Rob Adams, Melbourne’s Director of Design
Melbourne, now deemed the most livable city in the world, has bumped Vancouver from top spot. Never having believed Vancouver deserved that spot, I’m happy the designation has gone to a city that probably does.
Interestingly Melbourne has a “Director of Design” at its City Hall, whereas we have a “Director of Planning.” Language usually means something, if you know what I mean. While we have made a few interesting moves lately, it is still unclear what we are planning here, and some accelerating crises are going ignored.
Melbourne’s post is held by the renowned Rob Adams, who was interviewed by the CBC recently while he was visiting Vancouver. A small excerpt from that talk is transcribed below, but it’s worth listening to the whole audio clip. Thanks to Open File for extracting the audio. It’s also worth taking a look at this article on Adams:
“For Adams, the future is not a vision of interlocking mega-towers, nor is it a mega-sprawl. For the City of Melbourne’s current planning strategy, Melbourne 2030, Adams confidently details how the city can accommodate up to 5 million people by 2029 without expanding. He describes the concept as the ‘7.5 per cent city’: a network of ‘activity centres’ located along existing high-functioning transport routes featuring residential buildings between four and eight storeys high, which, over time, will become vibrant mini-versions of central Melbourne.”
Compare Adams’ vision to what’s happening here. We may have made some progress in the bicycle and transit department lately, despite some 1950s-style dinosaurs fighting bike lanes (who incidentally drive me absolutely around the bend. What century are we in?). But in terms of general urban design, we are still doing very badly. A dire property speculation crisis and a City Hall under a stranglehold by vision-less developers (these two things are not unrelated) are both serious impediments to our doing anything as thoughtful here as they’re doing in Melbourne. And those benefitting are the ones blocking change. For obvious reasons.
CBC interview excerpt:
We desperately need better design creativity inside and outside City Hall in this town. The bike lanes are a good start, but we have to halt some of the Tall Naked Capital architecture we are filling our city with. Having fought our Director of Planning this year while he gunned for a mega-casino smack in the middle of our downtown, let’s just say I’m not his biggest fan.
When Harvard Architecture’s Loeb Fellows were visiting Vancouver last week, one of them tweeted about Vancouver “can you have good urbanism without good architecture?” and I cringed. He might as well have asked “can you have good urbanism without good urban planning?” Answer to both is equally obvious: no. The architectural poverty of the condo towers thickly spreading east from Vancouver’s downtown core didn’t impress anyone. We need a Rob Adams equivalent here. And we desperately need to get on top of the property speculation as soon as possible—as Melbourne is already successfully doing. Because that destroys the livability, affordability and aesthetics of cities faster than anything else. And Vancouver City Hall is doing nothing about it. We are getting a city that becomes more unaffordable and more inhumanly designed every year.
More on Gordon Price’s blog here.