Melbourne’s investment in public spaces pays off

The office received, courtesy of “Jan Gehl”:http://www.rudi.net/bookshelf/classics/lifebetweenbuildings/index.shtml, a copy of the “Places for People 2004”:http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/info.cfm?top=202&pg=2602 report [“full PDF”:http://www.gehlarchitects.dk/images/melbourne_2004.pdf%5D chronicling the public space improvements made in center-city Melbourne. (Gehl not only believes in improving public spaces as places to travel through *and* linger in, but also in quantifying pedestrian traffic the same way that car traffic is quantified, so as to better represent pedestrians in the transportation decisionmaking process.) A plethora of changes to the street environment and land use over the preceding decade resulted in:
* 830% more residents
* 71% more public space on streets and in squares
* 62% more students
* 275% more cafes and restaurants
* 39% more pedestrians on summer weekday daytimes/afternoons
* 98% more pedestrians on summer weekday evenings after 6pm — 30% of all pedestrian traffic!

The closing essay by Gehl is well worth excerpting:

For a number of years it has been common urban planning theory that improvements to the pedestrian environment might result in a more lively and attractive city, where more people would like to walk and spend time in the city. Evidence from various cosy, old European cities with crooked streets and romantic buildings has been plentiful… Melbourne now adds a new dimension to these tales. A young colonial grid city, with wide, straight streets and no built in squares whatsoever, and furthermore a city studded with uncoordinated high rise development… a monofunctional, empty, and useless city center by 1980… Many cities across the New World will fit this description. And in most of these, the car continues to be the king and the “doughnut syndrome” is still prevailing.

This definitely is not any more the case in Melbourne. A carefully planned and executed process for turning the city into a people oriented city has been gradually implemented since the first plans were made in 1985, but especially during the past decade following the “Places for People 1993” evaluation, many achievements have been accomplished.

Of all the things a city can do to improve the city environment Melbourne has done most everything: more students and residents, more people streets, squares, lanes and parks, wider sidewalks, quality materials, active shop frontages, fine furnishings, new street trees and several art programmes. The invitation to walk and to linger has indeed been extended. Also, sustainability issues such as the greening of the city and the upgrading of the public transport systems and bicycle infrastructure have been systematically addressed.

Most of this has been accomplished over a short span of years, and the outcomes of this effort comes out strongly in this report. Life in Melbourne has changed dramatically. Many more people are walking the streets: on weekdays, some 40% more, and in the evenings twice as many as in 1993. And many more people come to town to promenade and to spend time enjoying the city, the surroundings, and especially the number one city attraction: the other people. An estimated two to three times more people are using squares, parks, street benches, and cafés as compared to 1993.

Summing up, an empty, useless city center has in 20 years been turned around to a vibrant, charming 24-hour city center — more lively, more attractive and safer than most other city centers found anywhere in the world…

The “Melbourne Miracle” which is documented in this report gives hope for cities in all parts of the world struggling with the “doughnut syndrome.” A further incentive can be the positive tidings about the substantial improvements to the city center economy derived from the growing popularity and attractiveness of the city center.

Contrast this, of course, to the current campaign to scare pedestrians off Chicago’s sidewalks by mowing them down with high-speed traffic.

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