Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sydney vs. Melbourne

Every country has great rivalries between its capital cities. Barcelona versus Madrid. NYC versus LA. Cleveland versus Pittsburgh. Given that Australia only has about five cities, and only Sydney and Melbourne are of consequence, it's no surprise that their rivalry is fairly intense.

Sydneysiders and Melbournites (neither exactly rolls off the tongue) are locked in battle over whose city is better. The whole reason Canberra, the country's capital, exists is because Melbourne and Sydney fought so viciously over which should host Australia's government that a miserable spot in between the two was picked to teach them a lesson.
When I first moved to Australia, a colleague from the States who has toyed with the idea of moving here asked me which city I liked better. I wasn't qualified to tell him at the time, but after spending a few weeks in Melbourne for work and getting the chance to explore quite a bit I'm ready to make a call:

If I had to pick a city to live in for the next 2 years or so (which is our situation), Sydney wins. If I had to pick a city to live in for a longer period of time, I'd pick Melbourne. Melbourne is the better city.*

I can hear my Sydney friends crying "Traitor!" and my Melbourne colleagues saying "We already knew that." But city preference, of course, is a personal thing. There are people who love Los Angeles who wouldn't dream of moving to New York, and vice versa. My vote is based on personal preferences. So here's my breakdown based on a number of criteria:

Sydney has a gorgeous harbor and a number of great beaches. For two years -- and after living in the concrete valleys of Manhattan -- that's the lifestyle I want: mosey down to the beach, have a swim, get some sun, sit at a café and look out onto the water while I drink a beer. Just a few weekends ago Sharon and I hung out at the beach -- and it was winter here! That's good living. Melbourne of course isn't far from the water; its harbor is great for parasurfing and the beach is accessible by train. But it doesn't have the beach town feel that pervades Sydney. (Sydney is, according to one of Sharon's coworkers, just a giant beach town). Win for Sydney.

Restaurant and Bar Scene:
After 9 months in Sydney, I feel as if I've already eaten at all the restaurants and checked out all the cool bars. Obviously I haven't; there are probably dozens of good restaurants I have yet to try, but that's the feeling I get. We actually have to do research to pick a new place to try out. For me, the key to enjoying a city long term is a sense of discovery and Melbourne seriously kicks Sydney's ass when it comes to cool little bars and restaurants waiting to be discovered. Just walking around a Melbourne neighborhood like Fitzroy or South Yarra I feel like the number and variety of restaurants could keep me busy for a long time. Win for Melbourne.

Sydney public transportation sucks. It is a car city…or rather would be if the parking situation was passable. The roads curve and wind and end unexpectedly and right turns are not allowed at half the intersections. A friend once said it's like someone dropped a pile of giant spaghetti on the city and then built roads using the noodles as a guideline. Melbourne, on the other hand, has a simple grid layout and a fantastic number of trams (not to mention buses and trains) to get around easily. And whether it's due to the ease of transportation or simple geography, Melbourne feels more compact -- it's simply easier to get around. Win for Melbourne.

Sydney wins, though it's certainly not the year-round mecca I expected (see previous post). As I write this, Melbourne is a good 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler and I've seen the sun for all of a few hours since I started working here. The gloom and cold do get depressing after a while. A YouTube video spoofs the weather in Melbourne: Jacket on, jacket off, jacket on, jacket off -- all in one day. When the weather is beautiful, you'll be hard pressed to find a better place than Sydney. Win for Sydney.

As a dude, I don't really shop -- I go on missions. However, being engaged to a woman who loves to shop, I can appreciate the things that make shopping good. Melbourne wins here. It's not just the variety of stores, because Sydney also has a huge variety, it's also the density. While Sydney has shopping districts such as Paddington, Melbourne packs much more in, and in a smaller area. This applies to many of the Melbourne suburbs I've seen as well as the center of the city. In fact, I told a coworker that if I didn't already know Sydney had the bigger population, I'd assume Melbourne is the bigger city -- it just has that density of shops, restaurants, and bars. Win for Melbourne.

And that's all she wrote.

*Unfortunately, Fitness First gyms play the same crappy Euro-trash pop in both cities**
**Europe's economy has been getting all the attention lately, but seriously, the real crisis is all the shitty pop music they produce


  1. Traitor! Seriously though, I agree with your assessment. we are skewed more towards weather/beach vs. shopping/bar scene...which is why you will go back to live in NY and we will go back to live in SF. =)