On 15th July 2019 Ruth Richardson wrote:

London and Melbourne: what makes a ‘liveable’ city?

On Thursday morning Riaan and I attended ‘London and Melbourne: what makes a ‘liveable’ city?', an event hosted by the NLA in conjunction with Bates Smart.

As both cities face complex challenges whilst planning for growth, the event explored how they are ensuring that this is sustainable and enhances ‘liveability’. Melbourne consistently ranks very highly in the world’s liveable city rankings, whilst London rarely features in the top 40. So what can London learn from Melbourne?

London is facing and addressing many challenges; to list a few, we all know about the ongoing need for more homes and to promote quality in their design. Then there’s the drive to promote sustainable transport with £2 billion investment in the cycle network to increase cycleways from 53km to 116km. This sits alongside the ambition for car-free development and a drive down on parking numbers.

But there are also issues that we discuss less; for example, London’s public health crisis. Over 400 schools are in areas of London where air pollution levels are illegal. Many of London’s tubes/trains are at high capacity at rush hour, these too having poor air quality. This is a particularly useful example as it demonstrates that some ‘good growth’ approaches (e.g. the promotion of public transport and the reduced use of the car) are not always promoting a liveable city. Public transport can in fact have a negative impact on people’s health or increase stress levels. The plan for growth needs to consider sustainability in the context of health and wellbeing.

Melbourne takes an approach to the city coined as ‘urban choreography’ where it brings together its major players to make sense of the city and implement its strategies, but also allows a degree of spontaneity and informality. The city has a vibrant urbane downtown, a sidewalk café culture and strategies which are bringing residential back in the city core from the suburbs and with it, increased retail, food and beverage. Melbourne has a strong identity, including its own street furniture and widespread use of blue stone paving in the public realm.

Importantly, Melbourne is promoting adaptability. The city’s 'Grey to Green' strategy has identified underutilised roads, removing 80 hectares of asphalt and converting these for pedestrian use or as parks, creating a joined up open space system across the city. Another example is it recognises the reduction in its rainfall and has strategies in place to store water, such as storage tanks under many roads and storm water harvesting in parks.

Melbourne has an active and successful city-wide strategy that trickles down to the granular and is well implemented. For London, city-wide initiatives can sometimes be hindered by the fact that approximately ten of London’s Boroughs have part of the Central London area within their boundaries and Local Plans, hence complicating delivery or implementation. There is still a long way to come for both cities in responding to rapid population growth, but this event highlighted the importance of indicators such as liveability, health or happiness and how these are equally as important and strongly interlinked with environmental, economic or sustainability factors of city growth.