I noted on Friday that the 2010 Mercer annual quality of living survey says Sydney is more liveable than Melbourne.
However neither of these surveys define what liveability is from the point of view of the residents of a city, begging the question: what makes one city more liveable than another? And in particular, which is more liveable, Sydney or Melbourne?
The strategic plan for Melbourne, Melbourne 2030, uses the term liveability liberally and even asserts that the plan’s “main purpose is to continue to protect the liveability of established areas” (page 1). It lists liveability as one of the city’s key strengths, but this is the closest it comes to a definition (page 23):
“liveability: metropolitan Melbourne overflows with sporting, cultural and recreational opportunity; the public transport system makes the city generally easy to traverse; health and safety standards are high, as is environmental quality; metropolitan Melbourne and the surrounding region has outstanding natural landscapes and coastlines”
At page 40, liveability is summarised as “quality of life, security, amenities, etc” and at page 50, in the context of activity centres, it is summarised again, this time as “safety, convenience, comfort and aesthetics”.
This is all a bit inexact. Whether the authors quite meant it or not, it seems implicitly to define the liveability of Melbourne as the quality of the public realm i.e. life outside the front door of residents’ houses and workplaces. The focus seems to be on ease of mobility, safety, leisure opportunities and the quality of the natural and human-constructed environments. Read the rest of this entry »
I love Russian railway stations. The TimesOnline reports “the opening of a Moscow Metro station named after Fyodor Dostoevsky has been postponed after complaints that murals decorating the platform walls are too depressing. The images, drawn from the 19th-century novelist’s works, could prompt depressed commuters to kill themselves, critics say.
“One scene, right, depicts a man preparing to hit a woman with an axe while another lays dying at his feet — inspired by Rodion Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment”.
I’ve never been very keen on public art and this reinforces my prejudice.
Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.
On Wednesday the Sydney Morning Herald reported the release of the 2010 Mercer annual quality of living survey with the headline, “Sydney beats Melbourne in world’s top cities league”.
This is not news. Sydney beat Melbourne in the 2009 Mercer survey too. Sydney has stayed in 10th position and Melbourne has “slipped” from 17th to 18th out of 221 cities across the world.
Victorian politicians prefer to reference the annual survey done by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Its 2010 Global Liveability Report ranks Melbourne 3rd after Vancouver and Vienna. Sydney is ranked 7th.
Do these surveys really indicate that Sydney is more “liveable” than Melbourne, or vice versa? No, they don’t.
For one thing, the difference in scores is miniscule. In the Mercer survey, Sydney scored 106 points to Melbourne’s 105. In The Economist’s survey Melbourne scored 97 and Sydney 96.
Clearly rankings give a misleading impression of the two cities relative merits.
These sorts of surveys have been criticised on a number of grounds, including lack of transparency about their methodologies, definitions and quality of data. But that criticism misses the point that they are designed for a different purpose – to assist companies determine living allowances for staff posted to an overseas destination. The lower the city ranks, the higher the compensating allowance. Read the rest of this entry »
Imagine you’ve just been elected Premier. You carried the electorate on a simple but radical two-promise platform: (1) to prohibit alcohol and (2) to shift all travel out of cars and onto public transport.
The Party is solidly behind you. Members agree that both alcohol and cars are bad for the individual and bad for society. You’re lauded as a reformer.
But you’ve not long been in office before you discover just how entrenched car use is in your largest city. Just 10% of trips are made by public transport and 90% of households have at least one car. Less driving would make the community better off but you quickly discover how much people like doing things that are bad for them and bad for others. You have a stiff drink.
For all their talk about sustainability, your predecessors knew the electorate loved cars. The former Premier talked-the-talk about public transport and even threw a few paltry dollars its way, but at the end of the day she didn’t do anything that would come between voters and their cars.
