I’ve recently returned to “The world’s most liveable city” after a holiday in Berlin. Congratulations Melbourne, having again been awarded this prize for the fourth time running!
Whilst I have always had such an appreciation for Melbourne, I appreciate it that bit more every time I return from a trip abroad. However Berlin left a big impression on me; I fell in love… Arriving home this time was not the same. Should Melbourne, my first love, the MOST liveable, be jealous of my holiday fling with Berlin?
Since then I’ve spent a lot of time thinking – why was it hard to come back this time? To answer that I decided to write a letter. It’s as if the wise elder was passing on some advice to the young upstart. Here is my letter from Berlin to Melbourne…
Let me start by congratulating you on your recent achievement. However, this is not the reason I write to you today; I feel an old place like me could teach you a few things.
I hear stories of your large homes, the world’s largest in fact, free standing, most free of shared walls. But I also hear your residential streets are free of any sign of life or activity at night, that only happens along your retail strips, which are spread out and as a result not felt by most. Well not here. My people live in apartments… I can hear your cries from all the way over there – “Who wants to live in a small apartment, stacked up with all the others? That’s not the great Australian dream.”
Hear me out. My higher density means all my streets have many people coming and going, day and night. Enough to support local business like cafes and restaurants which can be found along almost all my streets. Yes nearly all of them. It takes just a wander downstairs from one’s apartments to grab a bite to eat or a coffee (ok your coffee is better than ours), and my residents will also get to see many of their neighbours doing the same. This allows them to get to know each other, to feel a part of something, that something being community! We don’t have to drive to an event or friend’s place, because we literally live amongst ours, belonging to, and feeling a part of that fulfils one of human kind’s most important needs – connection! It brings me joy to see my people living happily together, not spread apart from each other like yours: Quite literally disconnected the further they live from the city centre. For your people to connect with others means being stuck in traffic, which many avoid. Doesn’t sound like a “dream” to me… Sorry Melbourne, that was a low (density) blow.
But I see you have made attempts to copy us. You have your own apartment buildings going up too. Those tall buildings all clustered together down at the docklands somehow did not work out as you hoped, did it? That’s because the scale of such buildings are too big, dwarfing those below. Where’s the intimacy in that? Intimacy comes from a closeness, that’s inviting, cosy, friendly spaces, not by stand over tactics! A tip from me Melbourne, we’ve been at this for hundreds of years: Our apartment buildings are mostly 5 storeys tall. Our streets are wide so these low scale apartment blocks don’t impose upon those below. Furthermore our streets are lined with huge trees, as a result the apartment blocks seem to disappear behind them, and give those inside beautiful tree tops to gaze out at, not each other’s balconies.
Our apartments aren’t shoe boxes either, many are family sized homes, but we don’t need theatre rooms, outdoor dinning areas etc in our homes, remember we can go downstairs for that. And what’s not downstairs is just a bike ride or train ride away, because here the infrastructure is all around, not a car trip away like for your people, oh sorry, except those few lucky enough to live next to one of your shopping strips. This also allows my city to be more compact than yours, I’m 892m² and you’re 9,990m². You’re 11 times larger, yet our populations are almost the same!! That’s why our public transport can reach more people, and a bike ride can easily get you across town.
So Melbourne, if you keep spreading out rather than looking at more sustainable higher density ways of doing things, I fear you may soon be remembered as the former 4 time champion of the world. Now overweight and missing that life force you once had… You may each have a backyard, but my people have everything they need in theirs.