Marvellous Melbourne

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picture courtesy of starball.com.au

By P Francis

picture courtesy of starball.com.au

HATTRICKS are an achievement usually scored by strikers on a football field. So when a city is named the most liveable city in the world by an independent panel for three successive years, then that city must be doing something right to receive such a rare accolade. Melbourne scored 97.5% for stability, healthcare, culture and infrastructure.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) latest rankings of 140 cities, the best ones to live in are Australia, Canada, Austria, Finland and New Zealand – except for Austria and Finland, it is no surprise the other three are huge immigration targets.

Following closely on the heels of Melbourne, were Vienna (97.4%) in Austria – the home of The Sound of Music –Vancouver (97.3%) and Toronto (97.2%), both in Canada, completing the top four. It is significant that four other Australian cities were in the top 10: Adelaide (96.6%) was 5th again (jointly with Calgary in Canada), Sydney 7th and Perth 9th. It is also remarkable that Canada has three in the top 10. Helsinki in Finland was 8th, while Auckland in New Zealand rounded off the top 10.

In Asia, Osaka in Japan managed 12th; Tokyo, Japan 18th; Beijing, China 74th; Mumbai, India 116th. So where was Singapore? Research, unfortunately, could not unearth anything on the island republic, which was ranked by Business Traveller Asia-Pacific last year as “the most livable city in both Asia-Pacific and the world. Within Asia-Pacific, the Lion City is followed closely by Kobe and Hong Kong.”

As expected, prominent Melbournians waxed lyrical about the city’s latest achievement. They pointed to the heritage architecture, lovely gardens and parks, hub of arts and culture, beaches and the string of major events hosted by Marvellous Melbourne. Often dubbed the ‘Sporting Capital of The Word’, it is home to Formula 1 motor racing, Australian Open Grand Slam tennis and the Melbourne Cup – a horse race that stops the nation on the first Tuesday every November.

Add to that the multicultural precincts, such as Carlton, Richmond, Springvale and Boxhill, which offer distinct flavours in cuisine and shopping. The friendly people living in harmony, well-planned streets and expressways, trams, trains and buses are vital ingredients in a success story.

Jumping on the bandwagon were an exuberant Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, Tourism Minister Louise Asher and former premier Jeff Kennett – all singing a litany of praises in rare accord about how easy it was to sell the attractions of the Victorian capital that they love: from the fine hotels to the exhibition venues and sports stadiums.

The Herald Sun reported that Lord Mayor Robert Doyle had said continuing to drive down crime and an underground rail line linking North Melbourne to Domain on St Kilda Rd were crucial to retain liveability status. “Overall it is a remarkable testament to our remarkable city,” Cr Doyle said. “That doesn’t mean there are things we can’t improve.”

Meanwhile, The Advertiser in Adelaide trumpeted that the South Australian capital has overtaken Sydney as one of the world’s most liveable cities, with recent major infrastructure boosting its international profile. Economist Intelligence Unit survey editor Jon Copestake said from London that just 1.6% separated the five Aussie cities surveyed. “’Australian cities continue to thrive in terms of liveability; not only do they benefit from the natural advantages of low population density, but they have continued to improve with some high profile infrastructure investments.”

The release of the EIU rankings has been criticised by the New York Times for being too anglocentric in that “The Economist clearly equates livability with speaking English.” This view may have been goaded by the fact that the best US cities in the survey were far down the list with Honolulu 26th and Pittsburgh at 30th!

The rankings also had the worst city as Damascus (Syria), followed by Tehran (Iran) and Douala (Cameroon). Obviously, cities with war and acute poverty scored very poorly in the survey.

Make no mistake about it, the EIU assessments are not geared to find heaven on earth. On the contrary, they source the ideal places where there is an array of goods and services easily available, effective infrastructure and low personal risk. What is not included is the cost of living.

Yet, more immigrants are arriving Down Under, particularly in Melbourne. Asad Sheikh, of Indian Spice Pavilion in Scoresby Village, was born in India. He moved to Singapore from 2002 to 2008 before emigrating with his family to Australia and is in the process of taking up citizenship. He said that, despite working as a chef in Singapore’s four- and five-star hotels, the lure of Australia was too much to resist: “I wanted better education for my children and a peaceful lifestyle, so I came to Melbourne. I am now building a new house for my family.”

Having lived in the world’s No. 1 city for 23 years, I have seen the Melbourne sprawl extend from a radius of about 30km from the CBD to about 40km. Outer suburbs in the south-east, such as Ferntree Gully, Boronia, Wantirna, Rowville and Dandenong were considered in ‘the sticks’ (rural). Today, property in these areas have more than tripled in price as the newer suburbs of Berwick, Narre Warren, Packenham and Skye are not so desirable because of the peak hour traffic snarl.

Medical facilities, including hospitals and research are well established. Monash, Melbourne and Deakin universities spearhead tertiary education here. Various types of cooked food originating from different immigrant source countries are easily available, while most of the ingredients and spices are sold at the local supermarket and Asian grocery outlets.

Housing affordability is debatable within local circles, but when compared to overseas houses they are reasonable. Singaporeans could buy a house in the outer suburbs for less than the price of a HDB flat.

As for weekend leisure trips or week-long holidays, there are many places on the fringe of Melbourne, including the Mornington Peninsula and its seaside towns, the famous Philip Island and its Penguin Parade, the Bellarine Peninsula on the other side of Port Philip Bay and the coastal towns of Portarlington, St Leonards, Torquay on the Surf Coast, Lorne, the Twelve Apostles and Apollo Bay to name a few. Add the historic regional towns of Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong; the Dandenong Ranges; country attractions in Nurmukah and Lakes Entrance to widen the choice. These enjoyable trips are only a few hours away. For those who have Lady Luck in their pocket, the Crown Casino Complex offers a myriad of food and shopping besides the cards, dice and poker machines.

To be honest, much more can be done to improve Melbourne – from the frequency and quality of the trains and trams to the congestion and high parking costs in the CBD. Perhaps that is the hallmark of a popular metropolis, which also has a very busy container port on its doorstep. With the high frequency of international and domestic flights zeroing in on Tullamarine Airport and the smaller Avalon Airport, perhaps the ‘earmarked’ land for a Frankston Airport in the south-east – to ease the load – should be seriously considered now and work started within the next two years.

Anyone out there fancy a wager that Marvellous Melbourne could steal the coveted crown once again in 2014?

P. Francis is an English tutor in Melbourne, who has more than 20 years’ journalism experience with newspapers, books and magazines in Singapore and Australia.