2023 ‘Cohesive Communities’ Category Honourable Mention

City of Melbourne, VIC

Micro-Labs: Reimagining Retail in Melbourne

Micro-Labs shop front with an upcoming events sign in Melbourne. Photo credit: City of Melbourne, VIC

The Initiative

The City of Melbourne has a long history of running global innovation challenges. In 2021, Council focused on ‘Reimagining the City’ to support a social and inclusive economic recovery. The Micro-Labs pilot was selected by judges and a community vote.

Micro-Labs reimagines ground-floor tenancies to match the needs of local communities and businesses. Pre- pandemic, with 99.9 percent occupancy, small businesses, and community groups were priced out of accessing spaces to support their needs. In nine months of operation, Micro-Labs has hosted 15,000 visitors, 200 events and 60 organisations demonstrating the value of free, shared, inclusive and digitally enabled spaces to drive community connection and create opportunities for previously excluded groups to share their talents and participate in the local economy.

Many of the people who have visited or hosted events at Micro-Labs are culturally and linguistically diverse. Events held include tax return advice in Portuguese, how to fix a car for international students, and delivery driver support groups.

From the outset, Micro-Labs has included the community. The universal design-driven co-design process had a deliberate focus on engaging people and groups who are underrepresented in the CBD. Together, we shared decisions on how it should work, the values that support the space, the floor plan, and the items inside. Despite being a government-run venue,

Micro-Labs is deliberately institutionally neutral with many staff speaking more than one language. This has contributed to community users feeling welcome, making it their own as they occupy the space to drop-in, collaborate, and host events. Micro-Labs houses a library service, makerspace, equipment and books for borrowing, high-speed internet, digital displays, sensors, audio/visual meeting equipment, movable furniture and curtains, and more. Importantly, the fit-out remains iterative in response to community feedback, which is captured actively and regularly.

Micro-Labs aligns with eight out of 27 CBD community neighbourhood priorities including accessible spaces and services, coworking and improving digital literacy, local community connection, and international student support.

In 2023, as the city recovers, there is still an 18 percent retail vacancy rate. Micro-Labs demonstrates the impact of creating mixed-use spaces that are community co-designed to create more cohesive and connected communities.

A group of people at a workshop at the Micro-Labs in Melbourne. Photo credit: City of Melbourne, VIC

About the Category

The ‘Cohesive Communities’ category recognises local government initiatives which:

  • foster a sense of belonging, identity and shared values and promote civic rights and responsibilities;
  • develop accessible infrastructure to encourage participation in the local community and build community harmony; and/or
  • celebrate the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of the community and create an inclusive and respectful community.

Successful initiatives in this award category benefit communities by:

  • creating communities that everyone can belong to, identify with and contribute to equally;
  • increasing participation in local communities and building community harmony; and/or
  • celebrating differences, talents, and fostering an inclusive and respectful community.

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