[Editorial] Fed Square and Apple store debate: the people reject the Andrews Government proposal.

Tonight, Our City, Our Square made a major public appearance in a debate over the future of Fed Square hosted by Open House Melbourne. The event booked out in less than an hour.

Almost 300 people packed into Deakin Edge, Fed Square. Many more people watched the live online stream, and had their say on #OurCityOurSquare & #FedSqDebate social media.

The public response was overwhelmingly against the Andrews Government’s Apple store.

Andrew Mackenzie (Foreground) moderated the event.

For the Andrews Government’s Apple store at Fed Square (Affirmative):

After 18 months of secret Andrews Government negotiations with Apple, the public heard from some of the project decision makers for the first time.

  • Donald Bates (Director Lab Architects)
    • An Apple store is consistent with his original vision for Fed Square. 
    • It is not a Chadstone Apple store. It’s more like the Chicago Apple store.
    • He is confident project architects Foster + Partners will produce a design appropriate for Fed Square.
  • Jill Garner (State Government Architect OVGA)
    • The community needs to better understand how architecture and design works—as a process.
    • The Government Architect seeks to inspire improved design outcomes in projects.
  •  Martine Letts (CEO Committee for Melbourne)
    • Melbourne’s prosperity and liveability depends on investments like Apple’s store.
    • Letts says, Apple has chosen Melbourne for its first Southern Hemisphere flagship store.
    • Letts says, Melburnians can take pride in being chosen.
  • Jonathan Tribe (CEO Fed Square)
    • Fed Square is losing its competitive advantage to other squares in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne’s Cato Square in Prahran.
    • Apple is a cutting-edge technology company.
    • The Apple store is consistent with the Fed Square charter.

Bates and Garner also indicated that the Apple design has not been finalised.

Overall, the arguments were familiar.

For a Fed Square without the Andrews Government’s Apple store (Negative):

The Negative team reflected many of the views that the tens of thousands of people who have spoken up against the Andrews Government’s proposed Apple store have expressed.

  • Rohan Leppert (City of Melbourne)
    • The Apple store demonstrates a failure of process.
    • "The debate should have been had before the Apple store was presented as a fait accompli just before Christmas."
    • "Passionate community engagement in planning is a constant. Either government, and development proponents, recognise that and embrace it, or they ignore it at their peril."
    • "If the state government thinks that public anger is going to subside, they've got another thing coming."
  • Tania Davidge (Our City, Our Square):
    • An Apple store is not consistent with the Fed Square Charter.
    • "People are what make cities great, and people do not want this store. I could read you messages from some of the tens of thousands of people that I represent who have signed petitions opposing this decision."
    • "People define Fed Square – it is our city and our square. We must make our opposition to this Apple store heard."
    • "Without us, without people, Fed Square is simply a plaza in front of an Apple store."
  • Ron Jones (Landscape Architect, Director Jones and Whitehead)
    • Jones spoke on the urban design and architecture.
    • The design of the project is not satisfactory.
    • There is a tension between the intentional closure of Fed Square and the possibility of opening it up to the river.
    • "The project requires a fundamental rethink."
  • Esther Anatolitis (NAVA)
    • "It’s a decision that’s been met with shock across the nation."
    • "So what will this mean for public space? Any community gathering or public event presented at Fed Square becomes an ad for Apple. Any political gathering, planned or otherwise, becomes coopted as cultural cred for Apple."
    • "Shopping malls that are closed to traffic are the natural home of the multinational flagship store."
    • "Instead of making Fed Square a gift to one single business, let’s rethink Victoria’s civic and cultural responsibility to create a public space of enduring public value."

Result: Andrews Government’s Apple store doesn’t belong at Fed Square

What was at stake tonight was less the architecture and the buildings of Fed Square. Rather, the issue is that Fed Square has become too successful. Victorians have claimed Fed Square as their public space. Yet have been sidelined in decision making about this space.

“Do the ends justify the means?” asked Mackenzie in conclusion: the issue is complex.

Remarks

In sum, the Apple store proponents had two general points: (i) the community opposition represents an aversion to Fed Square changing and (ii) an Apple store is appropriate (even necessary) for a twenty-first century public square.

Yet, the backlash is less about an aversion to change than about how that change has been instituted. The process has disregarded the people of Victoria.

Further, Victorians are saying that they do not want their twenty-first-century public square to have an Apple store in it. Therefore, simply put, it shouldn't be built. 

Will the Andrews Government listen to the people and scrap this Apple store?

Will the Victorian Opposition commit to disallowing this Apple store in the Legislative Council?

If the audience at both Deakin Edge and on social media had their way, the Apple store would have been scrapped at 8:18PM tonight.

Words by James Lesh, urbanist and researcher, University of Melbourne.

 

For interviews or background on the Our City, Our Square campaign, contact spokesperson Brett de Hoedt on 0414 713 802.