Plenty of ideas for a better Breese Block
Area predicted to become second most densely populated in the state within years
A YEAR since a small group of residents in the Breese Street area of Brunswick first came together informally to discuss how to make their neighbourhood more liveable, concrete plans are starting to take shape.
About 60 people took part in a brainstorming session at Breese Street venue Tempo Rubato last Saturday where they heard from urban planning experts and brainstormed ideas ranging from the modest (more trees and pedestrian crossings) to the aspirational (one way streets and even a rooftop cinema).
Most people attending the session have moved into new apartments in the area in the past few years, and while the residential population is booming, public amenity has failed to keep pace.
‘Breese Block’ is an area of about 8 hectares bordered by Albion and Hope streets to the north and south, Sydney Road to the east and the Upfield line to the west. Breese Street runs from north to south through the middle of it.
Until recently, it was a light industrial zone full of low rise factories and warehouses, but it is undergoing a rapid transformation into one of the most densely populated residential neighbourhoods in metropolitan Melbourne.
“In the six minutes it takes to walk the length of Breese Street, from Albion Street down past Hope [Street] into Ovens [street], you will pass 1226 dwellings and the approximately 2000 people who live in them, and this will double in the next few years,” said Sally Gray, one of the founders of the Better Breese Block initiative.
“Our dense residential neighborhood being a former light industrial zone has had little public realm consideration to a residential setting.”
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Gray, who is a writer, curator and cultural historian, grappled to understand why there was so little public infrastructure when she moved to the area from Sydney in 2020.
She said that in Sydney property developers were required to contribute to public infrastructure at the same time as new housing, but this is not the case in Melbourne.
The result is that as hundreds of residents have moved into the Breese Block, the area suffers from the legacy of its recent industrial past. Apart from Bulleke-bek Park, which opened in 2021, there is no public open space and narrow footpaths, lack of trees and poor road surfaces make the area difficult to move around in.
The Better Breese Block initiative was established by Gray and six other residents in October last year, all sharing a common goal of creating a healthy, safe, vibrant and sustainable neighbourhood.
“I could see how badly we needed to find a way to work together to help improve the neighborhood,” Gray said.
The group has coalesced around four “pillars” for the neighbourhood. They want it to be nature-rich and resilient, with more trees and vegetation to combat the urban heat island effect and support biodiversity. Equally important is to have safe streets for people to get around, particularly children.
Apart from these physical improvements, the other aspirations are for the area to be welcoming, social and inclusive; and for it to have a local character and to be full of life and ever-evolving.
Since it was formed, Better Breese Block has won support and funding from Merri-bek Council for a pedestrian crossing to connect Bulleke-bek Park with Anstey Square apartments and Sydney Road. Council engineers are currently finalising the designs for the crossing.
In another development, residents of Nightingale Village recently held a working bee to beautify Duckett Street.
The purpose of Saturday’s gathering was to re-imagine the entire Breese Block neighbourhood for the future by drawing on the experiences and expertise of the people who live there now.
The meeting heard short presentations from RMIT University research fellow Thami Croeser on urban greening and Movement & Place Consulting principal Knowles Tivendale on better planning and transport solutions before breaking up into four groups to develop ideas around the initiative’s themes.
Some of the suggestions that emerged from the workshops included closing the street several times a year for a local market, community spaces for older people, reducing the area’s speed limit to 20kmh, widening footpaths, and turning Breese Street into a one-way street.
More ambitous ideas included a community garden and the council purchasing the Brunswick Market site to protect it as a market and use its rooftop for an open air cinema in summer.
Gray said the proposals were a starting point for further conversations.
“We will use the ideas generated today to apply for grants to continue to build political support and momentum,” Gray said.
Merri-bek councillor Mark Riley, whose ward includes the Breese Block, said he was impressed by the enthusiasm of residents to improve their neighbourhood and indicated he would back their ideas.
“It takes a whole community to make all this work, it’s not easy, but with this kind of event, it’s inspiring for a councillor to see,” he said.
Brunswick MP Tim Read has also offered his support.
He said he was working in Parliament for reforms to planning laws to give local councils more freedom and power to make changes to public amenity like those sought for the Breese Block, including lower speed limits, without the involvement of state government agencies.