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Inner urban conservation and development - An independent panel report on a proposal for Smith Street, Collingwood, under Melbourne 2030. Edited by Miles Lewis, August 2004. Order your copy

Gritty street gets green treatment

7 Apr 2004

By CLAY LUCAS

Gilbert Rochecouste is sitting outside a cafe on a sunny afternoon explaining how, 12 years ago, a spontaneous swim with a pod of dolphins led him to quit his job managing Chadstone shopping centre and throw himself into 'place-making'.

Theatrically decked out in an over-the-top tartan wool suit and ruffled sunflower yellow shirt, Rochecouste, of Brunswick, looks more like an act from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival than a man trying to bring about some profound changes in our community.

Back in 1992, Rochecouste was paddling a dinghy in Port Phillip Bay with friends when they saw a lone dolphin. "Then a whole pod of them arrived," recalls Rochecouste.

The two-hour swim that followed convinced him there had to be more to life. "I had a reconnection with something bigger than myself," he says.

Rochecouste sat down and pondered how he could use his years of experience in retailing for the forces of good. The first step was to get away from shopping centres, which were all about restricting shoppers' freedom: "They are highly controlled environments. That's why they're so successful at making money. But they don't have the organic nature of the street, which allows spontaneity, and food for the soul."

Rochecouste quit Chadstone and formed Village Green, a company that attempts to bring environmentally sound solutions to troubled shopping areas, and inject some cultural inspiration into the mix.