For the fifth consecutive year, Melbourne has been named the world’s most liveable city by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual survey. While the ranking is based on a range of factors such as healthcare, culture, education and infrastructure, Secret Agent believes that Melbourne’s success is due to thoughtful urban design.
We owe it to Jan Gehl, the Danish architect and urban designer who worked together with Melbourne City Council in the early 1990s to transform the city from, in his own words, “neutron-bombed, not a soul – not even a cat”, into a place for people. Much of our laneway culture and outdoor dining today can be attributed to Gehl’s visionary thinking and humanistic approach to urban design.
Three main principles can be drawn from Gehl’s work:
1. Design the city at 5km/h
Cities had always been designed for people, who move at a modest speed of about 5km/h, up until the boom of the automobile in the 1960s. New cities were then designed at 60km/h – wider, further apart, less accessible by foot. Gehl’s intervention in Melbourne applied the human scale of the older, 5km/h cities, giving birth to our laneway culture that is now inseparable from the city’s identity. Narrow, dense and brimming with life, there is a certain magic that comes with compact spaces.
Thanks to Gehl and planning changes, Melbourne CBD has gained 20 hectares of footpaths over 15 years. Designing walkable urban spaces encourages people to do so, resulting in a healthier population. Think about how far a person has to walk to get from A to B; is it a comfortable distance? If it necessarily becomes a lengthy walk, can it be a safe, pleasant and eventful journey?
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