Sustainable Cities™

Melbourne: making green buildings the norm

The Melbourne transition from a sprawling and car-dominated urban area to a compact and sustainable one is a long-term process, extending from the nineties to the decades to come. Now considered as one of the most liveable cities in the world, Melbourne is raising environmental standards for its present and future building stock.

Pixel Building. Picture: Charles Van den Broek

Melbourne has inherited from a "new world city" grid: much of the middle and outer suburbs are characterized by low density sprawl and high dependency on the automobile. But in 1985, the Strategic Plan - meant to revitalize the Central Business District - started to reverse the pattern. This masterplan has subsequently benefited from Jan Gehl's expertise, who was invited in Melbourne to examine the city center and propose solutions for its revitalization. He recommended good sense and efficient measures such as tree plantings, restrictions on cars and improvement of the public spaces.

Between 1993 and 2004, Gehl's team assessed the change in Melbourne. The number of students attending the university or living in the city centre had expanded by 62%. Pedestrian activity had increased of 39% during the day and doubled in the evening. The boring and rather unwelcoming CBD has become a thriving and lively city center that offers pedestrianized streets, cultural activities and outdoor cafées.

Often ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world, Melbourne is now concentrating its efforts in greening its cityscape. The City of Melbourne has set the example with the construction of two emblematic energy-saving buildings: the Convention Center and the City Council office 2, both 6 green stars-ranking - the highest level in the Australian green buildings certification system. In 2003, the Queen Victoria market solar energy system was completed, generating 252,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year (enough to power 46 average homes). These achievements are part of a larger commitment from - an ambitious target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions from the Council by 2020.

Pointing the way forward, city officials hope that such a high standard will become a norm for every builder in the future. Some private developers are already taking over the municipality's efforts. Grocon has delivered the Pixel Building, the first carbon neutral office in Australia. This front-runner intends to inspire developers to embrace sustainability, via a rigorous assessment of the construction costs. At a larger scale, the ANZ center by Hassell also attained the 6-stars certification - cooling its interior using the nearby river.

ANZ Center. Peter Bennetts - HASSELL & Lend Lease Design.

Facilitating the transition to an energy-efficient building stock, the municipality also proposes greening opportunities for businesses. The 1200 buildings program - an agreement between the Victorian state and private banks to finance energy upgrades - is a real retrofit incentive. It is meant to overcome the difficulty that many building owners had accessing funds to maintain high environmental standards. The City of Melbourne aims at retrofitting about 70% of its commercial offices in the years to come.

Enhancing sustainable transportation in Melbourne

  • Melbourne boasts the largest tram network in the world, with 28 lines and a total length of 250km. As 80% of Melbourne's tram network shares road space with other vehicles, the average speed (11km/h in the CBD) has  dropped in the past years, due to increased congestion. Priority measures at the intersections are now considered.
  • The Yarra trams are playing a proactive role in Melbourne's greening efforts through the Greendepot program, enabling four tram depots to harvest rainwater to wash the trams, saving 6,5 millions litres of water annually.
  • The city of Melbourne is also enhancing sustainable transportation through the launching of a bike-sharing system, but the decision to make the helmet use mandatory might curb its successRead more about bike-sharing systems around the world.
  • Melbourne's bike-friendly initiatives were recently recognized by the Union Cycliste Internationale, that has just named Melbourne "bike city" for 2011. 

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014