Eager to get started, you begin your quest to reduce car use by investing massively in public transport. You mortgage the State budget for the next 50 years in an endeavour to provide high quality, metro-style public transport across the entire city. Travellers without access to a car, like school children and tourists, think you’re God. CBD workers think you’re Gary Ablett. But you fail to notice that most of them either don’t vote or don’t live in marginal electorates. Read the rest of this entry »
The idea of very fast trains on the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne corridor seems to have run out of steam after an initial flurry earlier this year when the CRC for Rail Innovation and the Greens both called on the Federal Government to fund a major concept study.
There has been very little in the popular media since that opening blast. Hence it was interesting to see author, educator and consultant, John Legge, arguing in The Age on Saturday that the figures on very fast rail add up.
He asserts that: (a) high speed rail works in Europe, China and Japan, (b) the US is now building high speed rail projects, (c) rail is faster, more comfortable and more convenient than flying, and (d) it can be built for a mere $15 billion. Ergo, it will be an unqualified success on the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne corridor. But he provides little in the way of evidence or argument to support these claims.
Surprisingly, Legge makes no mention of what I think is the best argument for the project – constraints on Sydney Airport’s ability to expand capacity. Even more surprisingly, he doesn’t mention the environmental benefits of rail over air until the very last line and then just in passing. His key argument is that rail would out-compete air simply because a very fast train is a more attractive product.
I don’t want to deal with everything Legge says because I’ve covered most of the arguments for and against high speed rail here and here. But I do want to take issue with a couple of the points he makes.
First, what works in other countries won’t necessarily work in Australia. Most of the routes in Europe and Japan where high speed rail is strong are relatively short e.g. London-Paris is 340 km; London-Brussels is 198 km. London, with a population of 8 million and Paris (10 million) are very big cities compared to Sydney and Melbourne. They are world cities that have huge numbers of business travellers and tourists compared to Australia (London is an ‘Alpha’ world city). Congestion in the air and on the ground makes air less competitive in those cities, particularly for short trips. Read the rest of this entry »
Yes! Compared to Sydney, you get 11 km closer to the city centre in Melbourne and pay $70,000 less!
The Financial Review ran an interesting article on Saturday titled Only units deliver median inner glow. It’s paywalled, but I’ve made two graphs (click to enlarge) based on information it presents in a table on house and unit prices. The data was compiled by RP Data.
The Financial Review’s emphasis was on affordability however the sophisticated readers of this blog will appreciate that there’s a more interesting story here (although with a caveat – I haven’t seen RP Data’s full set of numbers as they’re subscription only).
Figure 1 shows that a buyer has to travel 23 km from the CBD in Sydney in order to obtain a house at the median price of $500,000. However in Melbourne the median house costs considerably less – $430,000 – and, more importantly, you only have to go 12 km out to find it. All this even though the population difference is only around 500,000 people – 4 million in Melbourne vs 4.5 million in Sydney.
Thus the bundle of locational services available in Melbourne for the dollar is significantly better than in our older sister up the Hume. Those services relate to the special attractions of proximity to the city centre – high level corporate and government jobs, recreational and cultural facilities, private schools, entertainment, etc.
The value of the city centre is brought home by that quintessential icon of Melbourne, the footy. The only place you can attend an AFL game within Melbourne nowadays is in the centre. And being 12 km from the CBD will usually be a better location than points further out for accessing Melbourne’s wealth of suburban jobs and for being closer to family. No wonder migrants are beating a path to Melbourne rather than Sydney. Read the rest of this entry »
My household acquired the new Border’s e-reader, Kobo, on the weekend. The Kobo was released on Wednesday and with the dollar crashing to below 80c at one point on Friday I figured it might be now or never.
There’s no particular connection to Melbourne or to urbanism in this article but as this is the first time I’ve ever been a real early-adopter, I thought I’d share my experience. Perhaps my rationale can be that I’ve always had a page on this blog titled My Reading.
This’ll be a brief review because I haven’t really had much time to look at it, but based on my (limited) experience over the weekend and my wife’s slightly more extended experience, here are the pros and cons of the Kobo (which BTW I take to be an anagram of “book”?). Bear in mind that we only intend to use the Kobo for reading fiction.
