Melbourne: an example for Salt Lake City


Huge blocks and wide streets in Salt Lake City.

During Greek Fest last month in Salt Lake City, I chatted briefly with a few people from @DowntownPlanSLC. During our conversation, I asked if they had any recommendations for cities to look at that suffer from the same problems we see in Utah: huge city blocks, wide streets, etc.

They recommended I look at Melbourne, which has big blocks but in the last 20 years or so has become a model of walkability. I had no idea.

The video on this page (sorry, embedding wasn’t working when I wrote this) comes from StreetFilms and explains both what Melbourne looks like today and how it got that way. The video explains how big blocks were bisected with pedestrian lanes, how to grow small and intimate spaces, and how the city doubled the number of pedestrians by widening sidewalks and planting trees.

Why is Salt Lake City not doing these things?

I don’t know, but the video also makes an important point:

Melbourne is a new world city, it has a modern grid much like a typical American metropolis. Naysayers who do not believe a city can be radically transformed say that the already narrow streets of many European cities make it easier to have good pedestrian environments there. Melbourne proves that isn’t necessarily so.

I tend to cite Europe a lot on this blog because that’s where I’ve spent the most time experiencing great spaces. However, as Melbourne proves, it’s still possible to create these kinds of spaces today.


One comment

  1. Molly

    Hey! Thanks for the mention! There’s so many great lessons from Melbourne. Not only do they have a similar grid size –it’s actually almost identical: 660′ x 660′. You’re right, this is considered quite large by urban design standards. Melbourne also has wide main streets like Salt Lake does: Melbourne has 99′ and Salt Lake 132′ (that’s the right-of-way from property line to property line, not curb-to-curb). One major difference between the two grids is that Melbourne’s downtown blocks are typically divided in half by a 30′ alley (they call them “laneways”) whereas Salt Lake’s blocks typically do not have alleys, as they were originally intended for agricultural use. The Melbourne laneways, including the even smaller footpaths between buildings, are very well activated. Lots of cafes, small shops, public art, and other things to discover. Salt Lake is waking up to this notion. Our Mid-block Walkways program and the Downtown Master Plan are exploring how to do this effectively. For example, what kind of incentive programs would entice property owners along existing alleys in Salt Lake to open their business onto a walkway? The one south of 222 Main comes to mind. In Melbourne, the City initiated a simple signage program –they paid for the frame for a small blade sign for any business that wanted to open onto the laneway. We’re looking for your thoughts and ideas on how to activate Downtown. Check out our website for more info and read the Draft Mid-block Walkways Design Guidelines.

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