According to a Broadsheet article, with efforts in strategic planning, the city of Melbourne managed to shed its dull image to recreate itself into a lively urbanscape that simultaneously has helped to develop its much prided laneway culture, which is now systematically sustained though the Love Your Laneway program. Although I have not been to Melbourne to personally experience its bustling bar and cafe culture, I can definitely imagine myself sitting in a moderately noisy local coffee shop, silently enjoying a cup of coffee or engaging in conversations with other people.
That is to say, bars, cafes, and laneways definitely do not make a combination unique to the capital of Victoria. Yet, they are now the cultural and economic assets of the city, encouraging public engagement in semi-public settings (bars and cafes) while supporting small business. In other words, they become the physical expression of the Melbourne life, the Melbourne identity.
Beside the holistic approach in maintaining and regenerating its laneways, what is great about the Melbourne example is that it fosters a culture of face-to-face interaction. As one of my (favorite) professors says, the Internet-age generation does not realize spending their childhood in the virtual world has hindered their emotional growth. After all, individual well-beings make up social well-being. In term of urban discourse and “trend”, Melbourne is ahead of the game in making livable cities, or “cities for the people”, as Jan Gehl would say.
The laneways in HCMC have many parallel features to those of Melbourne. However, whereas the story of Melbourne laneways is one of bringing back life to the city, the story of HCMC laneways would be one of keeping life in the city. Compared to her foreign counterparts, HCMC is still struggling to establish itself as a top-of-mind world-class city, racing to construct new skyscrapers and shopping departments at the cost of gentrification, social polarization, and aesthetic blandness. Since cities can (wisely) learn from each other, HCMC could take Melbourne as a case study for creating a brand by creating a city culture. With alleys as our core urban arteries and coffee as our treasured heart stimulant, the marriage of the two into an official city laneway activation program is undoubtedly a huge potential success, bridging cultural and historic preservation to economic development.
** laneway = alleyway