On the pro side:
First, it’s very cheap – just A$199. It was released on Wednesday so I don’t know if there’re any left. Its closest rival, the Kindle, is US$249 and you have to wait for delivery.
Second, you can buy it over the counter. I got this one at Borders Carlton on Friday night. I’m a big user of e-commerce but having bricks and mortar to deal with is always preferable.
Third, it really is like reading paper. The screen isn’t lit by light like an LCD but uses a technology like the Etch A Sketch. It’s very easy on the eyes compared to a computer screen or an iPhone. There is a choice of two fonts and five type sizes – I expect the range will increase as the software is revised. Read the rest of this entry »
And they say strategic planning is not about barking dogs (Local Government Boundaries, Melbourne)! This really needs a caption….
David Byrne on bicycles, Atlanta’s sprawl and burying highways.
On New York: “If I had a magic wand — ahhh, that’s easy — I’d bury the highways, as they’ve done in some other cities. The West Side Highway and the FDR would both go underground, with parks on top that link the city and its people to their waterfront. Cafes, clubs and recreational stuff too. It would be glorious”.
David Byrne at Atlanta new urbanism conference (too late, it finishes today)
David Byrne’s book, Bicycle Diaries. He’s been riding his bike in New York since the 80s.
David Byrne on Paris’s bike sharing scheme
And David Byrne on Houston – land of the free
The proportion of new dwelling commencements planned for the outer suburban growth areas increased sharply between the release of Melbourne 2030 in 2003 and the release of the revised strategy, Melbourne @ 5 Million, in October 2008.
Melbourne 2030 envisaged 31% of dwelling starts would be located in the growth areas over the period to 2030 (page 30). It expected virtually all the rest would be located within the established suburbs, either clustered around major activity centres or dispersed across the suburbs.
The subsequent update, Melbourne @ 5 Million, made a dramatic change. It increased the proportion of dwellings expected to be constructed in outer suburban growth areas to 47% – half as much again as envisaged by Melbourne 2030 (page 3).
This change was consistent with the reality of what was happening in the market.
The authors of Melbourne 2030 probably felt at the time that 31% was a reasonable “stretch” target. Over the four years from 96/97 to 00/01, only 38% of new commencements were in the growth areas.
However four years is a short period to use as a basis for policy. As it happened this was a relatively quiet period compared to the boom that followed. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the puzzles in the current housing market is why loans for housing have fallen but prices nevertheless have continued to increase.
According to a speech given earlier this week by Dr Luci Ellis from the Reserve Bank, the number of new loan approvals in March was 16% lower than their peak late last year. In a feature last Saturday titled “The Great Property Puzzle”, the Financial Review reported that loan approvals are now at a nine year low.
Yet as Figure 1 shows, prices continued to rise well into 2010. In its May 2010 Statement on Monetary Policy, the RBA said “Overall, the divergence between aggregate nationwide loan approvals and housing prices remains something of a puzzle”. The Financial Review continued this theme: “Home loan approvals are falling, but property prices just keep rising. The fundamentals are all out of whack and nobody seems to know why”.
There seem to be a number of factors at play. First, immigration is strong and some migrants bring capital with them from assets they’ve sold in their former country. Second, some temporary residents are buying properties using funds raised overseas – although that’s arguable, because according to the Financial Review, the FIRB says they only account for 2% of purchases.
However what seems to be the most important factor is shown in Figure 2 – lower income buyers are dropping out of the market as home prices and interest rates rise and as assistance to first home buyers is wound back. Read the rest of this entry »
The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, has bought himself a heap of trouble with Council’s decision to impose a flat $4 charge for parking in the CBD from 7.30 pm to midnight (see here, here, here and here).
