Melbourne’s CBD is bursting at the seams. Here is where its next cities could be (2023)



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Melbourne’s CBD is bursting at the seams. Here is where its next cities could be

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Seventy years ago, when Melbourne didn’t extend far beyond what we now consider to be middle suburbia, the state’s leading planners began plotting to decentralise the city.

Train lines and major arterials were largely designed in the 19th century with one destination in mind: the CBD.

(Video) Does Melbourne need a new CBD?

The then chief planning authority – the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works – released a landmark report in 1954 that set out to determine the city’s future growth. It complained, even then, of Melbourne suffering from congestion and sprawling development. With a population of 1.4 million at the time, the board was preparing to hit 2.5 million by the 1990s (a figure reached two decades earlier).

Decentralisation was deemed essential and five new “district business centres” were selected – Box Hill, Preston, Footscray, Moorabbin and Dandenong – to become hubs of entertainment, department stores, offices, courts and government branches.

“Thus, for many people, the wearisome journey into the city centre could be avoided, and some relief afforded to the already overcrowded central area,” the report said.

In this series examining the possibility of a second CBD in Melbourne, The Age will delve into three of metropolitan Melbourne’s best options: Clayton, Box Hill and Sunshine.

Selected in consultation with experts, these locations are middle suburbs accessible to populous outer and inner parts of Melbourne, and sites of major transport infrastructure projects. They show promising signs of development and have been previously identified for their growth potential.

In 2023, Melbourne’s “second city” remains elusive despite successive published strategies, failed attempts from the state government and a population that has risen to more than 5 million.

A few carefully located cities

The Hoddle Grid and inner suburbs are choking, while Melbourne’s fringe has crept outwards as families fight for a slice of land to call their own.

But some experts hope that change may finally come at a time when the population is projected to reach 9 million by 2056, and as more people work from home and spend time in their suburbs after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Jago Dodson, director of RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, says Melbourne’s bloated urban structure means access to high-quality jobs, public services and cultural experiences is increasingly imbalanced – even the arts and sports destinations are concentrated in the CBD.

“We should have been addressing that over the last four decades,” Dodson says. “Most of the focus has been on densifying the city rather than shaping the distribution of the densification. It’s basically letting density happen where the market decides.”

Melbourne’s geography means it is better suited to having a few carefully located secondary cities, according to planning experts who spoke to The Age. Having just one second city in the south-east, for example, would mean residents of the north and west won’t benefit.

Non-profit organisation Committee for Melbourne has previously called for the creation of a “meaningful polycentric city” (a city with a main centre and one or more sub-centres), while a Monash Commission report last year emphasised the need, accelerated since COVID-19, for a strong intermediary cities strategy: “We are at a key point in history to address long-standing environmental and equity issues … We can do better than returning to business as usual.”

Melbourne’s CBD is bursting at the seams. Here is where its next cities could be (1)

Politicians have long known that Melbourne’s CBD-centric model isn’t sustainable: Dandenong was promised a major rejuvenation by the Bracks Labor government in 2006 to cement it as our second city, but it never achieved this goal.

(Video) Push to ban cars from Melbourne’s CBD | 7NEWS

Werribee residents were similarly let down when glittering plans for a $31 billion “super city” development were canned in 2019.

And Geelong has been gradually transforming from being more than a regional city. The relocation of government organisations has brought thousands of jobs, but transport access from Melbourne has been an issue.

Lessons from Sydney

Melbourne is on track to overtake Sydney as Australia’s largest city in nine years. Yet it’s the northern rival that is working to establish its third CBD in Bradfield, with a $1.15 billion initial commitment from the NSW government, following Parramatta’s success as Sydney’s second city.

Former Sydney lord mayor Lucy Turnbull played a key role in helping to create the metropolis of three cities with Parramatta at its centre.

Melbourne’s CBD is bursting at the seams. Here is where its next cities could be (2)

Turnbull says establishing second centres is important for large cities to preserve equal access to jobs, education and health services.

