What’s the population of a city?

Definitions can be important when looking at things such as statistics.

A simple comparison of city populations can result in quite different figures. For example, what is the population of Seattle?

The Wikipedia article opens:

Seattle is a seaport city on the west coast of the United States. It is the seat of King County, Washington. With an estimated 713,700 residents as of 2017, Seattle is the largest city in both the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest region of North America.

Okay, so 713 thousand people. About half the size of Adelaide.

Well no, at least not in the terms Australians generally use. The info box on the right hand side of the article says there are 3 million people in the Urban area, 3.7 million in the Metro (metropolitan) area, or 4.5 million in the Combined Statistical Area.

In other words, depending on how you measure it, Seattle is double the size of Adelaide, and possibly on a par with Melbourne, which Wikipedia says has a population of 4.7 million, citing ABS figures that use the Greater Capital City Statistical Area.

We have to be careful what we’re talking about: just an arbitrary area, such as everything within a government boundary, or the entire metropolis, or something even bigger?

Definitions vary, but (at least on Wikipedia):

  • the City often refers to just the central local government area;
  • the Urban area generally seems to includes contiguous development;
  • the Metro area may have gaps and may include additional areas within commuting distance
  • the Combined Statistical area, or Greater Capital City Statistical Area (an ABS term), could be useful — but like a government boundary, potentially could be arbitrary if the local statistics agency doesn’t keep up

Another example: London

The City of London is a small subset of the Central Business District, a government area with a population just 9401 people.

Greater London the government area controlling London and its suburbs, with a population of 8.8 million.

The Urban area of London has a population of 9.8 million.

The London “Metro” area, defined as all of the above plus the surrounding commuter zone which includes parts of numerous nearby counties, has 14 million. If we applied a similar methodology for Melbourne, I suppose that would include out to Geelong, Melton, and so on.

So if we’re trying to compare, perhaps the best figure to use against Melbourne’s 4.7 million is London’s urban area of 9.8 million, or Seattle’s 3 million.

At least, that’s what I think I’ll use unless convinced otherwise.

Bourke Street, Melbourne

Going to the City

In Australian English, even use of the word “City” can be confusing.

When a Melbourne local says “I’m going to the City”, they are generally referring to Melbourne’s Central Business District.

In some contexts, it might mean the City of Melbourne council area, which includes the CBD, parts of North Melbourne and Royal Park, Carlton, Southbank, Docklands.

And if you’re wondering, the resident population of the City of Melbourne is about 136,000, but with total daytime population (mostly made up of visitors) of about 900,000 people.

Oh, and if you think population is complicated, you should see density.

I’ll leave it there. I’ve got to catch a train to Melbourne. I mean, to the City.

What makes cities work: The restaurant tram

I was thinking about what makes good cities work effectively, and it occurred to me that a prime example is the Restaurant Tram.

Melbourne restaurant trams

That day we took the Restaurant Tram, we made our way from the train at Southern Cross Station to the pick-up point next to Clarendon Street. The convention centre (Jeff’s Shed) was busy with some expo or other. Throngs were heading in and out of the Casino.

We rolled along Bourke Street through the centre of town, then up past Parliament, back along Latrobe and William Street, the streets were busy with Saturday afternoon shoppers.

But you can see the restaurant trams gliding through the City every day of the week.

Inside the Melbourne restaurant tram

On any day in central Melbourne, some people are working. Some people are shopping. Some people are studying. Some are visiting, eating, and doing a mix of all these things and more.

(How many people? The City of Melbourne Daily Population Report estimates 844,000 people on weekdays, and 579,000 people on weekend days in the municipality. To an extent this should dispel fears of a CBD “ghost town” for the AFL parade if it occurs on a public holiday.)

The tram of course uses the tram lanes, so it doesn’t block motor traffic. While it moves slower, it doesn’t need to serve each stop, so overall speed is about the same as service trams — so it doesn’t block them either.

