EBD: Melbourne’s Ecological Business District

Live Better, Consume Less: Welcome to EBD.

Melbourne's Ecological Business District

It is important, but it is also fun, to look back over the (short) history of this thriving district. Before 2009, when the idea of the site as a development opportunity was first considered seriously, the usable area was projected as around 20 ha for housing and commercial activity, with some 140,000 square metres set aside for car parking (4000 cars). Here we are today in a district of approximately 38 ha; we make use of the land originally set aside as necessary for rail sidings (10ha), we have built over the railway lines and Wurundjeri Way to link the site into the fabric of North Melbourne, and we have almost twice the density of site usage as was originally planned (without the tall towers of the docklands).  Around three thousand eight hundred car spaces have vanished to become usable and productive land!

Housing, food, water, transport, energy: building resilience.

The decision to increase the available hectares came as a response to the immense political pressure to find residential land close to the city and the bay. In 2009 housing costs were still soaring and petrol prices were on their steep climb; transport to and from work and other amenities became a critical issue affecting development decisions (and where people desired to live).  Food was just becoming another sensitive political issue as water, energy and greenhouse gas costs were affecting the price and availability of some essential foodstuffs. The idea of food security (and indeed energy and water security) was just emerging as a new community concern. Water shortages – droughts – and frequent extreme weather events (including floods) had placed the issue of climate change and resilience (ability to recover from shocks) high on the agenda for action. The aims for the EBD development (originally known for the sites VicTrack designation as EGate) evolved very quickly as the rise of all of these issues led government (and developers) to seek positive, optimistic new projects which could offer evidence – and hope – to a community confronted by unsettling – even frightening – projections of impending change. The final decision to develop the EBD, as we now know it, was taken in the midst of the divisive debate on the carbon trading scheme when every institution that had grown its power-base on fossil-fuels was predicting the end of business and the world as we (they) knew it.

Look around at the EBD infrastructure that was created for the ‘Low Carbon and Resilience Expo’ of 2016. More than one million people came to the site to see and learn from the pavilions and stands of thousands of innovative companies and organisations from 26 countries. (By a requirement for the expo more than 70% of those companies were Australian).  This was the original living development because many of the LCRExpo personnel lived and worked there for over six months. The whole expo was a demonstration of sets of technologies, systems and lifestyles which would be part of the emerging low-carbon future. As the LCRExpo by-line proclaimed, the focus was on how to: ‘consume less resources whilst increasing well-being and prosperity’. The first wide ‘plateau’ over the railways and the Wurundjeri way extension, linked to North Melbourne rail station, was built for the expo (the western part of the current connecting streets and housing). All of the initial landscaping around the creek, the first gardens and market space, the streets and laneways on the southern side of the site and 25% of all the current residential and commercial buildings, date from that period. ACUR came into existence then as the scientific coordination body, delivering the site’s first research assessment of the potential savings from the Expo displays, from the 280 companies that set up shop for almost a year.

In less than 15 yrs the ‘archaeology’ of that ‘original settlement’ is sometimes hard to see. With almost 7000 residents and 4000 people working in the district ( around 2000 people travel to the area for work), the evolution of the old site is easily forgotten. What is always apparent is the open lifestyle and the wellbeing that has emerged from slow-consumption patterns,  diversity, continuous experimentation and the interest in the district from across the country and around the world.

After every major weather ‘event’ it is the impacts on this district that are always used as a comparison with other parts of Melbourne. As we ‘weather the storms’ so much better than most, interest in the development grows. We have a lot to learn from our experimentation but also a lot to show and to ‘export’ as the basis of a new resilient economy. That is why so many of our businesses have been so successful and our district is alive with new ideas.