“If you have every single thing in a CBD, you have an equity and distribution problem where some people are taking two hours to get to work,” she says.

Given Sydney’s CBD is on the eastern edge of the city, Turnbull says it was imperative to establish a second city and Parramatta was an obvious choice due to its central location in the greater metropolitan region. It also had great bones: rail access, heritage buildings and parks.

Melbourne’s CBD is bursting at the seams. Here is where its next cities could be (3)

To drive its success required huge infrastructure investment to create economic anchors, Turnbull says, including Westmead Hospital’s redevelopment, Western Sydney University setting up a Parramatta CBD campus and the relocation of businesses and government agencies. This was overseen by the Greater Sydney Commission, a body set up in 2015 and led by Turnbull for five years.

Suburban Rail Loop a distant prospect

“What is critical is genuine co-ordination and collaboration between the key government agencies that deliver the infrastructure that make a city – transport, education, health, culture,” she says.

“You can’t just draw on a map and say, ‘There we are, we’ve got a city’.”

Dodson says Victoria’s leaders have not been brave enough to fix the problem.

“No government has ever been really prepared to prioritise and say, ‘This is how many centres outside the CBD we’re going to focus on’, and then limit development just to those locations, because that creates in a sense winners and losers in some areas … and requires saying to businesses that these areas are to be favoured.”

(Video) The New Melbourne - A Conversation | City of Melbourne

The Andrews government’s showpiece infrastructure project – Victoria’s most expensive in history – is the $125 billion Suburban Rail Loop, which would bring 16 new stations connecting Werribee to Cheltenham, including an airport link. The 90-kilometre new railway would snake through Melbourne’s middle suburbs, intersecting with each existing Metro rail line and allowing passengers to skip going through the CBD just to get to work, hospitals or other destinations.

It’s spruiked as a project that would transform Melbourne into a “city of centres” and tackle unsustainable urban sprawl. The government will take on planning controls normally held by local councils over the precincts that surround each station.

Early works have started on the Suburban Rail Loop’s eastern section, running from Cheltenham to Box Hill, and on the line linking Melbourne Airport to Sunshine.

Funding for the north and west sections remains in doubt. Some critics say that the project advantages the already well-serviced eastern suburbs. It’s expected to take at least 30 years – and the backing of multiple governments – to be completed, potentially hampering the west’s chances at a flourishing secondary city.

But with the wheels in motion on construction, the rail loop may well influence Melbourne’s second city prospects.

“[The Suburban Rail Loop] is really a land-use plan that’s focused on creating new, mini CBDs beyond the existing CBD. It’s an incredibly expensive way of facilitating concentrated development,” says Dodson.

Melbourne’s CBD is bursting at the seams. Here is where its next cities could be (4)

“For much less than $100 billion, you could probably create a mix of regulatory and fiscal incentives that could shape the way the city develops,” he adds.

Dodson suggests zoning certain locations as open or closed to commercial development, repositioning major education, health and government organisations, or offering tax exemptions to businesses that relocate to a designated new city.

“A laissez-faire approach has left [our city] with inefficiency and dysfunction.”


Infrastructure Victoria warned on Tuesday that the rail loop alone would not deliver enough homes for Melbourne’s growing population. And a 2018 Infrastructure Australia report urged governments to take a more active role in developing new centres through transport infrastructure, as well as new tools, such as financial incentives, to lure otherwise reluctant businesses.

Deputy Premier Jacinta Allan says the government will not “sit back” and has not ruled out the use of such mechanisms to steer development in its new station precincts.

Five years on from the Suburban Rail Loop’s announcement, it remains unknown what the government is planning for the areas around each station.

Allan says it is premature to comment on that before community consultation, starting this year for the eastern precincts, is completed, but she adds that the development and function of each area will vary according to local needs.

It means some locations may be designated as economic centres, while others may be more focused on residential needs.

(Video) Where should Melbourne's second city be located?

