A tale of two cities

Last week, inspired by John Key’s ambitions, I caught up with Australia. Or to be more precise, Melbourne.

It’s been said  that Auckland and Sydney are hedonist sisters, whilst Wellington and Melbourne are more the Brontes.

Physically, whilst one city may one day shake itself to bits, and the other may burn to the ground, what interests me the most is the urban possibilities that younger Wellington can learn from its older sister.  (Even taking into account that Melbourne has more people than all of New Zealand.)
















My generation of New Zealanders grew up in towns and were metaphorically tied to our native bush. We disliked the ‘concrete jungle’.

As we have come of age, we are beginning to embrace the lifestyle of cities, their compaction, transport efficiencies  and the great possibilities of  social interaction.

Robert Hoddle designed  Melbourne’s CBD  grid in 1837 nearly 20 years before Baron Haussmann did a similar makeover of Paris. The city functions so well on so many levels. The alternating ‘Littles’ – Little Collins, Little Burke etc., were originally service lanes. But because of their delightful scale and architectural cuteness, nowadays the trucks  are only allowed there in early mornings.

Melbourne strives to make every square metre of its land purposeful, not just commercially, but in civic terms.  Compact cities fill up with people not cars. Cars don’t shop, or drink or eat. People do.

I once overhead a London apartment dweller say to his wife, as they were off to the theatre, ”Shall we walk or do you think we have time to take the car?”

Wellington is younger, and we need to learn from our sibling across the ditch. We are, to shamelessly quote Britney Spears:  ‘not a girl; not yet a woman’. Wellington is on the way with Cuba St and Courtenay Place. Urban life is now spreading laterally into our ‘little Melbourne’ underdeveloped laneways  (Opera House, Forrester’s and Chew’s Lanes for example).  The trend is also increasing in  Auckland with Fort and Imperial Lanes.

In my opinion every practicing architect in this country , who works in an emerging city environment, and who hasn’t already done so, should visit Melbourne as soon as possible. It’s only three hours away and cheaper to get to than Queenstown.

And the Australians actually seem to quite like us. We are Anzac’s after all. On a previous trip, I was a latecomer to a packed  Melbourne Food Festival  venue , and the locals had to shuffle their chairs around to make room for me at their table.

After I’d steadied my nerves with a glass of pinot, I announced that I was from New Zealand.  The chap next to me immediately responded: “Thank god for that.  We thought you might be from Sydney.”

I don’t think big sister Melbourne would mind at all if, as part of our education, we hung out in her magnificent Hoddle.