The redevelopment of central Dandenong has won a national architectural award for reclaiming the town's traditional high street from fast-moving traffic and turning it into a destination for pedestrians, cyclists and shoppers.
Lonsdale Street - the section of Princes Highway that flows through the south-eastern Melbourne town - has new shops and the first private developments in 30 years after car lanes were compressed and tree-lined lanes for pedestrians and bicycles put in.
"It was replanted and essentially turned from a car-dominated state highway along Lonsdale Street into a pedestrian-focused accessible area," says architect Simon Knott, who oversaw both the master plan for the city's renewal and the Lonsdale Street section of it.
Part of a wider - and ongoing - redevelopment of Dandenong that has cost the state government $290 million and the city council a further $100 million, the Lonsdale Street project has given the city an "engaging pedestrian realm", the Australian Institute of Architects said when awarding it the Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design earlier this month.
City and state authorities hope the work on Lonsdale Street, as well as a redeveloped walkway to Dandenong station and planned new civic building, will boost pride and the economy in an area in which both have suffered. "When pitching, we joked with the government that we would be the only ones young enough to see the project through," Knott says. "Really, to see the proof in terms of what happens will be a 10 to 15-year exercise.
Poor planning decisions, such as allowing a shopping mall on the city's edge, along with the closure of traditional manufacturing employers such as General Motors Holden and Heinz, had dealt a blow to confidence and property prices in the traditional city centre.
To halt the decline, the hefty state outlay renovated Lonsdale Street, built a new road bridge over the nearby railway line and compulsorily acquired about seven hectares of the central zone that was divided up into unviable small private parcels.
Development since the project started in 2007 has totalled $461 million - out of $1 billion the government wants to attract over the next two decades.
In August, state agency Places Victoria said developer EPC Pacific would next year start work on a new six-storey Australian Taxation Office building, the third confirmed private development.