On Melbourne and Liveable Cities

I was recently in Melbourne and had a quick weekend to discover how it could possibly have been ranked the world’s most liveable city 4 years in a row. Coming from Sydney, it was just hard to believe that there could be another Australian city that was even more impressive.

After a few days, I’m back to report that I fully concur with the rankings – and that Melbourne now has a place as one of my all-time favourite cities.

Here are a few of the qualities observed in Melbourne that put it over the top for me.

Huge open public spaces

Funny enough, Melbourne didn’t have any large open civic spaces until the 1960s due to a fear of demonstrations, but what they have today (Federation Square) is absolutely stunning.

Every day I walked past this and saw festival booths, open-air theatre, or throngs of people just sitting and taking it all in. All signs of a city that cares for its people.

Expansive yet completely walkable CBD

When considering how to improve the walkability of a city, there are some obvious choices a government could make. Wide sidewalks, safe crosswalks, building entrances close to the street, and multi-modal transit options are all essential to creating a walkable neighbourhood. But one of the more interesting urban planning factoids is that people are happier walking further distances if they are frequently presented with directional options. Put another way, if there are plenty of opportunities to alter one’s path on the way to a destination, a person is more willing to walk it.

Look at all these laneways!
Look at all those laneways!
Each one a delightfully enticing diversion

With that in mind, Melbourne’s CBD is brilliantly laid out – it may seem fairly large on paper (1 mile by 0.5 mile), but walking it is a joy because there are multiple alleys laneways in between every single block. And oftentimes these are where the best cafes, restaurants, and arcades (shopping streets) are. 🙂

Healthy obsession with the arts

Melbourne is often referred to as the cultural capital of Australia (in contrast to Sydney which seems to be the financial capital), and you really do get that feeling while you’re there. Not just because it has amazing museums like the ACMI which has exhibits on the entire history of film you can visit for free:

… but also because the streets are filled with an artistic vibe. Literally:

For a country with such a relatively short history, Australia has really been able to express its individuality through Melbourne.

Rich food and drink culture

No city can ever truly be called liveable without a great food scene. Melbourne does not disappoint – its best restaurants can rival the likes of those in Chicago or even Vancouver…

Yes, even wonton noodle soup has been upgraded here to gourmet levels.

Plentiful public transit options

Ah, the trams.

San Francisco can only dream of doing light rail this well. I think the main reason it works has to do with the structure of the roads around them – super wide roads with dedicated boarding platforms and separation from cars. In fact, the roads are so wide (supposedly because that was the width needed to turn a set of oxen around back in the day), there is often enough room for dual tramlines, bike lanes, car parking, and even a lane for actual car traffic.

On streets where there aren’t trams, there are buses or trains – making for a complete transit system where it seems you’re never more than a block from a stop.

Conclusions and New Rankings

After experiencing all that, it was easy for Melbourne to earn its place among my favourite cities in the world. I can now appreciate why even Steve Wozniak would express interest in migrating here.

If I were to update my own completely non-scientific, subjective rankings, I would say these are the top cities I would consider living in today:

  1. Melbourne
  2. Vancouver
  3. Sydney
  4. Singapore
  5. Seattle
  6. San Francisco
  7. Boston
  8. Tokyo
  9. Toronto
  10. New York City

Given Melbourne’s surprising upset, I would say I clearly need to visit more cities. 🙂

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