Sunshine and I have been in Melbourne the past week visiting family and getting in a spot of rock climbing at Mount Arapiles and in the Grampians National Park.

While in Melbourne we’ve been charging the inspiration cells by visiting various places to do with sustainability research and development. So far we have looked at the use of shipping containers to make shelter in the form of Skinners Adventure Playground, a community garden in St Kilda called VegOut and a Community Environment Park in Brunswick called CERES.

First off we visited a childrens play centre made out of reclaimed freight containers. Container building is something I’m interested in for its portable, ready made, recycled, durable, shelter potential.

Its certainly not a new idea as my bookmarks should show, and Otago Polytechnic’s Product Design School has a lecturer looking into an innovative telescopic concept using containers (no link available sorry), but the crux remains cost. Surprisingly reusing containers doesn’t work out as a cheaper alternative, so I’m still looking for ways to make it cheaper than say, shed based building.

Used container sellers in NZ have jumped in and established themselves as the primary supplier of used containers, and so made the price of a container on par with a shed on a slab! But I suppose the portability and ready made-ness of a container should account for something, but alternative building in my mind is ultimately motivated by ways of reducing the short term cost – I don’t get paid enough to think otherwise. Cutting out the retail point of containers in NZ would sure make a big difference, mass production would too of course, but finding alternatives for fitting doors, walls, plumbing and power would make the biggest difference. Reducing waste, using non toxics, and minimising ecological impact are important considerations along every step of the way. The Skinner’s adventure play centre was built with AU$110 280 which, for what and where it is, isn’t too bad.

After the Skinners Play Centre we went into St Kilda to see how the Community Garden and artist studio space called VegOut was going. Set up in 1998 over a disused lawn bowls club, it is made up of many small portions for community members to grow, build, exhibit, and produce various products from vegies, to grapes, chickens to art. Water restrictions were having a visable affect on many of the projects, but it was over all an interesting space with a very warm, welcoming and colourful atmosphere. We didn’t stay very long, but did manage to get this interview with Salvatori while he was tending his garden.

Salvatori told us there are some 40 similar projects around greater Melbourne like Veg Out and recommended we check out CERES Community Environment Park(the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies).

So we drove up to Brunswick to see CERES and it was very impressive. It was alive with people doing things. People working in the nursery selling plants, worm farms, pots and mixes; others setting up an impressive aquaculture system of some 6 or 7 dams with hydroponic hot houses, fisheries and things like that; people setting up the market area for the Saturday food stalls; people in the Cafe selling drinks and food to people who walk or ride the council trails to the Park; people setting up the stage area doing sound checks for the evening’s entertainment; about 20 people in teh Bike Shed servicing their bikes or building new out of old; people tending the community gardens which had a distinct Indonesian/SE Asian design to them; recent migrant Burmese building a mushroom farm; and other people off in the distance doing things with machinery. All this we saw in the space of an our before 5pm on Friday afternoon. I was assured that it was busier over the weekend!?

I scored an interview with Noel Blencowe, long term member of the community governance team who gave me 25 mins of his time to talk about what is happening, what makes it all work, the secret spices, and the challenges to sustaining the operation.

I was looking for clues on how we might approach a similar initiative at Otago Polytechnic given our leadership team has given the go ahead to work on the Living Campus proposal. Noel suggested that I go and check out the Victoria University in St Albans to relate to what an educational institution has accomplished in 5 years. We will visit St Albans on Monday. CERES is a very inspiring place that over the past 25 years must have made a significant contribution to Melbourne’s cultural development around sustainability.