The City of Melbourne is Australia’s fastest growing city, with the daily population expected to reach 1.4 million by 2036.

As we grow, we are presented with even more opportunities to broaden the way we use the river and its edges. Increasing populations will put additional demands on public space, so sustaining and improving people’s experience of the Yarra River - Birrarung - has never been so important.

The Yarra River - Birrarung Strategy (formerly know as the draft City River Strategy) is a guide for the long term future of the City River Precinct. It's a framework that will be used as an advocacy tool to guide proposals and future developments in the area, preserving and evolving the liveability of the Birrarung.

The strategy refers to the Yarra River by its traditional name Birrarung, which means 'river of mists' in the Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung languages.

Aspirations for the Birrarung

Banana Alley today and an artistic impression of what it could look like in the future

Today: Image of Banana Alley now Future aspirations : Artist's impression of possible future development

Study area and conditions today

The study area of the strategy is the inner city reaches of the Birrarung, covering 11kms of diverse river edges and urban settings, as indicated in the map below.

Each point explains the current conditions of the river and the challenges associated.

The focus

The particular focus of this strategy is on a ‘place-based’ urban waterways study that provides a multi-layered understanding of the complex urban waterways environment. It considers the landscape and water, urban character and open space, movement and uses and quality of place.

The strategy identifies opportunities to:

  • foster an understanding of Aboriginal heritage and culture
  • improve biodiversity and water quality
  • maximise pedestrian connectivity
  • enhance amenity of public space
  • create accessible and integrated civic spaces.

Ultimately, the goal is to significantly raise the quality of the Birrarung environs in the central city stretch to be the centrepiece of Melbourne’s economy, culture and liveability.

Key priorities

The Birrarung will be an inspiring public waterfront that celebrates the rich Aboriginal history of Melbourne, offering a green sanctuary and is a loved place in the hearts of Melbournians. The three key priorities are:

​Embrace Aboriginal culture and heritage

Establish a protocol for on-going collaboration with Traditional Owner groups to help tell the story of the Aboriginal connection to the Birrarung.

Prioritise Northbank | Greenline

Significant improvements are proposed for the Northbank. The Greenline project is an initiative that will catalyse transformation of this area.

Restore the natural landscape

Maximise the environmental contribution of the river, healthy water conditions and urban cooling through riparian greening and urban vegetation.

Governance arrangement

The governance arrangement of the Birrarung is highly complex and fragmented. There are a diversity of land owners and management for the river is dispersed across state government agencies, local councils and statutory authorities.

The City of Melbourne does not own or independently manage the waterways or banks of the Yarra River, so the transformation of this area is a collective responsibility of all Victorian Government partners and adjoining landowners.

Waterways governance diagram

Parks Victoria is the water manager of the Lower Birrarung including piers and jetties, and the land manager along the river, except for Docklands. Melbourne Water manages the physical water of the Birrarung waterway.

Key themes


  • Culture

    The Birrarung is a significant place of shared Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal history and cultural values, however this narrative is largely absent from the river experience today. We look to better acknowledge and reflect the sites, stories and memories to offer a place of reflection, education and enrichment.

  • Ecology

    Referencing the richness of the pre-contact landscape and enhancing the ecological values, the River immerses people in nature. The City River, Birrarung, is restored as a healthy water landscape experience.

  • Place

    Melbourne’s river is a defining feature of the city’s identity, consistently presented in promotional imagery. However historically, the City has not fully embraced its waterways, despite the cultural significance and proximity. The river and its banks should be an attractive complement to the central area, offering a diversity of uses and new economies that are welcoming to all.

  • Movement

    Rather than just a corridor to swiftly move through, the river becomes an important destination and place to enjoy the journey away from the intensity and rush of the urban centre. Through improved access to and along the waterfront, the river will provide the natural complement to the fast pace of the City and Southbank.

Strategic directions

These directions fit into the four key themes, and provide guidance on how the river and its edges should be planned for and managed.

C1 – Collaborative

Establish a protocol for on-going collaboration with Traditional Owner groups to help tell the story of the Aboriginal connection to the Birrarung.

C2 – Visible

Increase the public visibility of Aboriginal intangible heritage and the history of the Birrarung through interpretation and information.

C3 – Maritime

Recognise the historical and contemporary importance of the maritime uses of Birrarung.

E1 Riparian greening

Re-introduce a riparian zone to improve water habitat, biodiversity and create a healthy river ecosystem.

E2 Ecologically connected

Optimise the urban vegetation along the river banks prioritising an Indigeneous palette to improve local biodiversity and ecological networks.

E3 – Resilient

Address flood risk and improve water quality.

P1 – Inviting

Prioritise Northbank renewal to create an inviting backdrop to the City.

P2 Multi-functional

Celebrate character areas and encourage new economies: a range of civic, educational, cultural, hospitality and water dependant uses.

P3 – Public

Sustain the civic focus by encouraging activation that offers broader inclusion and supports a public waterfront.

P4 – Legible

Rationalise clutter and on-water infrastructure to ensure unobstructed vistas and views.

M1 – Slow

Distinguish the river as a slower paced environment by creating safe, alternative north and south bicycle routes.

M2 – Integrated

Transform the condition of key ‘barriers’ to address the gaps to the north-west and integrate access with the City.

M3 – Accessible

Raise the quality and universal accessibility of riverfront pathways.

M4 Water transport

Encourage more water related activity and greater diversity of vessels, particularly more non-motorised crafts.

Read the full list of strategic directions from the draft City River Strategy.

Read the draft City River Strategy

Yarra River - Birrarung Strategy