suggested we just tear up the road and transform the CBD street into the “rainforest canal” we all so desperately crave.



But, this isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. Gilbert Rochecouste, the guy behind the whole idea, is a very well-respected figure in the community and has worked on similar “placemaking” projects in the past. In the early ’90s, he was instrumental in the creation of Melbourne’s now iconic laneway culture through his work with Flinders Lane and Degraves Street.

Moreover, this is an idea that’s already been successfully executed elsewhere. In 2005, Seoul destroyed an enormous road in the middle of the city to unearth a beautiful 11km canal and similar work went into creating Canal City Hakata: an elaborate shopping centre design in Fukuoka Japan. As Michael Short of The Age points out, other cities such as Berlin and China may soon be following suit.

“Williams Creek could become the city’s green spine – with the flowing water revived and exposed, native scrubs lining its banks, and the whistling of birdlife carrying through the dense tree canopy,” Rochecouste said, presumably to the tune of this idyllic forest song from Snow White.

“Elizabeth Street will be known as the self-sustaining, resilient heart of the CBD and a walkable green oasis full of quirky shop and spontaneous day and night experiences … Eco-cultural art would line the precinct, telling/reminding passers-by this area was once part of the ‘Kakadu of the South’ and a meeting/trading/celebration place of the Wurundjeri and Bunurong tribes.”

“This will be a place for birdlife, bees and wild grasses. A new and loved place for all Melbournians.”

Needless to say, people are ON BOARD.

And a new canal would undeniably be a tidy solution for those pesky times when Elizabeth Street decides to bring us the first showings of the apocalypse.

The Problem

When I raised the proposal with Melbourne City Councillor and Chair of the Environment Portfolio Arron Wood — the kind of person you need to talk to when thinking about excavating several city blocks — he wasn’t quite so optimistic.

“[This] essentially just got a run in the media. It’s not coming in any form or sense,” he said. “It’s been around for many years. It’s been talked about in various circles in industry and government, but it’s just not a proposal that can be seriously considered.”

Though the plan outlined in The Age has not been officially presented to the Council, Cr Wood claims there was no way it would ever be seriously entertained, mainly because of the effects it would have on commuters.

“We have a world class public transport system [and] there are two major transport proposals coming up,” he said.

Elizabeth Street is serviced by three major tram routes and maintains its own tram terminus. It is also right alongside Flinders Street Station which is in the midst of a $100 million redevelopment and in the middle of the CBD where work has officially commenced on the Melbourne Metro Project — AKA Project Let’s Finally Get Underground Tunnels And Make Trains Not Suck So Bad.

Though Cr Wood is fond of the canal idea and finds the display of community engagement encouraging, he states he’s trying to improve the area in other ways such as the “pedestrianisation of Elizabeth Street” and “bringing flood risk down from extreme to high”. After looking into problems with stormwater drainage and the upper catchments around Parkville, he expects the Council will pass a renewed Integrated Water Management Plan tonight.

“I don’t ever begrudge people for planning their view of Melbourne,” he said.

With that, and the fact that Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has just dismissed the idea on Fairfax radio with an incredibly groan-worthy pun — “[it’s] a bridge too far” — the chances of this ever happening aren’t looking good.

The Moral

Never let a man in a fedora get your hopes up.