policy & design

Abnormally Wide Streets of Melbourne #01: North Melbourne

In my 7 years in Melbourne, I have lived mainly in the popular inner-city suburbs of North Melbourne and Carlton North. These two neighbourhoods are in many ways typical inner-city Australian suburbs: built in the 19th century, built right from the start with a fairly strong separation of uses, intended to be predominantly residential, with single-storey detached and terraced houses that were not particularly desirable when built (although Carlton North had upmarket bits right from the start), but now command absurd, astronomical prices. North Melbourne has distinctly industrial parts, but a good residential core. Gentrification has come to both neighbourhoods a long time ago, mainly because of their proximity to the city.

But what distiniguishes Carlton North and North Melbourne, not just from other inner suburbs of Melbourne, but from residential neighbourhoods worldwide, is that they have insanely wide streets. They were largely built, right from the start, with insanely wide streets, streets that were, for all intents and purposes, never intended for anything other than purely residential use. Why? I don’t know. Does anyone know?

Rathdowne St in Carlton North, had a tram line going through, which has since been covered with an astronomically-sized nature strip. The rest didn’t. One colleague of mine speculated that the streets were laid out with much taller buildings in plan. We don’t know for sure. They were built before the car even existed, so they certaintly weren’t designed for the amount of parking they provide.

In any case, I am prepared to assume that these two neighbourhoods currently sport some of the widest residential streets in the world. Streets in Melbourne are generally wide, certainly wider than in Europe or Asia, and even wider than in slightly older Australian cities (Sydney or Hobart). But these are the oldest abnormally wide streets I’ve encountered. They are also significantly wider than in other inner suburbs (Fitzroy, even Carlton), which were also more mixed-use. To put this in perspective, the grand grid of the historical central Melbourne has 30m-wide main streets, and 15m-wide laneways, wall to wall. These suburban streets, with hardly any shops on them, all hover around the 30m mark.

What is the benefit of such wide streets? Well, I leave that to you to judge. Here is North Melbourne.

Abbotsford St, corner Queensberry

Arden St, close to Abbotsford

Chewynd St, corner Victoria

Howard St, corner Victoria

Leveson St, corner Queensberry


2 thoughts on “Abnormally Wide Streets of Melbourne #01: North Melbourne

  1. That’s true. But the residential streets of Fitzroy, say, are significantly narrower. These streets, truth be told, are not uniformly huge. But for every decently sized Victoria St, for example, there is an inexplicably humongous Chetwynd St.

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