Streetfilm: A Pedestrian Paradise in Melbourne

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson recently made the journey to Melbourne, Australia, where he found a "new world city" redesigned for people-oriented development and mobility. Writes Clarence:

Melbourne is simply wonderful. You can get lost in the nooks and
crannies that permeate the city. As you walk you feel like free-flowing
air with no impediments to your enjoyment. For a city with nearly 4
million people, the streets feel much like the hustle and bustle of New
York City but without omnipresent danger and stress cars cause.

There is an invaluable lesson here. In the early 90s, Melbourne was hardly a haven for pedestrian life until Jan Gehl
was invited there to undertake a study and publish recommendations on
street improvements and public space. Ten years after the survey’s
findings, Melbourne was a remarkably different place thanks to sidewalk
widenings, copious tree plantings, a burgeoning cafe culture, and
various types of car restrictions on some streets. Public space and art
abound. And all of this is an economic boom for business.

In the film we hear from some of the prime movers in the Melbourne livable streets universe, who explain what has come about during a decade dedicated to improving the public realm

  • Mark Walker

    Cheered me right up. Thank you, Clarence.

  • Paul

    Wow! I’ve never been to Melbourne but it looks like a lot of cities could learn from their transformation. I would like to have the same thing happen in downtown Portland where I live. You could really gain a lot by closing 1 lane of traffic and extending the sidewalk out or turning them into bikeways. Too much space for cars, not enough for people. Nice job Melbourne.

  • Lucas

    Absolutely amazing. I definitely have to go visit now. It’s amazing what a little focus from city planners (and no Sheldon Silver) can accomplish.

  • Shemp

    Melbourne would fit inside the West Village.

  • Chris in Sacramento


  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    EVERYONE needs to find time to watch this!

  • Lars

    Sorry Shemp you’re incorrect….

    Population of Manhattan: 1.6 million

    Population of Melbourne: 3.8 million

    Population of Brooklyn: 2.6 million

    Maybe if you combine downtown Manhattan & Brooklyn and you might start get to a fair comparison. But please – the West Village?

  • Melbourne’s Central Business District is about the same geographic size as the West Village.

    Jan Gehl showed that in a presentation he delivered at the JCC on the Upper West Side a couple of months back.

    I imagine that’s what Shemp’s referring to.

  • Dave

    Nice film guys… I live in Melbourne… It is an amazing city to live in. Something unique, quirky and interesting is always happening. I never tire of catching the tram.

    I would be interested in your perspectives on Melbourne’s docklands precinct. Docklands is a land area equivalent to the existing central business district. It is undergoing its own transformation from a down at heel wasteland to a vertical village. It too is changing rapidly.

    There is one thing that characterises Melbourne… it is the love that the people have in their home town… it will be interesting if this changes as it goes through rapid expansion.

    Before the revitalisation, we still loved the place but were a little depressed at the lack of energy at the centre… I can thoroughly recommend the work of Jan Gehl and the Melbourne city urban planners. The street transformation has made my days more stimulating, exciting and satisfying.

    I never thought that Melbourne would be a model for NYC and Sydney…. I wish them well. It would be nice to have somewhere as fun to visit as my home.

  • NYC is great because of its many great neighborhoods and districts, like the West Village. If each of our districts and neighborhoods planned itself in similar ways to Melbourne’s CBD, we could rather quickly change the trajectory of the city and preserve what is great about our neighborhoods. Planning, EDC, and DOT are still planning for city-wide outcomes, or outcomes that fall narrowly in their solution set, frequently at the expense of neighborhood outcomes.

    I visited the Docklands in Melbourne and was very disappointed. The person that lead the development is a friend of ours adn has since gotten us involved in a very large scale master planning project to lead with Placemaking. Docklands was a development-driven master plan with a poorly designed and managed public realm that will be very hard to make work at the human scale.

    I am excited to have just been invited back to Melbourne to contribute to their discussions on how to further diversify uses and users in their CBD particularly in the evening.

    I am similarly worried about how some of the street reclaiming in NYC is done without a strong management plan and vision for uses. Because of this some of the spaces will be designed out of fear of use. Ideally the reclaiming of streets should be driven by demand, program and vision for how it will be used.

  • MS

    Terrific StreetsFilm — keep up the great work!

  • I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I was thrilled to see a vision of a livable-streets-oriented city (thank you, Clarence!). At the same time, it made me feel depressed as a New Yorker that our city has so far to go to achieve what Melbourne has done in their CBD.

  • Ken

    Clarence just keeps getting better and better!

    Maybe shifting traffic over to the left will inspire other fundamental changes.

  • Clarence

    Hey all,

    Thanks for the magnificent feedback. When I was in Melbourne, the only time I got to spend in Docklands was all of a few minutes on a bicycle without my camera. I tried to visit a couple of times, but my schedule was pretty packed.

    I would like to go back and it would be the first thing on my list.

  • Ed Drass

    How relevant is the fact that Melbourne does not have cold winters? People can comfortable walk and even sit outside during winter, no?

    Cold is not necessarily an excuse for Toronto to have so few pedestrian-only streets, but it may help explain it.

    And I thought Toronto was less car-mad than the stereotype of Australian cities…

  • Lesley

    oh I wish the developers of Perth in WA would watch and listen to this video. I have visited my daughter in Melb many times and just LOVE the place! I also love Perth but it needs some serious work!

  • Wow.. just awesome… something every US city should take to heart


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