“They’ll all be different, but they will all see increased job opportunities, increased housing and better access to services,” Allan says.

She stresses that a single second city is not the answer, but says Melbourne’s growth is at a point where establishing secondary centres is important. “Enhanced opportunities” in Clayton, Box Hill and Sunshine mean they all have strong potential, she says, but it’s too soon to declare them Melbourne’s future second cities.

“We don’t want to presume the outcome of what will go on in each of those places before we’ve had the opportunity to work with councils and communities,” she says.

Dodson says that Plan Melbourne, a major government report published in 2017 to guide the growth of the city through to 2050, was overridden a year after its release by the unveiling of the Suburban Rail Loop, and the city now needed an updated planning road map.

Allan acknowledges there are “things we’re going to work through as we contemplate how the city, how the population, continues to grow”.

‘More investment on the ground’

Professor John Stanley co-authored Plan Melbourne, which involved diverting the CBD’s rapid growth of knowledge-based jobs to seven new national employment and innovation clusters with strong transport links to help support outer growth areas. The plan also proposed creating 11 major metropolitan activity centres.


Stanley argues “building long suburban railroads” is not the best way to create major centres in middle suburbs.

“We need to be putting more investment into stuff on the ground … rather than putting so many eggs in the SRL [Suburban Rail Loop] and hoping that in itself will generate a whole lot of other development. It will, but it won’t be nearly as good for the growth,” he says.

“The pandemic has given us an opportunity, but we haven’t really taken it. It requires some courage and strong decisions from government.”

Melbourne’s prospective additional cities may not look like much now, but Turnbull says the Parramatta of today would have been unimaginable to many people 20 years ago.

“Don’t imagine it can’t be done, but it has to be done in a very, very well thought through way,” she says.

NEXT: Melbourne’s greatest hope for a second CBD

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What is Melbourne CBD known for? ›

The CBD is the core central activities district (CAD) of Greater Melbourne. It encompasses a number of places of significance, which include the, Federation Square, Melbourne Aquarium, Melbourne Town Hall, State Library of Victoria, State Parliament of Victoria and Supreme Court of Victoria.

What streets are in Melbourne CBD? ›

The Melbourne CBD is laid out in a grid with the streets running NE-SW and NW-SE. Running on the NW axis the names are relatively easy to remember - from west to east they are Spencer, King, William, Queen, Elizabeth, Swantson, Russell, Exhibition, Spring.

What is Melbourne city called? ›

Known briefly as Batmania, the settlement was named Melbourne on 10 April 1837 by Governor Richard Bourke after the British Prime Minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, whose seat was Melbourne Hall in the market town of Melbourne, Derbyshire.

Is Melbourne CBD bigger than Sydney CBD? ›

That amalgamation lifted the population of the Melbourne Significant Urban Area to 4,875,400 in June 2021 – 18,700 more than Sydney. The population of Greater Sydney, which has different boundaries, is still larger than Greater Melbourne, but official forecasts show it will last only a few more years.

Is it expensive to live in Melbourne CBD? ›

Cost of Living in the City Centre

The most expensive part of the city is the CBD and inner suburbs, which are also the best places to live in Melbourne. To be precise, in the city center, a one-bedroom apartment can cost you between AUD 2,000 - AUD 3,000 per month.

What is the most popular street in Melbourne CBD? ›

Bourke Street is one of the most popular streets in Melbourne. Situated in the heart of the Hoddle Grid, it is the prime location for shopping and dining, such as Madame Brussels, Heroes, and Fancy Hank's. There are plentiful trams, vast pavements, pedestrianized Bourke Street Mall, and easy navigation.

What is the most famous street in Melbourne? ›

Collins street is an iconic street in the city of Melbourne. It is the equivalent of the Champs Elysée in Paris. Many nice shops, many restaurants, many old fashion building Very British style! If you are not from Melbourne, you need to go to Collins Street at least once.

