Our laneway 2013

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Cultured Collingwood

Collingwood is shaking off its rough-and-ready image as an influx of graphic designers, photographers, architects and other creative types turns the suburb into a cultural hub.
The creative arrivals have been drawn there by relatively cheap rents brought about by the area’s declining manufacturing base, and now Collingwood is benefiting from the effect of compatible and complementary creative businesses gathering together and producing a stronger local economy – feeding into and off each other.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data from the 2011 census shows that 3.3 per cent of the City of Yarra’s residents work in creative fields, up from the previous census, and almost double the metropolitan and state average. The 4.4 per cent working in information media is twice the metropolitan and Victorian average.

Among the latest arrivals is Magic Johnston, a Johnston Street design and arts complex accommodating up to 50 ”creatives” working in a 1200-square-metre double-storey building.
Overseen by young artist (and entrepreneur) Hugo Atkins, the revamped former shoe factory has a mix of desks and shared studios.
Atkins says that after launching early this year the spaces filled quickly with graphic designers, filmmakers, visual artists, sculptors and website designers. Some wanted spaces for years; others six months. Desks rent for about $70 a week, and shared studios for $200 a week. Some artists work in groups, but many are solo. All welcome the chance to work alongside others, Atkins says.
Architect Tim Hurburgh, whose award-winning practice, H2O Architects, has been based in Northumberland Street for 11 years, was in the vanguard of the transformation.
Then, Collingwood appealed because of its affordable commercial and light industrial sites only two or three kilometres from the city. H20’s building was once part of the Victoria Brewery complex and its survival as a commercial space ”was underpinned by council’s attitude towards mixed-use zoning. Without that almost everything would have been turned into residential by now,” he says.
H20’s neighbours include a visual artist, a shopfitting designer and a media production house, and Mr Hurburgh is watching with interest the ”second wave” of creative arrivals.
Lately, he has seen a rise in mini-businesses, pop-up shops and shared and variable spaces. ”Tiny Cafe in Cromwell Street is a great little business and it fits under a staircase.”
Some designer-retailers rent tiny spaces during the week and extend out into a laneway at weekends to run a mini-market.
The changes have kept Collingwood’s housing market ticking along. Median rent for a two-bedroom house rose from $450 a week in December 2010 to $490 last June, a time when rents for the city overall hadn’t moved. House prices shot up 7.1 per cent in the year to January, more than double Melbourne’s growth rate.
City of Yarra mayor Jackie Fristacky said there was no doubt Collingwood was a ”hotbed of cultural activity” that kept the area vibrant and offered economic spinoffs. The council’s arts and culture services group worked to nurture artists, she said.

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