Preston Market Quarter Identity Study

Finding new ways to define and value both the tangible and intangible qualities of place.


ClientCity of Darebin

Location: Preston, Melbourne VIC

The Preston Market Identity Study is a groundbreaking project that seeks to understand, codify and protect unique identity and place elements of a loved social and cultural heritage asset, expanding traditional planning practices.

Led by Council and delivered by Hello City, it involved harnessing the insights, processes and resources of a broad range of partners, including community, multicultural traders, the private owners and Victorian Planning Authority.

The project built an objective, evidence-based viewpoint on the identity, meaning and role of Preston Market, enabling Council to progress planning mechanisms to allow for place evolution while protecting rich social and cultural meaning. 

Heritage studies carried out in 2017 clearly show that the market had social and cultural heritage significance, but hadn’t identified a clear case for the building’s heritage significance. 

Traditional heritage controls focus on protecting built form rather than activities or uses. They deal with tangible elements more easily than intangible ones. Social heritage, in the absence of architecture heritage (or connection of the use to the built form) is generally needed to justify heritage controls; the focus is on buildings, not activity or people or the life of the place itself. 

This is the gap that Council asked Hello City to fill. A brand new process needed to be created, one that goes beyond the limitations of traditional planning, to discover new ways of capturing and quantifying the value of a place.

This process needed to be innovative, but it also needed to be rigorous and impartial, and defensible. Familiar techniques used in placemaking or place branding processes designed to inspire or persuade would not be sufficient in a planning context to justify protections.



Hello City brought a project team who were able to look at place from different perspectives with skills covering a range of place-based practices including urban design, community and economic development and design anthropology. Our experience includes local and global work in contexts ranging from large shopping centres, airports, universities, mainstreets, brown-field developments and markets including both Queen Victoria and South Melbourne Markets.

Bringing all the tools and processes from our different disciplines to the table, and responding to Council’s innovative brief, the team set out to develop a new process for understanding both the tangible and intangible elements of place, how those elements hold meaning and value and how changing them would impact on place identity.

This new process drew from the best elements of semiotics, anthropology, place branding and marketing, economics, strategic planning, urban design, history, economic and community development. A process was created that while simple and repeatable in its approach successfully dealt with complex interrelated elements of place and identity and has far reaching applications.

The result is a new kind of study, like familiar forms such as masterplans or heritage studies it carries out a thorough analysis of place, provides a big-picture vision and credible direction on what to do next and serves as a touchstone for decision making. Unlike more traditional forms, it deals as much with the intangible qualities of a place such as rhythm, ritual and even love as it does with those tangible elements more easily touched and observed. It presents and codifies this information in a way which is now being directly translated into objectives, resolutions, communications strategies and the planning controls themselves.