License article

Eight things that make our city distinctively Melbourne

The Victorian government will search for Melbourne's most “distinctive” and “iconic” features in a newly announced Distinctive Melbourne policy.

To help them along, we have created our own shortlist, bringing together the opinions of a line-up of prominent Victorians.


Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle believes “there's nothing more Melbourne” than travelling on a tram along St Kilda Road towards the Shine of Remembrance. The city can pat itself on the back for preserving its extensive 250 kilometre tram network, while those of other cities, including Brisbane and Adelaide, were ripped up in the 1950s and 1960s in favour of buses and motorcars.

“People feel like they live in a village – whether it is Acland Street [St Kilda], Smith Street [Fitzroy] or Errol Street [North Melbourne],” Professor Rob Adams said. “I think that has kept Melbourne as a series of smaller communities.”



Melbourne columnist and author Danny Katz describes Melbourne's many panoramic views as “beautiful and ugly, like a pit bull”.

“You've got the beautiful Hoddle Bridge on Punt Road,” Katz said. “On one side, there's an enchantingly Parisian scene of the Yarra flowing toward the city. On the other side, the Nylex malting storage silos”. Recently the CityLink cheese sticks have found a rival in the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel as the odd landmark to welcome visitors and locals as they return to the city from the airport.


Lonely Planet lists Melbourne's graffitied laneways as one of its top tourist attractions. The city used to be famous for its stencil designs, but much of that was destroyed in a clean-up blitz before the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Today, aerosol and mural art is king and street art is even encouraged in select areas, including the famed Hosier Lane. Local street artist CDH said other great places to see street art were Rose Street in Fitzroy, Botherambo Street in Richmond and Ann Street in Brunswick East.


Professor Adams, Melbourne City Council's director of city design, says there is a misconception Melbourne's laneways were “magically created”. They are a product of the 19th-century subdivision of the original Hoddle Grid, when new access roads were needed.

For a long time these little thoroughfares linking the city's boulevards were far from desirable, scented with urine and decorated with piles of rubbish. Luxury hotels now push for laneway addresses and a trip to Melbourne is not complete without a coffee in a hidden-away laneway cafe.


Melbourne's Victorian buildings were not always prime real estate. Rows of terraces were demolished after World War II in “slum clearances”. But enough were preserved that Melbourne remains one of the great Victorian cities of the world. RMIT planning Professor Michael Buxton believes there should be laws preventing any more 19th-century shopfronts from being destroyed.


When Robert Hoddle laid out Melbourne's CBD grid in 1837, Melbourne was a settlement of a measly 4000 people. But the surveyor had the foresight to realise what Melbourne could become, designing a city of grand proportions, with unusually wide streets of 30 metres.

Cr Doyle likes to say Sydney was given its beauty by God, but people who built Melbourne. “Along came Hoddle [who] put down the grid and ever since we've worked to create a city.” 


Melbourne's water assets are predicted to become increasingly valuable in coming decades. Even the ugly-duckling urban renewal project Docklands has seen more than 70 apartments sold for $1 million or more in the past year.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy has lofty ambitions for this often maligned part of the city. “Docklands will be the future of our 21st century city. New Year's Eve on the iconic corner of Collins and Bourke will be the place to be for an Australian NYE, just like Times Square in the United States,” he says.


Melbourne has more green space than any other city of comparable size, with its sprawling Royal Park and beautifully-manicured Carlton, Fitzroy and Flagstaff gardens. But Professor Adams is worried that modern developers are not contributing their fair share of new green spaces, matching soaring skyscrapers with tiny token parks. “We're giving away a lot of wealth without getting back an equivalent contribution to society,” he says.

What do you think? Which parts of the city are distinctively Melbourne? Leave a comment below and let us know.


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