Our mayor with a mission

first_imgA mayor with an independent view has been vigorously trying to reshape thinking around the City of Yarra since his election to the top job last year.“In dense inner urban areas, it’s a matter of making best use of the infrastructure, because sometimes there’s just not the space.”Born in Melbourne, Councillor Phillip Vlahogiannis has lived in the Richmond area all his life. It’s an experience that has given him a deep understanding of local people’s needs.His parents (mother from Nafpakto and father from Messolonghi) met in the suburb after his father arrived in Australia in 1956, and the young Phillip had a familiar upbringing.Attending Greek school from an early age, he pursued Greek as a major at university, where he studied a combined arts and law degree.For a decade he taught at the Koinotita’s schools in Doncaster, taking a year out to complete his army service in Greece in 1997, before becoming a lawyer.Speaking to Neos Kosmos, he says his cultural heritage has given him a unique connection to second and third generation Greeks, as well as newer migrants in his constituency. “I get 70- and 80-year-olds ringing me up and saying it’s the first time in their experience they’re able to put forward their concerns with confidence, because they’re able to speak to me in Greek, and that I understand where they are coming from. That’s a privilege on my part and it’s not something I take for granted.”Vlahogiannis was first elected as the representative of the Melba ward – encompassing Richmond, Burnley and Cremorne – in 2012, utilising the analytical skills he learned in the legal profession.“As a lawyer, you know that you can’t give iron-clad guarantees if you don’t control all of the circumstances that can deliver the outcome.”It’s important, he says, to remember what it means to be elected; the act of serving a community, and giving a voice to sections of it that feel marginalised.“I suspect that the sort of people who were drawn to me have been those who knew me or members of my family, perhaps another group might have been the Greek community … yes, it still does exist in Richmond,” he says.“I guess there might have been another group which said ‘OK, we don’t want to vote for a political party’. The other thing that I did was to provide information on what I thought was important on my how-to-vote card, so it wasn’t some broad, sweeping statements that were bland and meaningless, nor was I was silly enough to say ‘I will change this’.”With a total capital and operating budget of $162.5 million, used to deliver a wide range of community services and sustain infrastructure, Vlahogiannis says it’s not just about money, but utilising infrastructure creatively.Part of his platform is about improving the flow-on effects of development in the Richmond area – addressing parking problems and traffic issues, and encouraging the use of existing buildings to deliver community benefits. One such project relates to his old primary school in Cremorne Street, now the Kangan Institute of TAFE.“There’s scope for opening that up to the community – so they’re not buildings used only from nine-to-five Monday to Friday, but they can serve community needs beyond those hours. “In dense inner-urban areas, it’s a matter of making best use of the infrastructure, because sometimes there’s just not the space.”Having grown up on the outskirts of Melbourne’s CBD, Vlahogiannis saw the area change rapidly – from one influenced by European migration, to Asian, largely due to the influx of Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970s.“I was a kid back then and all of the main suburbs around Yarra had a very different look. They were the place where there were a lot of factories. They were the place where there were a lot of migrants, including Greeks. Compare that to the sort of place it is today and there’s a stark difference.”Home to a community of over 80,000 people, Vlahogiannis says he will use the City of Yarra’s rich diversity to make it one of Melbourne’s most liveable neighbourhoods – by engaging with his constituency at a grassroots level.“We have the poorest as well as the richest, and everything in between. We have five to six times the state average of homeless people … and at the other end you have your influential barristers, surgeons, and chief executives.“Council can be a broker or facilitator of community relationships and say ‘right this business over there can work with this community group over here’, or ‘this not-for-profit may want to work with the potential benefactor’ and those sorts of synergies can bring about outcomes that really work for the community.” Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagramlast_img read more