Photo by Leon Rice-Whetton
I've just read a fabulous photo essay about Footscray which has inspired me to post a piece I wrote a year or so ago, giving my vision of Footscray 2020. I'd love your thoughts!
Footscray! Where else would anyone want to live! I’ve been here for 30 years, and I can now truly say that Footscray is finally realising its potential.
Above all what makes Footscray is its friendly and diverse people. People stop and chat on the streets, admire each other’s gardens, swap home grown fruit and vegetables, and look after each other’s kids and elderly parents. Street parties abound and are institutions – some have been going now every year for over 20 years.
I love the Footscray shopping centre with its range of shops catering for rich and poor from all corners of the world. We’ve got the Vietnamese, African, Middle Eastern and Indian shops and fresh food and bargains that Footscray has always been known for, and a range of other shopping has been added over the last decade, including bookshops, and shops to spend up big in. Footscray’s restaurants continue to impress, and there’s a great range of cafes and bars, some with live music, some just a great vibe. Some of the African bars and cafes keep on being ‘discovered’ by people from out of town. And anything you can’t get in Footscray, it’s just a short fast tram ride to Highpoint. Home delivery services are subsidised by Council too, which means there’s not a problem of needing a car to bring something home.
The long awaited redevelopment of the Grand Theatre in Paisley St is just amazing. It makes great use of its frontage onto Madden Square. The magnificent theatre space has been restored and we now have cinemas back in Footscray!
Four to six storey apartment developments that have kept our heritage street-fronts give us the best of both worlds – an increase in housing that’s close to transport, and right in the shopping centre, but without being overpowering, or or creating cold windy streets. There’s some car parking on site, but it’s sold and leased separately so that people who don’t need a car parking space aren’t paying for one. People are also able to lease spots in other car parks off site.
Fortunately the community won the battles a decade ago against the 25 storey skyscrapers and wall to wall 10 - 15 storey apartments which would have overpowered the human scale, and the friendly feel. There are a few 10- 15 storey buildings – they are well designed, cutting edge in their sustainability features, and feature roof top gardens, community composting, and communal recreation facilities. There are a few tall buildings that were built inappropriately ten years ago – they stand as examples of what the community fought against and won.
The redevelopment of Footscray has taken place in the existing CBD area, around the station, and at Joseph’s Road – a fantastic new suburb is emerging there surrounded by parkland and stretching down to the magnificent Heavenly Queen temple. The residential areas surrounding Footscray CBD have been protected, and now have more trees, and our heritage streetscapes proudly maintained.
Footscray now has an amazing array of community facilities for its growing population. The three local primary schools and two high schools are vibrant, bustling and diverse. Plenty of community based childcare centres and kindergartens meet the needs of the growing population. There are community centres that provide meeting spaces and places for people of all backgrounds to gather and do things together. The most incredible development of the last decade has been The Library community centre and recreation complex. This is an amazing place, incorporating the library and including a network of spaces from the Baptist and Anglican churches. And we’re so proud of the new Footscray pool which opened just last year on the old car park site next door. The sense of being a University town is a big feature too – Victoria Uni facilities are now scattered through the CBD, bringing University life into the streets.
Parks, community gardens and open space are real features of Footscray. The railway line behind Irving St has been roofed over, providing a plaza connecting the heritage park on McNab Avenue to the CBD. The walks down to the River along Bunbury St and Napier St are green and peaceful and lead to the redeveloped river frontage – now proudly the front door to Footscray. The boats are back at Footscray Wharf and it’s once again a working wharf, with boats pulled for repairs – always with curious onlookers checking out progress. Across the river the Port’s noise and activity provide the industrial backdrop that has always been a feature of Footscray.
The riverside arts precinct has spread out and embraced the CBD – the arts trail from the Community Arts Centre to the Grand Theatre is renowned across the country. The Dancing Dog Theatre and the Open Studios event held every year are institutions, and MREAM studios have just celebrated their 30th birthday! Artists from around the world are flocking to live and work in Footscray, some in the strangest nooks and crannies of buildings. This has only been possible because of support from the state government to ensure such spaces aren’t redeveloped out of existence and to subsidise rents for artists and other low income earners. The benefits to the community far outweigh the costs.
A big part of the cost of the community facilities, open space and social services have been paid for by developers- it’s their contribution to making Footscray a great place to be. They complained initially when these developer contributions were first proposed but now recognise the benefits to everyone that such facilities bring.
Most trips into the heart of the Footscray CBD are by public transport, walking and bike. The streets are green and clean, with lots of trees, and free of litter. A big state government grant a few years back enabled the complete restoration of all of Footscray’s footpaths, gutters and drains so that it’s easy, safe and enjoyable to wander the streets. The network of bike paths is something to be proud of – everyone feels safe riding through Footscray and you see all types, fancy racers and beaten up old treadlies, cargo bikes with kids and lots of deliveries by bike. There are great bike tracks radiating out from Footscray to all the nearby suburbs. My favourite cyclists are the elderly Vietnamese women who have taken up cycling again after a gap of more than 40 years when they were teenagers in Vietnam. The transport interchange at the station features bike parking and bike repair businesses, and the Olympic donut van of course, as well as the long awaited bus and tram interchange – now everyone knows where to catch a bus to everywhere! The tram line to Docklands which opened just last year leaves from here too, whizzing people to Southern Cross station in under 10 minutes. There are trains every 5 minutes to the city, and every 10 to Melton and Werribee, buses and trams every 10 minutes too, so most people don’t need a timetable.
But cars haven’t been neglected. After all, many people still drive from the outer suburbs to do their shopping in Footscray. A few private multi-storey car parks have been developed on the edge of the CBD. These car parks also provide shopping trolleys on a small deposit making it easy for people to park and shop. What has gone are the trucks – much more freight is now carried to and from the Port by rail and the remaining container truck traffic is restricted to the Westgate bridge.
Council is known for its positive relationships with the traders. We got through the big problems of a decade ago when it seemed that Council was intent on making life as difficult as possible for the traders. Supported with state government resources, Council entered into a genuine collaboration with the traders and shoppers, really listening to their needs and providing support. It has taken resources, and the right people to do the job but it’s been worth every cent to see the transformation of not just the shopping centre, but the relationships. People genuinely get on! The punitive parking cameras which actively scared people away from shopping in Footscray in 2010 were replaced by an award winning community engagement process that has helped everyone in our diverse community to understand the road and parking rules, backed up by firm but fair enforcement.
Police are also present and highly regarded – a stint in Footscray is regarded as a prize. They are on the beat day and night, on foot and on bikes, and have excellent relationships with the local welfare organisations – they work hand in hand, dealing with the underlying causes of crime as well as the effects. Lots more resources have been put into affordable housing, dealing with mental health problems, helping kids to stay at school or get on the job training, one on one support for families doing it tough, and helping to prevent and overcome drug and alcohol abuse, so that a lot of the social problems we experienced at the turn of the century are now a thing of the past.
Footscray I love you – here’s to your future!