From little things, big things grow! A conversation with Venta Slizys
Venta Slizys is a valued member of the Chain of Ponds Collaboration and has been instrumental in initiating, visualising, and shaping the Collaboration into what it is today.
In her role as Coordinator of City Design at Moonee Valley City Council, Venta works within the public realm. This involves the creation of visions and masterplans for our open spaces, including the delivery of streetscape improvements, and Integrated Water Management interventions in the Moonee Valley region.
Venta’s involvement with Moonee Ponds Creek started back in 2014, when the proposal of East West Link threatened the future of the Moonee Ponds Creek and the linear park.
“We realised how out of date the different plans and strategies for the Creek were”, Venta says, “There was interest from our Councillors to have a unified community vision for the Creek, which was lacking at the time. We also received grant funding from Melbourne Water, providing us with the permission we needed to explore water benefits and opportunities within the Creek itself. This partnership was important to create a community vision, and a plan for the Creek - now called the Chain of Ponds - Moonee Ponds Creek Plan. Melbourne Water's strong support made the project scope possible and emphasised the need for a collaborative partnership with other agencies to see real change.”
Collaboration Sparks Vision for the Creek
Merri-bek Council then joined in on the Plan's development, recognising the shared interest in the Creek. Furthermore, City of Melbourne started their own plan to address the Moonee Ponds Creek. Both Councils noticed the lack of an asset owner document when working on respective projects (including the City of Melbourne’s Arden Macaulay Structure Plan).
“It was at this time when joint stakeholder and community interest, collaboration and advocacy for the protection and enhancement of the Creek grew” Venta says.
The community’s involvement in the development of the Plan was critical, especially the Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek. It was through talking with the community the team learned more about the history and deep connection to the landscape surrounding the Creek.
“There was so much interest and many positive stories, we were learning what people loved about the Creek. People still remembered it as a real living ephemeral water body – giving us clues of what it was like, and how we could bring elements of that back into the landscape.”
Rediscovering "Chain of Ponds"
“We discovered it would have been a different experience of the Creek pre-development (even towards the mouth of the Creek). It wasn’t always a flowing waterway. There were a series of ponds that would fill up with water seasonally, hence the name ‘Chain of Ponds’. It's only through the engineering and concreting that it became a running and constant creek”.
The Plan’s long-term, iterative approach for a Creek was new. Instead of being confined to a short-term vision of 15 years, it embraces a 50-year trajectory. This long-term thinking allows for phased changes while considering the natural flow of water — a testament to its position as one the most ambitious and long-term plans for a Creek in Victoria.
The Plan as a Blueprint for Change
“When we received the very first cut of the Plan, it really was a blue print of how to plan a city within a natural environment! We initially thought we would develop a more specific plan. Master Plans usually document a distinct physical change you want to communicate (rather than an approach). However, we found the broader approach more engaging and suitable to apply for the wider catchment. It was also what was needed if we were to see real change to the Creek and the linear park”.
“It became more than a plan. It became a communication and advocacy tool that enabled us to demonstrate the possibility for a collaboration between Councils, Water authorities, community groups, land holders and the wider public”.
Venta remains actively engaged in the Collaboration as a member of the Governance Group. The City Design team recently worked on a masterplan for Nursery Corner Reserve in Strathmore, focusing on land restoration and stormwater initiatives, alongside reserve and open space networks.
When asked what’s next in relation to the Creek, Venta describes the consideration we need to make changes in our urban environment.
“Before now, suburbs had the big back yards and communities had some form of connection to nature. However, as the urban environment around us is changing, the natural environment becomes quite rare, and the value of our waterways, trees, open spaces increases. As our city grows and develops; expanding our open spaces and access to the outdoors can create a healthier balance for the community”.
The Collaboration's Unexpected Success
Venta is extremely proud the Collaboration has surpassed everyone’s expectations. “We’re all working together to aim for a healthy city that considers the importance of natural systems and water quality in urban living. Being able to see people’s ideas come to fruition, and having the momentum of the Collaboration has been exciting to see”. Venta says, “It really did create a life as its own! That’s the biggest achievement - that you’re part of something that’s become bigger than ever expected”.