The Planning Institute of Australia (Victoria) conducted recently an evening talk on “the other liveable city” which included guest speakers who have had city planning responsibilities in Vancouver and Melbourne.  We thought it would be interesting to ask a person who had been a long term resident of both cities (and who regularly visits the one that is not the place of residence) to provide some observations about life in the two cities and some observed differences.

The observer lives currently with her husband and one child in a suburb of Vancouver and is both a share car and public transport user

“One thing I like more about Van than Melb is the lower amount of traffic here.  Melb feels a bit like an American city with the amount of traffic.  Last week, I drove during peak hour and it was a pleasant drive… not battling traffic the whole way like in Melbourne.

Another thing I love about Van is the prioritising of public transport.  They built the Canada line skytrain (Van to airport with stops in between) for the Olympics and they are in discussions about two more lines in the next few years.  Having said that, the freeways in Vancouver are terrible compared to Melbourne.  They are old fashioned, narrow, and not built for the volume of traffic that exists today.  Melbourne’s focus on roads has made cross-city travelling so easy.  However, Vancouver’s focus on public transit means within and across suburb trips are much easier.  The public transit system is better here too, I think.

Melbourne definitely has a much better culture than Van.  Van is improving (new restaurants and bars), but it’s got nothing on Melbourne.

Housing prices are absolutely ridiculous in Vancouver.  A one bedroom tiny house nearby costs $1m.  Although Melbourne is expensive too, I think prices are a bit better there.

What makes Vancouver a great place to live?  Well, for us it is the access to organic/green products, the clean air, the parks and greenery (like Melbourne), the smaller population, the great community centres (for different programs offered) and the proximity to nature.

What does Vancouver lack?  Good weather, culture like I mentioned above, and sensible alcohol laws (they are totally antiquated and puritanical).  In addition, there are a lot of homeless people in Van and there are a lack of services to help these individuals.  Having said that, the current local government is working hard to increase social housing; new developments must have a certain number of apartments set aside for individuals / families with low incomes.  My husband’s work building is an example of this.

I don’t really know if urban planning decisions/processes in Van are different from Melb… but I do sense quite a bit of community involvement.  For example, a few months ago the government proposed the possibility of increasing density in expensive suburbs by thinning streets and using the gained space for more housing.  There was a public outcry and they shelved the idea.  Here’s an article on it: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Vancouver+backpedals+thin+streets+proposal/7352927/story.html

I like that Vancouver wants to be the greenest city by 2020 and that there are lots of grants available for the public to start green initiatives.

I like in Vancouver how a lot of money and effort goes into gardening and landscaping.  New flowers are regularly planted, shrubs are looked after and the like.  I remember discussing this with Melbourne family members when they were here; they were amazed at the effort/money put into beautifying nature strips, rain gardens and pocket parks.

I think Vancouverites are quite opinionated about developments and changes in the city, especially in the high socio-economic suburbs.  The Van city council just proposed a change to funding structures for community centres and citizens of high socio-economic suburbs were in outrage.  However, the same is also true in the low socio-economic suburbs.  There has been quite a bit of talk in the newspapers recently about the gentrification of the downtown east side (this is the area where my husband works and further east), which is an area typically known for drug dealing and homelessness.  In fact, some locals have been protesting outside some of the newer restaurants and bars about this gentrification.  They don’t want to be pushed out of the neighbourhood by rising rents.

Here’s a website on citizen involvement: http://vancouver.ca/your-government/citizen-involvement.aspx