Take a deep breath: let the inter-city war begin. Again. According to new analysis released by the Economist Intelligence Unit – a sibling division of The Economist magazine – Sydney is now the fifth most liveable city in the world. And Melbourne doesn’t even make it to the top 20.
Melbourne has done much better before, according to the EIU, which has been ranking cities for years, based on criteria that include social stability, infrastructure, and education, among others. In fact, ahem, this fair southern city was recently ranked number one.
But in an attempt to improve the survey, the unit opened a competition to create a new method, and the winning entry included seven new indicators related to “spatial” qualities. These included the amount of green space and urban sprawl, as well as pollution, isolation and even cultural assets.
On that basis, Hong Kong made it to the top of the list because of its lush environment and vegetation, even though the population wheezes from the pollution that blows across from mainland China.
And Sydney, beautiful Sydney, with its harbour, and rivers, and escarpments and national parks, made it to number five. I can understand why. Having lived in both cities, and as someone who still loves them both, the green and physically gorgeous Sydney belongs up there with that other spectacular harbour city, Hong Kong.
But both our cities, according to this fascinating exercise, were marked down on the one thing that our political leaders appear terrified of trying to halt: urban sprawl.
Our two cities are some of the biggest in the world, in terms of length and breadth, even though Sydney is girt by sea on one side and hemmed in by the Blue Mountains on the other. But in Melbourne, well, the sky is not the limit, as we prefer to keep spreading outwards rather than upwards, and, on that basis, this most liveable city doesn’t even make an appearance on the chart.
I don’t want to sound disloyal but I can understand our absence.
This city, despite its beauty and functionality, is appallingly huge. It has spread now to the point where no public transport system or urban-renewal program will save the isolating nature of the outer, outer suburbs.
And I was utterly gobsmacked recently when I heard that the Baillieu government had decided to open up 35,000 new housing lots around Melbourne’s fringe. There is not one responsible town planner out there who would make a case for Melbourne – or indeed Sydney – to spread one kilometre further. That is the laziest and least-responsible policy decision any government could make. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Our cities will continue to expand; population growth is inevitable and unavoidable, but our cities must grow upwards.
The social and economic cost of our spread is incalculable: the cost of treating the obesity and depression, which a Spring Street report says is a legacy of remote outer suburbs, is one no government wants to inherit. Yet, in a cowardly bid to avoid voter conflict in NIMBY suburbs, they open up the green fringes and urban food bowl for more McMansions and roads.
Our city of Melbourne is getting closer to being one of the biggest, but it has never been further from being one of the best.
Virginia Trioli is on leave from presenting ABC News Breakfast.