Is Melbourne better today than it was in the sixties?Posted: July 18, 2010
Mr Mcleod has another interesting contention – he argues that Melbourne is unambiguously better and more liveable today than it was in 1960. Back then Melbourne had a population of around two million but now it has four million.
I have my doubts about the political wisdom of running that line but that’s neither here nor there – my primary interest is whether or not Mr Mcleod’s proposition makes sense.
I’ve no doubt the response of many people would be that housing in Melbourne is now less affordable than it was forty years ago and the roads and public transport are more congested. Some people also think it’s less safe, less equal and has a much larger per capita ecological footprint. For others, the footy lost something really important when the AFL was created.
On the other hand, many would argue that Melbourne is now more tolerant, more diverse and more exciting than it ever was. It’s now a city with a global profile, a better educated population and a vastly more sophisticated lifestyle. You can drive from the west to the south east fringe today entirely on freeway in under an hour in the off peak and you can take a train around the CBD.
Determining which Melbourne is better is probably impossible because it’s hard to compare one era with another. It’s a bit like those pub arguments about who was GOAT (Greatest of all Time) – in men’s tennis, for example, was it Laver, Sampras or Federer?
And it’s complicated by multiple “Melbournes”. Today’s city might be better, say, for well heeled professionals than it was in the 60s but worse for conservative old codgers, or vice versa. Everyone has their own Melbourne and their own demographic.
But we can agree, I think, that many of the good things about living in Melbourne today are really improvements in the broader Australian society. Our more tolerant outlook, for example, is common to other Australian cities, suggesting that it has little to do with this city per se. Our higher levels of education, our penchant for electrically powered home appliances, women’s higher workforce participation, the decline in road fatalities and our greater ethnic diversity are just some examples of attributes that are pretty much as characteristic of Sydneysiders as they are of Melburnites.
Perhaps a better comparison, given that the debate is about whether we want a bigger city or not, isn’t Melbourne in 1960, but rather a city like Brisbane that has a population in 2010 similar to Melbourne’s in the 1960s i.e. around two million.
Having lived for extended periods in both cities I can tell you there are big differences in weather and topography, but day-to-day life seems much the same in both places (this most definitely wasn’t the case when I grew up in a smaller, more provincial Brisbane). Now it seems that a population of two million is big enough to deliver plenty of cultural, social and recreational opportunities for almost everyone.
But a key difference I think is that bigger cities have more scope for specialisation and arcane interests. For example, fewer international musicians visit Brisbane, but I expect it gets 90% of them, which is more than enough for the vast bulk of residents. However that last 10% is illustrative of what a much bigger city gets you – specialisation.
A final but interesting point is that prices of established houses are pretty much the same in Melbourne and Brisbane. This suggests that there are more forces at play than just population size. It reminds us that bigger city are likely to be – but don’t necessarily have to be – significantly less affordable or significantly more congested.
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