When I first visited London in the 90s I was staggered by the scale of it. Not so much physical size, but the mass of people. I remember being at Piccadilly Circus on a Sunday and there were just swarms of people, heading in all directions.
I felt like a small town hick who had visited the city for the first time.
At the time, Melbourne didn’t have the same sense of “busy” that it does now. The CBD was pretty dead outside working hours, and until shopping hours were liberalised in the mid-90s, it virtually shut down at 1pm on Saturday, with no life again until Monday morning.
That’s changed in the last ten years. The growth of the CBD’s residential population, together with the population growth in suburban Melbourne and the CBD’s 7-day-a-week shopping, eating, events and nightlife have brought it to life.
As Melbourne’s built environment was transformed, so was its sense of self. Suburbanites again flocked into town for the football, or a show, or to eat and drink. Licensing laws were deregulated, transport, venues and parking were improved, quirks such as the city’s jumble of laneways were celebrated; precincts such as Lygon Street, the Queen Victoria Markets and St Kilda were tweaked. Students — local and visiting — became a fixture on the city’s streets.
Apparently Melbourne is now the 89th biggest urban area by population, and if the predictions are right and we’ll be growing to 5 million in the next decade or two, it’s going to get busier. Projections show particular growth not just in 9 to 5 commuters, but in visitors — from overseas, interstate and in particular coming in from the suburbs.
Melbourne’s becoming a big city.