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    Rainforest creek for Melbourne CBD: Gilbert Rochecouste wants to rip up Elizabeth St

    Geraldine Chua

    Sydney-siders might not admit it, but Melbourne is a pretty cool city. Its architecture is adventurous and bold, and its laneway culture a refreshing change to the traditional ‘big city’ streetscape. So when the mastermind behind Melbourne’s cool alleyways Gilbert Rochecouste told of plans create a rainforest canal in the city, everyone sat up and listened.

    Media reports reveal that Rochecouste, founder and managing director of Village Well, has proposed ripping up Elizabeth Street, and incorporating and revitalising the hidden waterway underneath that runs down to Yarra River.

    The plans envision Williams Creek as the city’s “green spine”, with flowing water revived and exposed, native scrubs lining its banks, and dense tree canopy providing cover. Shared community spaces take the form of footpaths that bleed into the creek, activated by restaurants and cafes, while the piazza would become an events space for the CBD.

    Impressions created by landscape architect and urban designer Thad Patradoon of TT Design showing the proposed creek looking up towards Victoria Market

    “Elizabeth Street will be known as the self-sustaining, resilient heart of the CBD and a walkable green oasis full of quirky shop and spontaneous day and night experiences,” Rochecouste told The Age.

    The development would be staged between Flinders and Collins Streets, so that trams would terminate at Collins Street with only a short walk to Flinders Street Station.

    Creek heading to Flinders Street Station

    The idea of an inner-city rainforest canal isn’t new – Rochecouste discovered the underground waterway, Williams Creek, two decades ago, and there has been precedent for an inner-city creek in other countries. But with Melbourne’s population projected to hit five million in under 50 years, Rochecouste believes now is the time to re-introduce the creek to create much needed green spaces in the CBD.

    Above and left: An 11km public canal in downtown Seoul, South Korea has proved widely popular with both locals and tourists. All images: The Age

    “Melbourne has matured to where it now needs a major catalyst for its next evolution to remain the world's most liveable city,” said Rochecouste, adding that the project would improve liveability, but also be great for business and become a major tourist destination.

    Unsurprisingly, there are doubts about the feasibility of the proposal. Some commenters have raised the issue of litter that would run off the streets when it rains, while others like Melbourne City Councillor Arron Wood believe the impact on commuters would be too great.

    “[This] essentially just got a run in the media. It’s not coming in any form or sense,” Wood told Junkee. “It’s been around for many years. It’s been talked about in various circles in industry and government, but it’s just not a proposal that can be seriously considered.”

    Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, who will have a say on whether the plan succeeds, has also expressed apprehension.

    “There’s no doubt it’s useful to have some radical ideas thrown up from time-to-time, (but) this one’s just a bridge too far,” he told Fairfax radio. 

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