The rejection of a ‘flagship’ Apple store in Sweden has buoyed a growing movement in Melbourne to block the tech giant’s plans to establish itself in Federation Square.
On its first day in office, the new City of Stockholm government said it would block Apple’s plan to open a major store in Kungstradgarden park, the oldest public park in Stockholm.
The global tech powerhouse had planned to replace an existing restaurant – a TGI Fridays –with a large new store extending into the public park. But the new government has put a new condition on the site, requiring it be used as a cafe or restaurant to service the park.
The case bears a striking resemblance to the furore over Apple’s plan to demolish part of Melbourne’s Federation Square to build a “flagship” store in its place.
The plan was unveiled late last year by the Andrews government, with the planning permit for Apple to demolish the existing Yarra building already approved.
This led to widespread anger over the lack of consultation and the apparent commercialisation of the major public space in the Melbourne CBD.
The proposed stores in Sweden and Melbourne were both designed by the same architecture firm, Foster and Partners.
The plan for the Stockholm store was opposed by a wide range of people, including conservationists and official bodies. The city received 1800 responses to its consultation, most of which were negative.
The Victorian government dealings with Apple have been heavily criticised for its lack of consultation and transparency, with the planning minister using ministerial powers to grant the necessary planning amendments without consulting with the public or local council.
Citizens for Melbourne president Tania Davidge said the news in Sweden shows what happens when a government actively consults with its people.
“It’s a fantastic outcome for public space in Stockholm. It’s fantastic they have spoken to the people of Stockholm about it, and a really good example of good governance,” Ms Davidge told InnovationAus.com.
“Unlike the process here in Melbourne, the people in Stockholm were invited to have a say in the proposed flagship store, and it was found to be hugely unpopular,” she said.
“The Apple proposal in Melbourne remains fundamentally flawed due to the project’s complete lack of transparency and public consultation.”
In both cases, critics have argued that Apple is welcome in the city but not in the public space, while Apple has attempted to position its stores as public meeting places – “town squares” of sorts – rather than just retail outlets.
This is the similar argument used by the Greens and other opponents in Victoria, with calls to move the Apple store to somewhere else in the Melbourne CBD.
The store in Stockholm had been planned to be house in the King’s Garden, a public park looking over to the Royal Palace, and one of the city’s oldest parks.
Similar to Federation Square, the park is regularly used for public events, as a meeting place and for major protests.
The Swedish story also further revealed Apple’s attempts to spin its retail outlets as meeting places that are appropriate for major civic places around the world.
“It’s funny, we actually don’t call them stores anymore. We call them town squares, because they’re gathering places where everyone is welcome,” Apple senior vice-president of retail Angela Ahrendts said.
This matches the arguments used in Victoria by Apple and the state government, which has claimed that the new store would open more public space at Federation Square, and provide free events and workshops to the public.
This has been widely criticised by those opposed to the store at Federation Square.
“People are increasingly aware of this type of corporate creep. And in the city of Melbourne, where population is growing rapidly, public space is more important than ever,” Ms Davidge said.
“Apple wants to be in these types of public places for a reason: They want to capitalise on the value that these places already bring to the community. And in occupying these places I think Apple will change them irrevocably, and it won’t be for the better,” she said.
Whether a similar rejection of the commercialisation of a city’s major public space will take place in Melbourne is still unclear, although a likely heritage-listing will throw a spanner in Apple and the state government’s plans.
Heritage Victoria last month confirmed it had recommended that Federation Square be included in the Victorian Heritage Register.
If it is ultimately approved after two months of consultations, it would not necessarily block the Apple store, but would require the global tech giant to seek a permit for Heritage Victoria before demolishing the building and constructing the store.
Citizens for Melbourne is now ramping up its campaign against the Fed Square store in the lead-up to the state election at the end of the month.
The group has sent out scorecards on the policy to each major party, but has only received answers from the Greens and the Victorian Socialists.
The group will also be campaigning in marginal seats on the issue, and will be particularly targeting planning minister Richard Wynne, who holds a marginal seat in inner Melbourne, where Citizens for Melbourne will be handing out how-to-vote cards on election day.