Are there tunnels under Melbourne CBD? ›

The Parliament Tunnel Network: 'A secret underground tunnel system crosses the entire city centre liking Parliament House and the Exhibition Building and with a number of exits under the CBD including Southern Cross Station'.

Is Melbourne a good place to live? ›

It's a beautiful, fascinating, unendingly trendy city, packed with stunning gardens, museums, galleries, and beaches. The capital of Australia's southeastern state of Victoria is globally renowned, too.

What is Melbourne's old name? ›

Melbourne had many unofficial names in its first years, including Batmania, Barebrass, Bearport, Dutergalla, Bareheep and most popularly "the Settlement".

Does Melbourne get snow? ›

Snow in Melbourne is extremely rare. To experience the snow, head to the Victorian High Country, which receive good snowfall throughout winter. Skiers and snowboarders can hit the slopes at Hotham, Mount Buller and Falls Creek.

Do people live in Melbourne CBD? ›

An increasing number of people are likely to base themselves in the city centre. So what's it like living here? At noon on February 28, I'll have lived in the Melbourne CBD for exactly 20 years, in an apartment within a converted office block on the corner of Elizabeth and Little Bourke Streets, opposite the GPO.

Which is nicer Sydney or Melbourne? ›

If you've never visited Australia before and are looking for in-your-face classic tourist activities and Instagrammable heaven, then Sydney might be the best choice. But if you're looking for a destination where you have to scratch the surface a little to discover some rich culture, give Melbourne a try.

Which is better to live Sydney or Melbourne? ›

So… is Melbourne better than Sydney? Melbourne is good for culture, sport, food, nightlife and day trips. Yet, Sydney's weather is more consistent, the beaches are nowhere near as good (thankfully there's plenty of other ways to spend a summer weekend in Melbourne) and the transport links to the airport kinda suck.

What is the average income in Melbourne CBD? ›

As such, the average median household income (Purchasing Power Parity) in Australia was 95,371 AUD (USD 63,393) for the year 2021.
ii. Average salary by city:
CityAverage annual salary
Melbourne106,000 AUD (USD 72,300)
Brisbane104,000 AUD (USD 70,900)
Adelaide100,000 AUD (USD 68,200)
1 more row
Apr 21, 2023

What is the average salary in Melbourne? ›

Median hourly earnings was $37 per hour, up $1 since August 2021.

How much is rent a month in Melbourne? ›

The graph below shows the median rents across capital city units, along with the rate of change each market has seen in the past 12 months.
Median unit rents in December 2022 (Source: PropTrack)
CityMedian unit rentAnnual change
5 more rows
Apr 5, 2023

Is Melbourne CBD safe at night? ›

The cbd is generally ok. It does get pretty quiete later at night especially on weekdays. shops only close somewhat late on friday nights only. They close very early by world standards every other day.

Is it safe to walk around Melbourne CBD at night? ›

Many parts of Melbourne, especially the inner north, have a vibrant café culture, where there are crowds of well-behaved people around, giving one a real sense of safety. Thus, in comparison with other cities and even country towns, I would recommend Melbourne as a relatively safe place to walk at night.

How many Chinese are in Melbourne CBD? ›

At the 2021 census, 1,390,637 Australian residents identified themselves as having Chinese ancestry, accounting for 5.5% of the total population.
Capital cityPopulation with Chinese ancestry (2021 census)Proportion of total population
3 more rows

What is a rich suburb in Melbourne? ›

1. Toorak. Big surprise, right? Toorak has long been one of Melbourne's most affluent suburbs, with wealthy entrepreneurs and athletes calling it home.

Which American city is Melbourne most like? ›

Melbourne has been likened to having the land area of Los Angeles but the population of San Francisco. In reality greater melbourne is about three quarters the size of greater L.A. and about half the population of greater San Francisco.

Why is it called Melbourne CBD? ›

The central business district of Melbourne is the city's cultural, entertainment and financial heart. Locally called the CBD, or simply "the City", it is where most international and interstate visitors spend the bulk of their time.