The new fee will apply to 3,000 on-street metered parking spaces that are currently free at night. It will raise an estimated $1.9 million in revenue to be used for general Council purposes. Council is expecting to earn a similar amount from fines associated with the new policy.
While some people think it will encourage greater use of public transport, others say it will have a severe impact on restaurants, movies and shows and is just a naked grab for money. Another criticism is that public transport is too unsafe at night and finishes too early to provide a satisfactory alternative to driving. Others vow they’ll stop visiting the CBD and go elsewhere.
I find the reaction extraordinary. In my view Council’s action is understandable – any time you have a scarce resource that is under-priced there are bound to be some perverse and inefficient outcomes. Melbourne is a 24/7 city – the streets of the CBD are frequently heavily congested at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. Charging for parking at night makes sense.
The Melbourne Business Council however is concerned that people coming in to the CBD to see Fame or Sir Ian McKellen in Waiting for Godot will now have to pay for parking. VECCI is worried about the impact on restaurants, small bars and theatres. But who shells out $100 plus for tickets to a show or dinner and quibbles over $4 for parking? On the contrary, I expect patrons will feel they’re better off if it loosens up parking options a bit. Read the rest of this entry »
The Financial Review (paywalled) reported on Saturday that the average house sold within 10 km of the CBD in Melbourne is located on a 511 m2 block, according to data collected by property information provider, RP Data.
Of course there is considerable variation in property types within that average. Houses in the inner city (0-5 km) are predominantly terraces on small lots whereas those in the inner suburbs (5-10 km) are predominantly detached houses on larger lots.
However what is especially interesting about this statistic is how it compares with the outer suburbs. The median size of lots sold in the Growth Areas is currently 513 m2, according to property consultants, Oliver Hume.
In other words, the average lot size is much the same in the two areas.
This is surprising, but a number of caveats are in order. First, some of the properties closer to the CBD would be destined for redevelopment whereas that seems unlikely in the Growth Areas. Read the rest of this entry »
Seems that local government really has gone to the dogs in Melbourne although I’m not sure what breed this cartozoological canine is. Looks friendly enough considering the poor thing has had its tail docked and is getting on a bit. I think I’ll call him Maribyrnong ‘coz that’s where his head’s at (jeez, I hope he’s not about to do the dirty on Cardinia!).
And then there’s this ghostly character in eastern Victoria who’s amazed/terrified/awed by something – but what? Is that a sheep’s head or a wolf in…..?
I’ve created a few others as well that I’ll put up shortly. Contributions welcome.
One of the tenets of new urbanism is that streets should be laid out in a rectilinear grid to maximise connectivity i.e. to minimise public transport and walking distances.
This research project in Seattle seems to confirm the wisdom of that principle. It compared the distance travelled by residents of two neighbourhoods and found that in Woodinville, where the dominant street form is the cul de sac, residents travel 26% more kilometres than residents of Ballard, where streets are laid out in a rectilinear grid.
As it happens, I’ve spent a fair bit of my life living on a “no through road” or similar street form and I think the advantages of cul de sacs are too often neglected. I grew up in a closed street, lived for six years in a mews and currently live with my family in a short cul de sac created in the 1950s when a larger property was subdivided into seven lots.
The great advantage of the cul de sac is low traffic. When my children were very young my wife and I were relaxed about them playing in the street because the only cars that entered the street were residents or their visitors. And for that same reason we don’t have issues with traffic noise like we used to have in North Fitzroy. These are major advantages and should not be dismissed lightly.
But cul de sacs have another advantage. If they’re not too long, they can create a sense of a place that is shared or “owned” by a small number of residents. We got to know all our neighbours well, shared child supervision responsibilities and even had an annual lunch in the middle of the road. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s compelling evidence that inner city apartments are not substitutes for fringe development despite oft-repeated claims to the contrary.
The Age reported yesterday that the average size of new two-bedroom apartments under construction in Melbourne is just 73 m2, while the average size of one-bedroom apartments is 51 m2 and studio apartments 34 m2.
