Late night violence near CBD entertainment venues in Melbourne has apparently escalated over recent months. For a variety of reasons the CBD is increasingly perceived as a late night danger zone, with escalations in glassings, alcohol fuelled attacks and gang bashings.
It has been suggested that the offenders are blow-ins from the suburbs. Indeed Lord Mayor Robert Doyle believes "all Melbournians are heartily sick of these vicious cowards coming in and trying to take over our city, well we won't let them … I think banning of people summarily from the city, moving them out of the city if they look like they are a danger or a problem … is a good solution.”
He called on police to stop troublemakers from the outer suburbs travelling to the city. How these areas are regulated is important, indeed entertainment zones attract tourism, generate local small business and help shape the identity and vibrancy of the place.
There are three key elements to this issue. First, young adults from the outer suburbs invest more when they go out for a night in the city: they have higher time and transport costs. So when compared with an urban resident who simply walks to meet friends in a nearby local venue, those from the outer suburbs may arrive with an attitude of “I’m going to have a big night out”.
Second, visitors to the CBD are away from the places where they are known, they are “anonymous”, and so may feel emboldened to commit acts that they wouldn’t consider in their local community where they’d be recognised.
Third, Melbourne City Councillor Ken Ong noted that in the evenings 70,000 to 80,000 people use public transport to enter the CBD but only 1,900 use the NightRider bus service to exit it. Suburbanites out for a big night on the town may not be able to return home due to running out of funds; missing the last train or bus; missing their car pool; or finding a shortage of taxis. So they have little choice but to wait in long taxi queues or loiter in the CBD until the first early morning train or bus service commences. Given this situation perhaps it is understandable if they become frustrated.
There appear to be two key solutions to this issue: first, it is not a solution to exclude people from the city. Instead it should be made easier for them to leave the CBD after their night out by increasing the availability of public transport between 1am and 5am at weekends. The drop off points for public transport are also important: commuters will not catch a Nightrider bus if the drop off points are a long way from their home, or are isolated.
Second, a solution may be to lower the “cost” (in time, effort and dollars) of a night out by giving young adults a greater incentive to stay near home, by replicating the activities the city provides. The Melbourne 2030 strategy identified six activity centres (CADs) in Melbourne - Box Hill, Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Footscray, Frankston and Ringwood - that are slated for development to provide the same services as the CBD. CADs are “activity” centres, not just “business” centres.
Vicurban, who play a major role in the CAD developments, have been sponsoring placemaking public projects, for example the Dandenong "World in One City" project that celebrates the multicultural diversity of Dandenong, and the Little India Precinct. But how else can the six outer suburban activity centres attract and retain young adults wanting a night out?
They may look to facilitate the development of entertainment management zones or mixed use zones within each of the CADs. These are specially zoned areas for late night venues and are policed and have public transport. During the daytime they may be retail stores. For example, venues may be above retail stores that are open during daylight hours.
Perhaps Dandenong might suit a multicultural entertainment district, where young adults may go for a Vietnamese dinner followed by a short walk to a belly dancing performance, then on to a late night Bollywood disco, and close the night upstairs in an exclusive multicultural club that serves drinks and cigars from across the globe.
While that may be a longer term aspiration, a more urgent emphasis should be placed on encouraging businesses that provide night-time entertainment activities for young adults within the outer suburbs. If suitable venues were closer to home, young adults may prefer a local night out compared to the hassle of a CBD commute. If a few choose to stay local, a few more will be enticed to stay and it will grow exponentially. This has flow on effects, for example, it may stimulate local businesses such as restaurants, local transport, venues, tourism etc.
The development of entertainment management zones within outer suburban areas that are slated for growth is more a case of encouragement rather than funding. Creative industries can transform localities by stimulating a buzz and vibrancy with little funds. For example, local practitioners can design, create or refurbish venues from disused sites or temporarily unleased sites. Through such activities, the unique aspects of each CAD may be emphasised to attract young adults to stay near home.
Ultimately we may see a reversal of the problem, perhaps in the future outer suburban residents may complain of rowdy inner urban blow-ins enjoying a night out in their neighbourhood.