British Columbia

Melbourne vs. Vancouver: City planner puts urban centres head to head

The current title holder for the most liveable city in the world is Melbourne, Australia but as CBC’s regular city columnist Brent Toderian tells On The Coast host Stephen Quinn, they’re taking notes from Vancouver.

From alleyways to suburban development, the two cities have a lot to learn from each other

Swanston Street in Melbourne (left) and Robson Street in Vancouver (right). City-making columnist Brent Toderian compares the two cities ranked in the top three most liveable places in the world. (CBC)

The current title holder for the most liveable city in the world is Melbourne, Australia, but as CBC's regular city columnist Brent Toderian tells On The Coast host Stephen Quinn, the Australians are taking notes from Vancouver. 

"We are the city that they study more than any other city on the planet and I find it fascinating to look at what it is about our system that they're trying to learn from because it can teach us about ourselves," Toderian said.

He points out the suburbs in Melbourne are lacking, and that's where the city could learn the most from the Lower Mainland's regional design.

"We're building urban places — transit supportive, walkable, bikeable places out in the suburbs."

"They've got a commuter rail, they've got their tram system, but they've got no mixed use density out in the suburbs. It's all car oriented."

Active alleyways

The glaring difference between Vancouver's downtown and Melbourne's downtown is how the Australian city has utilized its lanes and alleys by making them into public spaces.

"They completely rethought all the barriers... and in the 90's [Melbourne] transformed that," Toderian said, commenting on the potential of Vancouver's aesthetically diverse back lanes.

The city did revamp the alley east of Granville Street between Smithe and Robson and a similar project is set to take place in the alley south of Alberni Street between Burrard and Bute.

"We tip-toe into these kind of ideas, they went big into it and they transformed a whole network of their alleys and lanes."

Toderian put the two cities head to head and here's how they compared:

Culture and art in the downtown and inner city: Melbourne wins.

"Their architecture is more adventurous, more colourful, more fun, and they do their civic city building better."

Downtown housing: Vancouver wins.

"The idea that we put a lot of people right downtown, Vancouver wins by far. Family housing, housing that may be expensive but it can physically fit families, and we have 7,000 kids in our Downtown, [Melbourne] is very jealous of that."

Public transit: Vancouver/Melbourne tie.

"They're the only Australian city that didn't rip up their trams back in the advent of the car. It's not just a piece of transportation infrastructure, it's identity, it's civic building, it's part of their brand.

"We move more people per capita on our transit system than they do, but there's the piece of it about how it also fits in with their identity."

Public realm design: Melbourne wins.

"We're good, but they're excellent at it. An overall walkable downtown, I give them the slight advantage, their midrise architecture is very adventurous."

Waterfront & Seawall: Vancouver wins.

"Our seawall is much better than theirs. We think coal harbour can be kind of cold and dead, their seawall is really dead."

"On the other hand they program their waterfront better, they have great festivals and restaurants and we don't do that as much as we could."

To hear the full interview with Brent Toderian listen to audio labelled Melbourne vs. Vancouver: city-making columnist puts urban centres head to head for livability