Retaining a sense of community in the face of rapid change

Looking ahead, we would like the Council to be curious about our ‘lived’ experience of Montague, writes Trisha Avery, convener of community neighbourhood group, Montague Community Alliance

One day in January 2013, I stumbled upon a Port Melbourne local paper. In it, a group of Port Melbourne residents was criticising the development of a seven-storey apartment block on a neighbouring property of ours, in South Melbourne. Suffice to say, that once we got over the shock, and realised none of our neighbours knew about this development either, and that we had been rezoned, with no warning, to a Capital City Zone (CCZ), thereby losing our third-party rights, we created the Montague Community Alliance. We named our community group after the legacy name of this area of South Melbourne - Montague.

Initially, the focus of our group, was to ensure we received communication about the precinct from both the State Government and the Council. Then we started to lobby for lower heights and density and for the right to work with the developers on a Neighbourhood Agreement.

This area of South Melbourne has always been a close-knit community. The history is well known. In the early 20th century it was a vibrant working-class neighbourhood with great connections to the local industries. It even had its own Footy Club, The Montague Rovers.

This close connection remains to this day and as the residents grow, for example in the last two years we have had more than 300 people come to live just in Gladstone Street, so does the need to continue to be connected and engaged with each other.

As more townhouses and apartments towers are completed in the next few months (currently there are about 25 townhouses and approximately 200 apartments), it may become increasingly challenging to retain a sense of community and that is a pressing issue for the future. To ensure we remain a community that is responsible for creating warm and engaged amenity and liveability, is a priority. This will take time and effort and will need support from the Council as well as the Fishermans Bend Development Board and Taskforce.

There has been, also, an exponential growth in businesses in the area.  As the car trade leaves the precinct, new businesses arrive - a mix of mainly town planners, architects etc., mental health professionals and creative industries. We have been working hard to bring these businesses into the community and thus far, that has been very successful.

Looking ahead, we would like the Council to be curious about our ‘lived’ experience of Montague. We want to have more communication about developments and how they will be managed and retain amenity and liveability for existing residents and businesses, and most importantly we want Neighbourhood Agreements to be included in the Building permit process so that the community can be looked after, as well as the Developers.

Our community group operates as an organic process. In normal circumstances, we run three Community Events a year with up to 40 people attending. We have negotiated The Southbank Local News to be our local paper, as we never received any local papers before that. And as convenor, I write a column in this paper every month to keep the community informed. We also have a Facebook and Twitter presence.

Trisha Avery is the Convenor,  Montague Community Alliance.