Melbourne: A Pedestrian Paradise
Finally cajoled into taking the long trip to Melbourne, I was told to expect a city where walking abounded, where the streets were flowing with energy, where the quality of public space would blow my mind. Little did I know my already high expectations would be pleasantly exceeded.
Melbourne is simply wonderful. You can get lost in the nooks and crannies that permeate the city. As you walk you feel like free-flowing air with no impediments to your enjoyment. For a city with nearly 4 million people, the streets feel much like the hustle and bustle of New York City but without omnipresent danger and stress cars cause.
There is an invaluable lesson here. In the early 90s, Melbourne was hardly a haven for pedestrian life until Jan Gehl was invited there to undertake a study and publish recommendations on street improvements and public space. Ten years after the survey's findings, Melbourne was a remarkably different place thanks to sidewalk widenings, copious tree plantings, a burgeoning cafe culture, and various types of car restrictions on some streets. Public space and art abound. And all of this is an economic boom for business.
This Streetfilm is vitally important in another way: Melbourne is a new world city, it has a modern grid much like a typical American metropolis. Naysayers who do not believe a city can be radically transformed say that the already narrow streets of many European cities make it easier to have good pedestrian environments there. Melbourne proves that isn't necessarily so.
Read up on Ethan Kent's 2007 Streetsblog report which helped spur this trip.
Kevin Luten: [0:23] Melbourne is frequently cited as one of the most livable cities in the world. There are a lot of reasons for why Melbourne is a livable place. Great focus on public places, public streets, transportation. We're seeing a lot of multimodal investment, increasingly, in the city. Folks have done a great job with improving the rail network. There's still lots more to do. Big focus on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, some serious efforts on new bike lanes, separated bike lanes, throughout the city.
Anne Malloch: [0:47] It's just an amazing place to be able to walk around and feel very much a part of the streets and the shops and any sort of life that is happening.
Simon Goddard: [0:57] It's the details, the fine grain, the cultural activities, the outdoor cafes, and the little discoveries that make it a special place.
Robert Adams: [1:07] The interesting thing about Melbourne, and many cities, is that you look at the architects and the planners and you think, "How have they influenced the city?" In many cases, it's not the architects and planners that have influenced the city but the subdivision patterns that have occurred over time. Melbourne is laid out on a grid of 200 meters by 100 meter blocks. When it was subdivided in the 19th century, the 200 meters was too wide for people to walk around, so they started introducing lanes and arcades through which people could walk. [1:36] And to my left hand side here, you can noticeably see one of those arcades, the Royal Arcade. It's typical of one of the old arcades in the city. But there are other lanes that were service lanes that have now been converted to accommodate restaurants, cafes, bars, and they've really become the rich tapestry of Melbourne's pedestrian network.
Colleen Lazenby: [1:56] So in this very regular, rectangular grid, there are lots of opportunities for small spaces, for intimate spaces. The laneways offer art. They offer cafes. They offer little, special businesses, and the little, special businesses seem appropriate to the environment of a laneway.
Speaker: [2:17] When you start exploring the city, you actually find all these hidden treasures, like the laneways. You just don't know what you might discover when you come into the city, which is one of the attractions. And you also feel quite safe.
Gilbert Rochecouste: [2:29] In many respects, the laneways of Melbourne has now created what I call a living organism that's really activated place and space. We've created a real sense of community with the retailers. They've got a real sense of giving back and gifting to local artists. But more importantly, they give back to each other. And what's been created here is a little village, a village hub. [2:51] Back about 12 years ago, Flinders Lane was only so big in terms of its footpath here and only was a couple of meters wide. And as you can see, we've pushed it right out to the edge. Where there used to be two cars coming down here, now there's only one car up here. And we've got traffic hurdles and bumps. But importantly, we've reclaimed the street.
Elliot Fishman: [3:12] Over the last 10 or 15 years, in the inner city of Melbourne, there's been a reassessment of transport priorities and just livability priorities, and that's resulted in pedestrians and cyclists being given a higher level of priority than they have in the past. [music]
Robert Adams: [3:38] The interesting thing about cities is not always the big projects that are done, but the care and incremental projects. For instance, the flower store behind me was a conscious effort of getting a passive policeman in the street. So we're more interested in the fact that he's here until 10:30 at night than the rental he pays. [3:56] And on the other corner, we've got a little cafe, raised above the ground. So it's actually, people who are perched above the footpath, looking onto the street, feel comfortable. So there again, we have this passive surveillance. And we worked with an artist to actually hold the corner, so you get public art into it. So all those small things that actually make streets livable.
