Statistics show that the City of Yarra has five times the percentage of same-sex couples as the Victorian state average. For many, this enclave of inner northern suburbs is more than just a place to call home, having in recent years become the new heartland for Melbourne’s queer community.
In a first for many local government bodies, City of Yarra are currently working on strategies to preserve the eclectic nature of the suburbs which they represent, in an attempt to save them from the wave of gentrification sweeping across Melbourne.
Of course, much of what lies at the heart of this character are a great number of LGBTQI businesses, venues and community spaces. Eagle Leather, which has been operating for 25 years, is one such business.
“It’s a really good thing that the City of Yarra are doing, they’ve worked on their own protocols internally. Now with this daft strategy for the next four years, they are really focusing on basic human right and promoting inclusion,” says owner and director, BJ.
“After this strategy was released, I approached them with the idea of tackling one of the hardest things you could possibly tackle. That is, the protection of LGBTQI neighbourhoods in the face of gentrification. When you look around the world, you don’t see many winning these kinds of battles.”
In Melbourne much can be learnt from the demise of Commercial Rd which in its time was the beating heart of queer Melbourne. It can be argued that Stonnington Council in particular did little to save the once prominent character of the inner south, with the closure of Heavens Door, The Exchange and The Market being three prime examples.
“Over the last few years, we have witnessed so many people move from the southside,” B J adds. “We really don’t want this area to start to feel like just another part of Melbourne.”
“Everywhere needs to have those little pockets where it’s about nightlife and colour, and places where people can truly feel like they can express themselves.”
The City of Yarra needs a revolutionary strategy that is ground-breaking and able to succeed where no other has; a sentiment strongly endorsed by current City of Yarra Deputy Mayor, Mi-Lin Chen Yi Mei.
“The strategy we are working on is focused on what makes the City of Yarra such a safe and interesting place to live, as well as what makes it the cultural hub of metropolitan Melbourne,” says the Deputy Mayor.
“If we look at the most creative and interesting cultural hubs around the world, the reason why they thrive is because diversity is valued.
“Globally, San Francisco is a great example of negative development. In the last three years it has changed dramatically. Having become gentrified and un-affordable, there is no longer a central place for the LGTBIQ community to congregate, to rally around or find support from, that is the kind of danger we in the City of Yarra are also facing.”
If the City of Yarra doesn’t work out a solid long-term strategy for protecting LGBTQI businesses in particular, those who run nightclubs or event spaces will eventually move to other areas and Abbotsford, Collingwood and Fitzroy will become as soulless as Commercial Rd has now become.
BJ concludes by imploring City of Yarra to continue working on the strategy.
“I think moving forward, the council should really speak to LGBTIQ business owners, health providers and also speak with the LGBTIQ public, about what they like about the area and what drew them to the area in the first place.”
“Nowhere in Australia is there such a cluster of LGBTQI+ businesses so close together anymore. Most LGBTQI+ people are moving and living in this council for that reason.”
“If these businesses move or close down, that community will shift elsewhere and so will the character go with it too.”