Melbourne #1 vs Los Angeles #58

March 2, 2018

In the latest “Quality of Living” city-ranking list published by global investment consultant Mercer, Los Angeles dropped to number 58 in the rankings while Melbourne retained its number 1 status.

Los Angeles County, with a population of approximately 10.5m, growing at a rate of 25,000 to 35,000 people per annum, has been struggling with the negative effects of sprawl for decades. Failing in its efforts to maintain a middle-class provided with liveable, integrated communities. Since its inception, Los Angeles has celebrated the single-family home as its preferred and predominant housing type, the massive proliferation of which has led to the segregated sprawl, and demise of the middle-class we see today.

The Megalopolis of Los Angeles, a plethora of small suburbs outgrowing their boundaries and becoming a city, has lost its way, and is failing to meet the needs of its residents in the current demographic shift towards urbanization. As a city, it has failed to re-imagine the suburban “American Dream” of two cars and a backyard for all. As the affluent surge back into the cities, Los Angeles desperately needs to recover its middle class. NIMBYism and the current attitude towards densification, gentrification, segregation and inequality is destroying the quality of life for millions of residents. The time to rethink urbanism in Los Angeles is now, not tomorrow!

As discussed in an earlier article, existing planning and zoning laws have resulted in the Los Angeles housing market losing its middle class by restricting the ability of the marketplace to develop “Missing Middle” housing types. Housing which would foster the traditional diversity of uses once common in older cities. Diversity that allowed people to attend school, play, shop, work and live without having to drive. Diversity which allowed more offices, apartments and other mixed uses above retail shops and restaurants in residential neighbourhoods. Helping to unify streetscapes while diversifying available choices for a wide variety of households of varying socio-economic status, age and size. Diverse, smaller households that tended to keep varied hours and eat out more, contributing to vibrant, safer streets, with better restaurants, bars, shops, services and amenities.

Missing Middle Housing, refers to a broad range of multi-unit housing types encompassing Town homes, Row housing, Live-Work housing, Mid-Rise housing and Mixed-Use developments that fall between the single-family and hi-rise poles. They deliver thoughtful, efficiently imagined, comfortable and usable smaller units, designed for an urban context with less off-street parking than single family homes. They typically have a relatively low urban density and small footprint per unit. These housing types provide a strong sense of community, within a walkable context, that is supportive of transit and neighbourhood services. As a housing type, they generally provide similar lifestyle benefits to single-family homes, without the private yard and picket fence. Amenity rich and giving residents the opportunity to be part of a social network in age diverse communities, rather than creating isolated environments with similar aged cohorts.

To date, Melbourne has done an incredible job of responding to the needs of its citizens and ensuring that “Urban Village” gentrification has maintained a high standard of liveability and diversity in the city, ensuring the middle-class a role in its future. With rapid growth and similar topography to Los Angeles, will Melbourne be able to maintain its “World’s most liveable city” status going forward? Is there political will to avoid automobile-centric urban sprawl and continue developing the infrastructure that has been integral to Melbourne’s success? Will the public accept the costs, inconvenience and rapid decision-making required to facilitate this massive expansion, or will NIMBYism gain the upper-hand?

Unless Australia as a nation throttles off on its “Big Australia” immigration policy (a policy essential to the long-term well-being of all Australians), significant, rapid growth is inevitable. Melbourne, with a population at the beginning of 2018 of approximately 5m is growing by 100,000 – 120,000 people annually and is expected to balloon to 8m by 2050, hitting 10m by 2065 – 2070. Maintaining Melbourne’s “Most liveable city” status will require more infrastructure, more “Urban Village” and “Missing Middle” gentrification, more clustering and more future focused infrastructure. All of which will need to be designed, approved and executed very, very quickly. Land-use planners will be required to remain urgently focused on the needs of all residents, in all neighbourhoods, at all times. Politicians, residents and developers will need to work together, make hard decisions and execute on them under very tight time and budget constraints.

Can this be done? Can it be done in a timely manner, will the competitive, yet friendly Australian spirit be the glue that binds Melbourne together, as it strives to be Australia’s “Best” city? Will Melbourne continue to trounce Los Angeles in the liveability ratings of 2050, or will Los Angeles change dramatically and deliver an unexpected upset? Only time will tell but I expect it will be a very interesting century for both Melbourne and LA.