The original footpath would have been around about this position here. We've widened the footpath about three and a half meters. We've planted 100 trees. And we've taken all the cars out. The traffic that's allowed here is either service vehicles, trams, bicycles, buses, and taxis. Cars can come in in the evening, after 7: [4:16] 00, but have to be out again before 7:00 in the morning.
[4:40] What's happened? We've doubled the number of pedestrians in the street, simply by widening the footpath and planting a few trees. Any city can do this.
Gilbert Rochecouste: [4:48] Come over here, and I'll show you what street reclaiming is all about. This used to be a street that the city of Melbourne helped close. And as you can see here, now this has become a whole village life. [5:03] So what you see here is something that really has evolved over the last 10 years. You probably see a vertical village here, where there's a lot of activation at the top end, with different cafes. But importantly, people have reclaimed these little pocket corners. So what we call here is all the micro-detailing and the micro-experiences. And this is pretty much 18 hours a day [laughs] where everybody just embraces the street.
Kevin Luten: [5:27] Melbourne's cafe culture permeates the whole year. You get people sitting outside eating on cafes. On a day like this, it's going to be all over town. But even on winter days, they've done great jobs with protected spaces.
Simon Goddard: [5:37] Lygon Street was the place where all the Italian immigrants came when they first came to Melbourne. The city of Melbourne has spent some time widening the footpaths so as there's enough space for the outdoor seating. If you go, Lygon Street, you can see that there are the outdoor heaters as well, which are also there to extend the seasons. Speaker: [5:55] I like the chance to have the fresh air and a little bit of sunshine, and sit quietly. But you've got the hubbub of all these people, so you can watch the world go by. It's a lovely feeling.
Speaker: [6:07] Even at 10:00, 11:00 at night, there's lots of people still there eating. Therefore, there's more people walking, more people cycling. It all kind of works around in a nice little cycle. [bell rings]
Gilbert Rochecouste: [6:18] Cafe culture in Melbourne really is about the cultural glue. It really brings people together. Melbourne has come way beyond what we ever dreamed of, creating what we call tribes of cafe cultures.
[6:30] And one of them is Victoria Market. This used to be a dumping ground for rubbish. As you can see, what we did here was create some awnings, put out some seats--very simple things--closed it down to traffic, and voilÃ?Â , the back ends of the shops became a cafe little precinct. And if you come into the front end of the shop, if you're coming this way, we'll start to show you what the front ends look like. So, again, you saw the back ends. Let's show the front ends.
Gilbert Rochecouste: [7:04] What Village Well did here over the last 17 years was start to really activate the edges, to instigate activities like this new cafe, which is an organic cafe, and through to creating a night market, which is now the largest night market in the southern hemisphere, with up to about 300 operators.
[7:26] So we started to create the experiences and pleasure that really activate a place. So, in a sense, it's about great product. But also, it's about the people and the spirit of the people and celebration of place.
Jan Gehl: [7:43] The overriding lesson from Melbourne is that even if you're a city in the new world, with wide streets, with a car culture, the whole thing geared for rushing from A to B, if you are willing to give people the space they need, give the bicyclists the space they need, then you can have a complete change of behavior.
Robert Adams: [8:07] In the last 20 years, we've now got Federation Square, which is a world-leading public space. We've got places like the Queen Victoria Market, which is now seen more as a recreational space, where we have opera in the evening. We've got the city square, and we've got a whole host of smaller spaces. The river has been regained, the footpaths widened, cars taken out of it, and the river now is part of the central part of the city rather than the drain that it was for many years.
Kevin Luten: [8:36] One thing that Melbourne has done a great job with is the CBD continues to revitalize itself, continues to reinvent itself. It truly is the heart of the city. It's where people meet, where people gather. There's always something on.
Speaker: [8:46] I don't know if you can see behind us here, but there's one of those open-air chess matches, with giant pieces. And this isn't the only one. There are a number of these throughout the city. That's a normal occurrence, to see something as interesting, as fun, as engaging, as visually dynamic as that on the streets of Melbourne, all the time. It's part of what Melbourne life is like.
Gilbert Rouchouste: [9:11] People have really embraced people spaces, carless, where people have got no cars, where they feel safe, they feel connected to place, and they feel intimate. And it creates a better business environment.
Simon Goddard : [9:23] I think that you can have a much more personal experience of Melbourne than you can in many other cities. And it has been designed to help you do that by encouraging walking, by encouraging you to spend time outside, and by improving the general quality of the city so as it's a great place to be, 24 hours a day.