What is the most famous thing in Melbourne? ›

What is Melbourne Most Famous For?
  • National Gallery of Victoria.
  • State Library Victoria.
  • Melbourne laneways and arcades.
  • Federation Square.
  • Melbourne Skydeck.
  • Melbourne Zoo.
  • Royal Botanic Gardens.
  • Melbourne's markets.

What made Melbourne famous? ›

It's the sporting capital of the world

Melbourne has an equivalent for all these events and then some… Melbourne hosts the Australian Open in January, the Grand Prix in March and the occasional Presidents Cup (just to name a few).

What is the hippy area of Melbourne? ›

The different areas such as Fitzroy, St. Kilda, South Yarra, Toorak, Richmond, Windsor and Federation Square each have a very distinct vibe, it's almost like many small cities or towns placed side by side.

Are all Melbourne CBD trams free? ›

Travel on trams in Melbourne's city centre is free. View a map of the Free Tram Zone on the PTV website. Tram stops in the Free Tram Zone are clearly marked. If you start or finish a journey outside the Free Tram Zone, a valid myki card is still required.

Are trains in Melbourne CBD free? ›

Melbourne offers free tram rides within the city centre. To use public transport outside of the free tram zone, you need to purchase a myki card. You can purchase a myki card from retail outlets displaying the myki sign, visitor centres and at train stations. Use your myki card on trains, trams and buses.

How many buildings are there in Melbourne CBD? ›

Melbourne, the second-largest city in Australia, is home to approximately 758 completed high-rise buildings. Of those completed and or topped-out, 74 buildings are defined as "skyscrapers"–buildings which reach a height of at least 150 metres (490 ft); more than any other city in Australia.

Where do most Americans live in Melbourne? ›

Popular regions for Melbourne's American community
  • Banyule. The City of Banyule is located between 7 and 21 km north east of Melbourne. ...
  • Bayside. ...
  • Boroondara. ...
  • Brimbank. ...
  • Cardinia. ...
  • Casey. ...
  • Darebin. ...
  • Frankston.

What are the disadvantages of living in Melbourne? ›

Dreary weather, the high cost of living and its remote location are some of the cons of living in Melbourne.

Are people in Melbourne friendly? ›

Australia's most liveable city is now also the friendliest in the world, according to a new report. Melbourne has been hailed for its kind inhabitants and inclusive culture, with the city taking top spot against its global peers, according to the Benchmarking Melbourne 2023 report released on Thursday.

What is the richest city in Australia? ›

With 126,900 millionaires, Sydney made it to number 10 with the report noting especially strong growth in wealth in the Harbour City over the past 20 years, making it Australia's wealthiest city.

What came first Sydney or Melbourne? ›

Melbourne was established 47 years after the establishment of Sydney. The main difference being that while Sydney was established to settle convicts, Melbourne was established by free settlers.

Which ocean is in Melbourne? ›

The spectacular Great Ocean Road hugs the seaside cliffs that snake along the wild and windswept Southern Ocean.

Is Melbourne humid or dry? ›

Melbourne summers in particular are notable for occasional days of extreme heat, which have increased in frequency since 2005. However, unlike tropical climates, Melbourne's summers are dry and acrid rather than humid, making the importance of proper hydration and sun protection that much more dire here.

What's the coldest month in Melbourne? ›

Melbourne's top temperatures are usually in January and February. Those months are often dry, with hot spells and cooling afternoon breezes off Port Phillip Bay. June and July are the coldest months and October is the wettest.

What is the hottest month in Melbourne? ›

January is the hottest month in Melbourne with an average temperature of 21°C (70°F) and the coldest is July at 10°C (50°F) with the most daily sunshine hours at 11 in January. The wettest month is May with an average of 68mm of rain.

