Transnational and temporary: students, community and place-making in central Melbourne

9 Jul 2009


How does place-making - broadly defined as the practice of fostering community in place - occur when the majority of people in that 'community' are transnational rather than local in their orientation, and temporary rather than permanent in their settlement? This report looks at the experience of students at RMIT and the University of Melbourne who live in and around the central city.

Students make up half the residential population of the City of Melbourne. Many live in the ‘university quarter’ on the northern fringe of the city centre, between RMIT and the University of Melbourne. Most of these students are temporary residents of central Melbourne, and many are transnational and enrolled from overseas. Students make significant contributions to Melbourne’s culture and economy. The most lively and productive parts of the city—the busiest streets, laneways, exhibition spaces, clusters of new small businesses—are continually made and remade by students, new graduates and other young people. The economic benefits of generative activities like these are unlimited.

According to this report:

• most local institutions in the area (universities, government bodies, social organisations, housing providers) have developed practices over time that encourage administrative efficiencies but discourage interaction between students and the longer-term local communities, and between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ students (as they are designated by these institutions).

• a handful of these institutions— especially those with an arts focus—disrupt the distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ students and, using careful and deliberate strategies, facilitate cross-cultural interaction.

• housing near the universities is often poorly designed and expensive. Living further away from the universities adds to students’ travel costs. This dilemma is exacerbated for students from overseas as they are not eligible for student concessions on public transport. Alternative housing options and information about them are limited. As a consequence, students from overseas are the main occupants of the high-density, high-security purpose- built student housing in the study area, and interaction between them and local students and the surrounding communities is again restricted.

• some forms of housing exist that encourage more diverse internal and external interactions—especially the smaller (and often cheaper) student housing complexes with common facilities, and traditional share housing.

One of the authors of the report, Kate Shaw, discusses its findings in an opinion article for the Age, here (0).

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