More than three quarters of the 5,600 units currently being built are located in central areas, mostly in the Melbourne, Stonnington and Yarra municipalities. A spokesperson from property group Oliver Hulme says that the median size of apartments in the inner municipalities is no smaller than those in outer suburbs.
I must say I’m staggered by how little space you get for your money. According to the report, the entry-level median price for newly built two-bedroom apartments is around $530,000. Corresponding prices for one-bedroom and studio apartments are $379,000 and $302,500 respectively. It seems inner city buyers subscribe strongly to the “location, location, location” maxim.
In contrast, the median house and land package in Melbourne’s outer suburban growth areas costs around $383,500 and the median dwelling size is 219 m2. It’s even cheaper in Cardinia in Melbourne’s outer South East, where the median dwelling is 186 m2 and together with land costs $334,500 on average.
Clearly the inner city and the outer suburban growth areas are entirely different markets! The average size of apartments is probably reduced by the current high rate of social housing construction but I doubt that’s significant enough to explain the enormous difference between the two markets. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul Krugman once said that while we can make a reasonable fist of unpicking how a city developed historically, it is virtually impossible to predict where it might go in the future.
Could anyone in the 1950s or 1960s have confidently predicted the extent of gentrification of Melbourne’s inner city? Looking back we can attempt to identify some of the key forces that produced the inner city revival and see just how difficult it would have been to predict.
The starting point was the departure of manufacturing for the suburbs which began in earnest in the 1950s. This exodus was driven by a number of factors, including new ‘horizontal production’ methods, reductions in the cost of truck transport, increasing traffic congestion in the inner city and the suburbanisation of much of the blue collar workforce.
What it did was crucial – it made the inner city a much more pleasant place to live in.
The rapid expansion in higher education in the 60s and 70s introduced many staff and students to the lifestyle possibilities of the inner city. House prices were competitive with the fringe suburbs, at least in the early decades of gentrification, in part because many of the (former) migrant families who occupied inner city housing aspired to live in the suburbs.
Later, declining household size – itself the product of upstream changes in factors such as fertility – meant inner city dwellings provided more space per person, especially for the expanding cohort of professionals who worked in the CBD. They married later, had fewer children and hence required less space (although terraces could easily be renovated and extended). Read the rest of this entry »
I was leafing through Challenge Melbourne, the discussion paper released in 2001 as part of the Melbourne 2030 process, the other day. This very interesting but apparently long-forgotten factoid caught my attention:
“Capacity for an estimated 65,000 dwellings on large sites such as old factories has been identified in the established suburbs”.
Given that the number of households in Melbourne is projected in Victoria in Future to grow by 825,000 between 2006 and 2036, it seems the potential contribution from “brownfields” sites – mainly large disused industrial and public sector sites – will be modest.
Melbourne @ 5 Million envisages that 53% of the required new dwellings will be located within the established suburbs. If the 65,000 figure is even broadly close to the mark, it seems that the great bulk of this new housing will have to come from redevelopment of small sites, most of which are presumably residential and likely to generate significant opposition from neighbours.
The key issue this raises is whether or not the anticipated level of redevelopment in established suburbs is achievable. Brownfields sites have made a significant contribution over the last 20 years to construction of multi unit housing but apparently will make a relatively small contribution in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s more evidence that claims of “spare” infrastructure capacity in inner city and inner suburban areas are a tall story. The Sunday Age reports that Port Melbourne Primary School, Malvern Primary and Middle Park Primary are the first schools to get double storey portable classrooms.
Two storey portables are a natural evolution – practically every State primary school in Melbourne within 10 km of the CBD already has single storey portables. However I’m not concerned with whether portables are better or worse than permanent buildings but rather with what additional classrooms say about spare capacity in schools.
As I argued previously in Why ‘spare infrastructure capacity’ is exaggerated, it is a mistake to think that there is necessarily spare infrastructure capacity just because an area historically had a higher population than it has at present. Read the rest of this entry »