The Western Wall

In the early morning light on Monday morning in Sprint, the western face of Melbourne is buzzing with the sound of construction workers as they transform the western face of Melbourne’s CBD. Over the past few years old low rise buildings have made way for towers of steel, glass and even flammable cladding.

Groups of tourists pour out from the coaches at Southern Cross Station. Carried by Sky Busses which have brought them from Tullamarine Airport straight to the city. Pulling behind them flimsy plastic suitcases look lost and aimless, staring up the streets that run at a tangent from Spencer street. I wonder what they feel looking into the shadowed streets ahead with so many buildings under construction, it is not the most aesthetically pleasing sites.

This part of the city, away from the river is not the best smelling. In the morning the take-way food dumpsters are being emptied the smell of rotting waste hit you as you cross the street. Walk further you smell the stale smell of urine of a doorway, most likely a drunken patron last night from a nearby bar stop to relieve themselves, not a typical smell but the rank smell can shock the senses. Mixed into all the foul smells coffee, toast, bacon, fried eggs and even curry to tempt hungry morning stomachs, if you can get past the bad smells. This is the environment thousands of commuters walk into as you come down the stairs of Southern Cross Station and on to Spencer Street. They quickly cross the street like ants seeking a new bounty only held up by a glowing red silhouette of a human on the other side of the street.

Buildings under construction on Spencer Street
Construction on Spencer Street

Every day and into the evening, a forest of cranes lift loads of steel and glass high into the air. The construction companies use the latest in construction technology to transform the ground and air space. In most cases, spaces that people will call home. On the corner of Bourke Street where an infamous hotel once stood is now the construction site of a new residential tower. A unique design where the building design curves like a human waistline. Works about 30 floors up work to raise the building further into the sky. Its purple-tinged glass will eventually reflect the setting sun over Southern Cross Stations and the Docklands beyond.

Nearby, there is space that was once occupied by buildings that housed the printing presses of The Age newspaper. This space is now being transformed into a luxury hotel and apartments. Next to it where once stood a gas-fired powered station a cluster of towers with tiny apartments now stand. There must be thousands of apartments here now. Most are crammed with international students or AirBNB guests who have sought out cheap city accommodation. An area that was more well known for its industrial history is losing its hegemonic battle with gentrification.

Below the ground has been transformed to support the growing population and its waste. For months a team dug below the surface to replace the 100-year-old sewer system. A transformation that was unseen but gave root to the growth machine that would transform the western wall of the city. Along with services to carry away waste new water, gas and telecommunication infrastructure lays below the feet of the pedestrians. Only the slippery steel access panels to the communication pits give evidence to what lies below.

A flock on newly graduated police officer waddle out from the new mega police complex. A new, even bigger building is rising up beside the police building to provide even more space for police to keep the exploding population in order. The group of an 8 police walk-off amongst the crowds and vanish into the city.

For people arriving in the city today, the scene of transformation is not very welcoming. Trucks, noise, crowded footpaths and horrid smells. There are no trees, and the only wildlife is the hidden rats, sparrows, pigeons and two squawking Corellas. Spencer street, the gateway to the city, is being transformed to being treely the New York end of the city. Melbourne City Council and the State Government should join forces to make this a great space for all.