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Work, Live, Play: making 24-hour cities a reality


Work, Live, Play: making 24-hour cities a reality

MAB co-founder and Managing Director, Andrew Buxton, discusses his vision for Merrifield and explains why building new 24-hour cities is key to the sustainable future of Melbourne.

In a single decade prior to 2017, Melbourne’s population grew by a staggering 24.8%. With over 893,000 new residents in this 10-year timeframe, it is easy to believe that the forecasts to date have been significantly understated. In fact, population growth in the Greater Melbourne area (now over 4.485m) has exceeded even the high case prediction of 4.452m made by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2006. But whilst the numbers are impressive, the entire city has felt this weight gain. Public transport systems, roads, schools, residences and general infrastructure are all – or will soon be – bursting at the seams.

With limited time and seemingly unlimited growth on our hands, what can we do to accommodate our city’s future whilst meeting the individual needs of its people?

Creating a future in Melbourne’s boundaries

We’re seeing a growing need for spaces outside the central city where small businesses and enterprises alike can build not only their offices, but their homes too. In order for this to happen, the surrounding environment must be conducive to a modern, mobile and integrated lifestyle.

Mixed-use spaces offer a clear solution to the Melbourne’s population growth. But the days of an industrial park opening at 7am and closing at 3pm are over. Today’s workforce has very different demands to its predecessors, particularly in the world’s most liveable cities. Employees want a great work-life balance, sophisticated spaces that blend with the surrounding landscape, and access: access to jobs, schools, cafes, gyms, active open spaces, local conveniences – all in the confines of a sub-5km radius.

Consequently, business parks are no longer ghost towns in the early evening but an integrated part of its local community. With developments like Merrifield, our aim is to inject soul into new mixed-use spaces, so that they become homes, offices and entire environments worth the genuine pride of their inhabitants.

Enter, the business park

In 1997, MAB launched the Northcorp Industry Park in Broadmeadows. The 84-hectare site was an old army barracks in Melbourne’s un-landscaped North. This location seemed an incongruous fit for a competitive, aesthetically pleasing business park – in fact, our original objectives were simply residential. But we eventually committed $1million to our landscaping budget (unheard of for the North at the time) and nurtured what is now a truly sophisticated development.

That project changed the face of industrial parks in the North. Looking back, we not only celebrate Northcorp as a first for MAB, but as a first for the future of Melbourne’s North corridor. With every passing year, we have set ourselves loftier targets. Our University Hill acquisition in 2003 evolved from purely employment-based objectives into a world-class, mixed-use business park where residents, retail and other commercial uses could co-exist with pride. Everything is catered for – employees can pop off to gym after the childcare drop-off, head on to a brunch meeting and a doctor’s appointment at lunchtime, and fetch dinner on the way home.

Our masterplanned communities continue to deliver on this integrated vision, even as industrial needs change. In the past, we catered for medium-large sized businesses requiring office, warehouse and manufacturing facilities. Today we’re also seeing a new wave of small business owners and single operators – think tradesman needing space for their tools and equipment, or a small business needing warehouse and storage space. Our planning now includes flexible allotments (and the local amenities) to allow for these differing needs.

With Merrifield, we’re taking things just that little bit further. In response to the technological and environmental revolutions across the globe, we’re working towards a truly future-proofed, sustainable settlement. Immediate access to NBN and an eventual self-sustaining water supply are just two of the potential features that will make Merrifield an attractive departure from our saturated city.

Plan it and they will come

In order to move forward, we must connect and collaborate with those who will share the responsibility of our city’s future. Federal, state and local governments must work with developers to envision and vet designs that meet the projected needs of Melbourne’s next decades – forecasted needs that, if previous growth is anything to go on, are likely understated.

In 10 to 20 years, business parks will be 24-hour hubs of commercial and semi-commercial activity that would once have found their home in the CBD. MAB’s initial suggestion of one commercial building at University Hill sparked controversy and debate back then. Now, the site boasts 5 commercial buildings and stands firm as an evolutionary marker on the road to Merrifield and beyond.

A common vision is vital if solutions are to be fruitful in 20 or 30 years’ time. Our long-term Merrifield dream includes state-of-the-art tertiary and health facilities in light of our 24-hour community vision. Although these features remain on paper for now, we have taken vital steps with governments and land owners towards making them realities. Contrary to the old adage that we can’t control the future, we kind of can. If we allocate space and make viable plans, our shared vision for a 24-hour city may not be so far away after all.