The decision to demolish Federation Square's Yarra building and replace it with an Apple store is wrong. Wrong on so many levels it's difficult to know where to start. Let's look at 2 of the more glaring problems - the secrecy shrouding the approvals process and the naïve, possibly wilful, misunderstanding of what Fed Square means to Melbourne.
Let's start with the approvals process. It's been bad, outrageously bad - possibly illegal and definitely unethical. The calculated bypassing of public scrutiny on such a radical change to our most important civic space is cynical and suspicious. We are repeatedly told how lucky we are to have Apple's investment but are not allowed to know any financial details or even view the plans that have already been approved in our name.
The state government has avoided the planning processes required for a site of this significance only to highlight, ironically, exactly why proper processes must be followed. Fed Square is Melbourne's most important civic space and belongs to all Victorians currently living and for generations to come. It is too important to be the servant of short term political expedience for any current government or individual interest. The short-sightedness of the Apple store proposal clearly demonstrates a failure of imagination and ambition and is simply not worthy of Federation Square. There are more valuable things at stake here than money.
This brings us to the 2nd big problem: this is a "Flagship" store for Apple. Should Melbourne's most important public space be made subservient to product placement - Apple's or any other sort? Fed Square's Cultural Charter says no. This is a civic and cultural precinct, not a retail 'destination'.
Melbourne tried long and hard, and invested generations of hopes, dreams and many, many public dollars in the search for a city square. Federation Square, unlikely as it seemed at first, found that elusive magic and we found our civic heart. Now, barely 15 years later, we learn how cheaply a chunk of that heart is sold.
Other cities know what they're worth and have asserted themselves accordingly. Milan, for example, has an Apple flagship store planned too and it's also designed by Foster. It is not, however, in the Piazza del Duomo, that city's most important civic square but in a secondary one, the Piazza del Liberty. Furthermore, the store itself is hidden underground and virtually invisible at ground level. All you can see is a refreshed piazza with a new public amphitheatre and a water feature where the store entry is discretely hidden. Apple branding is so subtle it verges on the invisible. There is a clear respect here for the civic values of the city and an understanding that commercial interest must come second when situated in a public space of this importance. The store’s invisibility is worn as a badge of honour and Apple's website proudly declares: "Lo store c’è ma non si vede." (The store is there but you cannot see it.)
So, if Milan's civic values can command respect, why can’t ours? Why does the state government tell us to be grateful for a crass commercial intrusion in Fed Square, our most important civic space? A lack of imagination and a lack of spine that's why. Melbourne should know what it’s worth and we need to stand up for those values even if our political 'leaders' won't.
The Apple store approval must be rescinded and a new and transparent process initiated to plan alterations to Fed Square. A living piece of public architecture like Fed Square is robust enough to evolve but it must never lose sight of its mission and who it serves, us.
Our city, our square.
Support the campaign by Citizens for Melbourne to overturn this terrible decision. Find out how HERE