Enhancing open spaces

The pandemic has forced a global reassessment of the balance between health and economic advantage. In Port Phillip it has drawn attention to how vital is our daily access to open spaces. . . And yet these assets—so important to residents—are not always valued as they should be.


We’re back in lockdown! And once again the parks and gardens in Port Phillip are offering refuge.

The connections we had with family, friends and neighbours are interrupted, again. No more meeting for a coffee, or for dinner with friends.  Spaces for socializing and relaxing are systematically closed –the cinema, the Library, even gyms and children’s playgrounds  –  these sources of refuge are all out of bounds, again. 

The ability to get out of the house - to shake off the confines of four walls, very claustrophobic for the many Port Phillip residents living in small apartments without outdoor space, but increasingly frustrating for all of us – are again a key activity to provide relaxation, diversion and exercise to break up the daily routine.

Port Phillip is one of the better off Councils in Melbourne with uninterrupted foreshore making up the city’s Southern boundary. There are wonderful swimming beaches along the foreshore, together with off-leash areas where dogs can be walked, and kayaking and wind surfing are other popular activities.

And yet these assets—so important to residents—are not always valued as they should be.

Apart from the foreshore, Port Phillip has many parks and gardens across the municipality. Albert Park is the biggest of these spaces with abundant space for walking and jogging. Then there are the long-established Catani Gardens, Alma Park, St Vincents Place, Westgate Park, Murphy Reserve and the most bountiful of all, St Kilda Botanical Gardens. Current residents are the beneficiaries of the foresight of the early St Kilda Council which commenced the Gardens in 1857. Now they are on the Heritage Victoria Register, and their 810 mature trees include eight on the significant tree register.

Our parks and gardens bring many other benefits in addition to recreation and exercise. Apart from their aesthetic values, they promote social interaction and connection with neighbours. Their physical and mental health benefits have been well identified, reducing stress, heart disease, heart rate and the incidence of asthma and diabetes. They reduce air pollution and provide oxygen, reduce the temperature of city spaces and provide habitat for wildlife. Our lives in densifying city spaces intersected by more and more cars and trucks would be impoverished without the green refuges provided by our parks and gardens.

Our Council seems committed to increasing commercialisation of these public spaces, with Catani Gardens and the adjacent foreshore closed to the public for several weeks earlier this year. Council’s website advertises rental of our open spaces in the following terms: The City of Port Phillip has 11 km of beach frontage, internationally recognised locations, heritage listed gardens and popular shopping strips. High visitation in the area attracts a diverse demographic and we can provide advice on areas that would suit your activity…opportunities include onsite activations, new product launches, product sampling and giveaways…contact us for advice. A direct consequence is the onerous restriction placed on residents' access. They end up paying a price in well-being for the commercial advantage of others.

At the same time Council’s Draft Budget for this year proposes significant cuts to its tree planting and foreshore vegetation programs; the number of trees to be planted this year is the lowest for the last six years.

And a greater threat looms as new groups form in Port Phillip, ahead of the Council elections this October, to urge Council to limit its focus to rates, roads and rubbish, and slash expenditure across the many areas which we presently take for granted, including our open spaces.

The pandemic has forced a global reassessment of the balance between health and economic advantage. In Port Phillip it has drawn attention to how vital is our daily access to open spaces.