Can you smoke in CBD Melbourne? ›

Smoking in public places and the sale of tobacco are strictly controlled. In addition to the Victorian tobacco laws, the City of Melbourne has the authority to prohibit the smoking of tobacco in prescribed smoke-free areas under the Activities Local Law 2019 (Local Law).

Is it hard to drive in Melbourne CBD? ›

Don't Try To Drive In The CBD Until You're Comfortable On Public Roads. First and foremost, you should not try to drive in the Melbourne CBD as soon as you've passed your licence test and gotten your learner's permit. It's not a good place to learn to drive.

How big is New York vs Melbourne CBD? ›

When compared to New York, which has a population density of 10,194/ km2, Melbourne's is extremely low. Still, New York is a city with a smaller area (783.8 km²) and a larger number of inhabitants of about 8.5 million.

Why do people love Melbourne? ›

There's culture around every corner

Melbourne is dubbed as being Australia's cultural capital, and for good reason. From the city's array of museums, multicultural cuisines, and music scene, it's not difficult to see that Melburnians are passionate about the arts.

Which city is more beautiful in Australia? ›

Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is the Australian holiday destination that truly has it all. The sprawling city is surrounded by stunning sandy beaches, ancient rainforests, famous theme parks, and magnificent views in every direction.

What is the coldest it gets in Melbourne? ›

Winters in Melbourne are cool with moderate rainfall. The lowest temperature on record is −2.8 °C (27.0 °F), on 21 July 1869.

Is it more expensive to live in Melbourne or New York? ›

You would need around 13,599.4A$ (9,190.8$) in New York, NY to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 8,500.0A$ in Melbourne (assuming you rent in both cities). This calculation uses our Cost of Living Plus Rent Index to compare cost of living. This assumes net earnings (after income tax).

Is Sydney or Melbourne colder? ›

Sydney's average daily maximum temperature is about 3C warmer than Melbourne throughout winter, while Sydney's summer extremes tend to be milder.

What is the famous church in Melbourne CBD? ›

St Paul's Cathedral is the home church for Anglicans in Melbourne and throughout Victoria. It is a beautiful place of prayer and worship with a vibrant and diverse community of members from more than 25 nations. The Cathedral is Victoria's most visited sacred place, with over 400,000 visitors a year.

What is so special about Melbourne? ›

Melbourne is known for being one of the most liveable cities on earth. Often referred to as 'the Sporting Capital of the World', besides this it is also famous for its graffitied laneways, excellent coffee, cultural diversity and bayside location. This eclectic Australian city has something for everyone.

What is the main CBD street in Melbourne? ›

Among the streets in Melbourne, La Trobe Street is the primary street and thoroughfare in the heart of Melbourne.

How religious is Melbourne? ›

Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation (49.3%) Christianity (23.8%)

Where is the largest mega church in the world? ›

Megachurches are found in many countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. The largest church auditorium, The Glory Dome, was inaugurated in 2018 with 100,000 seats, in Abuja, Nigeria.

What is the biggest church in California? ›

Saddleback Church is an Evangelical Baptist multi-site megachurch, based in Lake Forest, California. It is the largest church in California, and one of the largest in the United States of America. The church has several campuses in California and around the world.

Why are people moving to Melbourne? ›

Sydneysiders moving to Melbourne are attracted to the cheaper house prices and the better cost of living, Parr said. “There's an affordability factor.” For Australians moving to Melbourne from elsewhere, the Victorian capital's “economic and job opportunities are an important part of the picture” according to Parr.

What's the richest suburb in Melbourne? ›

1. Toorak. Big surprise, right? Toorak has long been one of Melbourne's most affluent suburbs, with wealthy entrepreneurs and athletes calling it home.

What is the minimum wage to live in Melbourne? ›

In Australia, a Living Wage is $27 per hour.

What is minimum wage in Melbourne? ›

What is the minimum wage in Victoria? The minimum hourly wage in Victoria is $21.38 per hour, the same as the rest of the country. The goal of the National minimum wage is to protect workers against low pay.


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