ISOscape project creator Jaslyn Ng turns her illustrative talents to Melbourne’s 5 km bubble of extreme COVID-19 lockdown, exploring how her local specialty shops are using innovative ways to ensure their survival.

It has been six months since Melbourne went into an extreme lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis. We started with a tough Stage 3 Lockdown for a month when the first wave came, followed by another Stage 3 Lockdown a couple of months later for the second wave. We then quickly moved into Stage 4 Lockdown as the number of cases increased.

“Viruses can’t move, but humans can,” the health experts stated.

In a desperate attempt to conquer this notorious virus, new regulations were introduced. We now have one-hour permitted outdoor activities within a 5 km radius from an individual’s house along with a 8pm–5am curfew. The main focus statewide is to stop the virus spreading by limiting movement between people. It is safe to say that during this curfew, there will be absolutely minimal transmissions.

As a result, this has had a catastrophic impact on the economy. Retail and hospitality in particular are struggling to keep up with the fluctuating situation. Many shops were forced to close temporarily and, unfortunately for some, permanently.

As devastated as all the shop owners are right now, many of them are still feeling hopeful. No one is willing to go down without a fight. A number of my local shops have come together and offered a Click & Collect service two days after the Stage 4 Lockdown enforcement. Customers can now get fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat from the butchers, fresh seafood from the fishmongers, dry food from the grain stores and other essential items all in a few clicks.

Customers then collect them from a drive-through spot at a designated time. These boutique shops usually rely heavily on walk-in customers. Now they are operating like a combination of a direct warehouse outlet with a drive-through service.

Let’s put things into perspective. I would normally spend about two hours to get all my shopping done. Now I can buy from the comfort of my own home, pay securely and save my online order for another future groceries top up. 

As outlined in the Stage 4 Lockdown restrictions, each individual is only allowed to go out for one hour a day. Most people will divide their time into exercise, pet walking and purchasing essential items. According to Google Map route estimation, walking for 5 km will take approximately one hour, riding a bicycle will take around 15–20 minutes and driving will take roughly 10 minutes. If I use the Click & Collect service from my local shops, which are situated 2.2 km from my house, a roundtrip will only take me 15 minutes. This gives me 45 minutes spare time to do other permitted activities.

Ideally, these Click & Collect Hubs should be available to everyone within their 5 km radius zone. If we start to map them out accordingly, the ideal locations for these hubs should be at 8.65 km apart in an equal triangle. Everyone will be able to get all the essential items they need within one hour, plus spare time for other permitted activities depending on their travel option. 

One of the best features that Melbourne always offers is the vibrant city and its food culture. Melbourne has won multiple best food awards in the world, as voted by the people, including the best croissant and the best pizza. Within Metropolitan and Regional Melbourne, people would travel 30 km to get the best curry. However, under the new restrictions, pick up service is not an option if your house is further than the 5 km radius.

Having good food limited to a 5 km radius is horrid for Melburnians. It has also caused financial distress to the individual specialty shops. These items were always available and were very easy to access from a variety of delivery services regardless of the time and distance. 

Deliveries are still available to customers who stayed outside the 5 km radius zone, but they are  limited to the new curfew. These shop owners are also losing pick up customers who live further than the 5 km radius. Can these specialty shops survive solely on deliveries?

Once again, we need to get creative. While I’m feeling sad for not being able to eat my favourite croissant for six weeks, some of these specialty shops have already started drafting out a weekly delivery zone. They have put a pin of their shop in the Google map and divided it into a list of suburbs and zones with designated days for delivery. With a well-organised plan, hopefully this is the answer for getting through this tough six weeks [now extended by another two weeks]. 

What if we combine both the Click & Collect Hub for essential items and the Specialty Shops weekly delivery schedule’s concept together? Imagine a joint venture Hub that also organises weekly deliveries to service all Melburnians. How much time, cost and energy can we save? 

This pandemic has been extremely challenging but it has definitely brought people together and pushed them to be more resilient and inventive. It has been six months and it is evident that we can adapt to this ‘new normal’ indefinitely. Let’s welcome the ‘new normal’ for the better opportunities and communities.

*ISOscape (short for isolation-scape) is the ever-changing new way of living, where social distancing is a necessity between individuals as a result of the current global pandemic of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The ISOscape project was created and curated by Jaslyn Ng, an architecture educator and experienced senior architect based in Melbourne, Australia. This project aims to address and respond to the impact of the current pandemic to individuals, families and greater communities. This is a series of open discussions created to challenge the ever-changing isolation requirements.