Thus we have a luxury eating establishment moving through the busiest part of one of the world’s biggest cities, without causing conflict with the myriad of activities happening around it.

It’s successful because the demographic exists in Melbourne (either resident or visiting) to support it. It’s also successful because it travels through busy streets, so the diners can people-watch. It could only be successful in a busy city.

Likewise, thousands of people converge on the city centre every day, co-operating, collaborating, and doing their thing without blocking others. This is the formula to economic prosperity.

The key to a successful city is that completely diverse activities can coexist in close proximity.

Melbourne restaurant trams

And it’s also why efficient transport systems are so important.

Trains, trams, buses, bicycles, all bring people in and move them around efficiently by minimising the space each person takes as they move.

Cars… not so much. They take up too much space per person (and often block the more efficient modes) and have to be stored close to where the person is going.

I wouldn’t ban them outright, but the more that can be done to encourage the most efficient modes in the busiest parts of Melbourne, the more that everybody is able to get on with their thing and stay out of everybody else’s way, the more prosperous our city will be.

How much ground level parking is there in Melbourne’s CBD?

What’s the ultimate waste of space in a city centre? Ground level, single level parking.

Along with the access space required to get cars in and out, it’s wasted space because apart from perhaps $20-30 per day in revenue, it isn’t used for anything.

This post from Gordon Price compares a few cities — the contrast between Houston and Toronto is particularly stark. (There are more in this discussion thread at Skyscraperpage.com.)

How would Melbourne stack up? I’ve had a go at it, by plotting the red onto a Nearmap image, and scouring Nearmap at high resolution, then checking Google Streetview to see if a carpark was ground level parking, or a multi-storey (which at least piles cars on top of each other, meaning more efficient use of the land — even if it is still parking and is fugly) or parking on top of buildings.

Melbourne CBD, ground level parking
(See it bigger)

I’ve only done within the Hoddle Grid. Have I missed any, or made any errors? Leave a comment.

You’d have to say that in summary, there’s not much. The tiny carpark near Lonsdale/Elizabeth Streets that I used to watch from on-high has vanished, and is being developed.

The parking at the back of The Age building (Lonsdale Street, behind Spencer Street) will, I’m told, vanish when the whole property is re-developed in the nearish future. The back of The Old Mint building (Latrobe/William Streets) is the other prominent area.

There’s a small amount of parking in front of the William Angliss Institute building. This is a perfect example of why it’s such a waste of space. Ten cars accommodated, taking up about half the open/garden space in front of the building.

Apart from that, the remaining surface parking is mostly in the grounds of churches — St Paul’s, St Francis, Wesley Uniting. (Scots Church and others have multi-level parking.)

And of course… there’s street parking, particularly along the non-tram streets such as Lonsdale, Russell and Exhibition.

See, in a city centre that has around half-a-million people a day visiting it, you can’t afford to have lots of people bring their cars. If you try and find space to leave hundreds of thousands of vehicles, that doesn’t work — not to mention the traffic congestion it creates. Bringing them in by more efficient means (particularly mass transit) is the only way it can work.

PS. Thanks for suggestions. The map has been slightly modified.

Phoenix changing

When I visited Phoenix, Arizona in 1996, it appeared to be the archetypal car-dominated city. I was told pretty much the only PT was buses once an hour. The freeways were packed at rush hour. Nobody walked anywhere.

The downtown area was (especially on weekends) so deserted that they had to have signs saying “Welcome to downtown Phoenix” so that you knew you were downtown.

While the people were friendly, it was exactly the type of city I’d hate to live in.

But it looks like it’s changing: they’re getting a lot more medium-density and mixed-use development, and… trams.

A new tram/light-rail line, 20 miles long. Quite impressive. Having spent all that money on infrastructure, they didn’t skimp on the services, either — every 10 mins weekdays, 15 weekends, 20 evenings.

Obviously it’s only one route, but apparently already they’ve got more patronage than expected, and are looking at more lines.

Nice to see even the most car-dominated cities are starting to move in the right direction.

(via Treehugger)