The purpose of this paper is to provide new insights into how Melbourne was transformed from the 1960s through to the 1980s and consider if there are lessons learnt from this work to apply to the future planning and design of cities. Archival research and interviews with politicians, academics and activists involved in Melbourne’s transformation, outline the important role urban design thinking and community-led activism had on driving the radical social, political and economic agenda that reshaped the city and led to inner Melbourne’s renowned liveability. Ruth and Maurie Crow were community activists with critical and widespread influence on key people (including policy makers and politicians) and the policies and plans that transformed inner Melbourne. Their beliefs and planning ideas were incorporated into the key design-led planning policies, strategies and urban design frameworks and projects that established the physical framework from which inner Melbourne has developed and thrived over the last 50 years. The Crow’s brought international historical and contemporary thinking to the Melbourne planning debate. They spoke, wrote, formed community action ‘ginger’ groups and joined town planning groups to promote the role of community in shaping cities and the kind of city that should be shaped. Much of their thinking is captured in the newsletters and plans for Melbourne they led—they edited and wrote most of Irregular and Ecoso on behalf of the Town Planning Research Group (TPRG), and developed Plan for Melbourne 1, 2 and 3. Devoted communists, they had widespread influence on state and local government planning debates, policies and frameworks. Maurie was an active participant and planning lobbyist in established left and conservative lobby groups, such as the Clerks Union and the Town and Country Planning Association.