Closing City Square: The change downtown Melbourne needed

Closing City Square: The change downtown Melbourne needed

The statue of explorers Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills in city square this morning. 10th April 2017. Photo by Jason South Photo: Jason SouthWork ramps up for $10.7b Metro projectMelbourne’s best development in 25 yearsMelbourne Metro to close city streets for years

The removal of the Burke and Wills statue from its prominent location on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets in the early hours of Monday morning marks the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in Melbourne’s story.

The bronze sculpture is the oldest piece of public art in Melbourne and the only example of 19th century artwork in the municipality that depicts figures who lived and died in .

The monument was first installed as a roundabout at the intersection of Collins and Russell streets and has been moved five times since; usually to make way for road, tram and rail infrastructure.

Ironically it is being moved again to facilitate the construction of a city-changing public transport project: Melbourne Metro and the CBD South railway station. The $10.9 billion project will connect three train lines through a nine kilometre tunnel under Swanston Street.

This month, City Square, one of our most important civic hearts, was officially closed for five years to enable this vital major project to proceed.

Since the Queen opened City Square in 1980, it has been a place for workers to bask in the sun on their lunchbreak, for families to enjoy on a visit to the city and host to major events such as the Christmas festival and Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.

This will be a major change and disruption to our city and we will feel nostalgia for City Square but I am confident that we can continue to work with the Victorian Government to negotiate the best outcome for the people of Melbourne.

When City Square is returned to us, we will have a unique opportunity to redesign it as a public space featuring all sorts of interactive and interesting design elements.

For example, when I was in Paris, they turned the Champs Elysees into a two kilometre gigantic nursery with trees, plants, farm animals, cows, horses, pigs and ducks; there was even a sculpture park. They did similar things in New York’s Times Square.

The Metro Tunnel will see less reliance on trams to connect people from St Kilda Road to the University of Melbourne, and the public transport movements we see on Swanston Street today will largely go underground.

With less reliance on trams we will have an opportunity to revitalise our civic spine for pedestrians, and iconic buildings such as the Town Hall, the Nicholas Building and the Manchester Unity could be brought back into focus.

Melburnians are “glass half full” people and we are looking forward to seizing some of the many opportunities that the project will bring.

We must ensure our infrastructure and facilities continue to modernise and keep pace with our growth if we want to remain one of the world’s best cities to live, work and visit.

This year is an important one for game-changing city projects including the Queen Victoria Market renewal project, Elizabeth Street streetscape improvement works, $65m of public realm works in Southbank and the redevelopment of Flinders Street Station, Southbank Boulevard, the State Library and Etihad Stadium.

Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle is a regular Domain columnist. His fee for this article will be donated to Field of Women.