For three years now, the old Women’s Hospital building on the corner of Swanston and Grattan Streets has been under development. The site is part of a greater project called the Carlton Connect Initiative (CCI) – an effort by The University of Melbourne to create a collaborative space where researchers, government and industry converge to find answers to the most pressing issues surrounding sustainability and society, including water, energy, food and urban futures.
The development of the project is set to span over the next decade, a prospect helped by a recent re-zoning approval that will allow the site to become a multi-storey centre for learning. The site has been approved by the City of Melbourne to build up to 60 metres tall. The authorisation falls in line with the City of Melbourne’s ‘Future Melbourne’ scheme, which aims to make Melbourne more progressive and sustainable.
Victorian Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, stated that he has “supported the City of Melbourne’s approach to working with the community, heritage groups and universities… so that proper plans are in place to guide future development”.
Jacyl Shaw, Director of Engagement at CCI, says that the project is “an example of making elements of these strategies come to life and in turn make impact for good”. Mostly, the initiative prides itself on being able to bring together its partners for on-site collaboration, thus creating an environment conducive to innovation.
So far, one of its most visible outcomes has been the creation of LAB-14, a sub-project that has been officially open for 13 months now. Since then, the space has been home to a range of on-site partners including the Australian-German Climate & Energy College, the EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges and the University’s flagship entrepreneurship initiative; the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP).
When questioned regarding the figures surrounding funding, Shaw made the point that the project is being looked at as more of a “culture changing initiative” than a capital project. For this reason, it’s difficult to capture just how much money is being poured into the plans by the University. Shaw also noted that there are several stakeholders involved, including those from within the private sector.
Given the large amount of resources the project requires to become fully realised, one would expect students to be benefiting in some way from this initiative. Shaw says that students will most certainly see the positive impact of the plans.
Student internships and opportunities to attend workshops are available at the centre, and the number of students participating in this collaborative space is set to rise. Shaw pitches LAB-14 as “a great first step to gaining new insights into topics such as climate change and innovation but also make new contacts and friends”.
“Arts students can attend business workshops at LAB-14 run by the MAP or learn about social entrepreneurship from The Compass; medical students can find out about how energy fits into our economy from PhD students in our German-Australian Energy College at LAB-14 or find out how nanotechnology can cure cancer from the scientists working at the VLSCI,” she says.
Most students are yet to take advantage of these opportunities. Although optimistic about the project in general, third year Bachelor of Environments student, Olivia Hides, is underwhelmed by the minimal effort directed at student involvement.
“I can’t help but be slightly sceptical about the opportunities supposedly provided to university students,” she says.
“Many of my peers are unaware of this initiative and I am yet to see any push for our involvement. It would be such a great opportunity for students but it needs to be marketed towards us if we are to be a valued part of the plan.”
In 2013, Farrago reported on some of the concerns of the wider community regarding university expansion in the area. Wynne has made it clear that these anxieties have been adequately addressed.
“The plans give clear guidance for new development and provide more certainty to residents around what can be built in their area, while also protecting the suburb’s character.”
He is also certain that controls have been put in place to ensure impacts on traffic, noise, overshadowing, wind impacts and how future development will contribute to the streetscape are assessed.
Ultimately, both the University and the council seem to be working towards a common goal: making the bustling inner city area, and more broadly, the City of Melbourne, a centre for innovation and ideas.