Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida
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Melbourne vs Vancouver vs Portland???

Hi there. My husband and I are tossing up between Melbourne/Vancouver/Portland as a next possible long-term move (in the next couple of years). Each has pros and cons it seems, and we tend to go round and round in circles, never quite sure which city is the best choice for us. So I thought why not put the question to all you intrepid globe-trotters out there who may have experienced one or more of these cities to ask what you think? I summarise below what my husband and I think distinguishes these cities based on their perceived pros/cons – I welcome your opinion on whether you agree or not with these assumptions:

MELBOURNE PROS – Progressive and open towards difference; Curious and enjoy debate; Relatively low crime; Pedestrian friendly and great public transport; Cultural/literary scene; Good job opportunities (our backgrounds are in public sector and writing/ psychology).

CONS – Major water and sustainability issues; Rising crime?; Anti-Indian/Muslim sentiment?; Expensive rental options.

VANCOUVER PROS – Progressive and open towards difference; Pedestrian friendly with great public transport; Relatively low crime; OK economy/jobs.

CONS – Too politically correct/afraid of conflict and debate; Tame to point of slightly boring?; Expensive rental options; High cost of living; Cultural/literary scene not as good as Melbourne/Portland?

PORTLAND PROS – Progressive; Pedestrian friendly and great public transport; Great cultural/literary scene; Low crime; Good cheap organic produce; Rental options cheaper than Melbourne/Vancouver?

CONS – No jobs; Culturally homogenous by comparison

Sent by Kaye

7 Responses to “Melbourne vs Vancouver vs Portland???”

  1. Alison Says:

    Hi Kaye,

    I can only speak for Melbourne but unless you’re going to live within 5 km of the inner city the public transport is okay but not great. There is still no train to the airport (even Brisbane has that) and trams are very slow in rush hour. It is the one of the better cities in Australia for cyclists(which is of course relative – in a country where they love their cars).

    You are right though about the cultural and literary scene which is of course enhanced by the serious attention to serving great coffee. The downside to Australia that you haven’t mentioned is that it is a long, long way from anywhere and you’ll have to love your family and friends a whole lot to put up with the long-haul every time you want to visit them.

  2. Shaun Says:

    You’re categorically right about Vancouver’s Cons. It’s a fantastic place to visit, but I don’t recommend living their longterm. Maybe your best option: Portland, with a couple trips to Vancouver. Vancouver is also frequently ranked as the most unfriendly city on the North American Continent.

  3. Michael Says:

    Melbourne does not have that great a public transport system but it is by no means horrible so it does enough to get by. Crime IS definatley on the rise but all the talk of sentiment towards indians/muslims is way off the mark. Its all been talked up by the media overseas and is certainly not the case. The 3 cities are very similar so it depends what you think are your highest priorities. If its house prices portland wins out. Weather is probably best in Melbourne if you dont like the cold but it does get hot in the summer. Whatever you place as the most important, go with the city that will provide you with these.

  4. Dale Says:

    I’m an American and suggest that if you haven’t done so already, you might spend a fair amount of time in Australia interacting with a broad cross-section of locals to make sure you can comfortably join their culture.

    I spent 6 weeks traveling all over Australia, visiting 7 cities that included Melbourne. It was a business trip with plenty of meetings, so I spent a lot of time talking with locals. I noticed enough differences that by the end of my trip I had moved Australia pretty far down on my list of places where I felt like I could comfortably live.

    A surprising (to me) number of Australians made statements about immigrants, indigenous people, and African Americans that would be unacceptable in my community in the US. I’m not saying the entire society is racist. I’m pointing out that multiple educated people were willing to make statements that by my home community standards would be unacceptable, and to make them to people they hardly knew, often in a business context.

    This included making jokes about how fat indigenous women supposedly are, making fun of the way black Americans supposedly talk, and blaming immigrants for a wide range of problems. It also included two people making unprofessional racial statements in their presentations at conferences, and what seemed to me to be the marginalization of indigenous themes and interests at most of these conferences.

    I grew up in what is called these days a “diverse” community. To me, it seemed like mainstream Australian society was a little inexperienced cross-culturally and that inexperience combined with what seemed like smugness to me resulted in what by my community’s standards would be naive and possibly offensive statements. It’s possible that an American from a different background would feel differently about this.

    Near the end of my trip, I brought it up with a liberal Australian, describing some of the statements I had heard. He felt that such statements were just a different perspective that didn’t hurt anyone.

    Melbourne could be completely different, though I didn’t see any more diversity there than I saw elsewhere in Australia. Actually, Perth seemed more diverse, at least downtown. Also, if you hang out only with “creative class” types you might not hear surprising things.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve heard of at least one other American woman who had a similar reaction. She actually cut her visit short and left Australia (and a job) for the same reason.

    So you might spend time socializing with a cross-section of Australians to make sure that you’re comfortable with any differences in perspective. While there are many surface similarities between American and Australian societies, there are also cultural differences.

  5. Darren Says:

    Hi there,

    I’ve lived or spent significant portions of time in all three cities, so if you haven’t resolved the question, perhaps I can help. I’ve lived in Vancouver now for about 6 years, meaning, I guess, that I’ve made my decision. However, housing prices are pretty insane here, and that has me thinking we will probably move elsewhere in the next, say, 5 years. Public transit is not great, but it is getting better, and we’re getting more bike friendly, which is important to me. I wouldn’t say we’re pedestrian friendly. I wouldn’t say that for Melbourne either, but in Portland, which I visit for a few days every few months, the difference is night and day. People and cars move at a slower pace, and people seem to value their time and interactions more genuinely. Portland is probably where we will move eventually.

    That said, my heart is in Vancouver, and it probably always will be. It’s hard to believe the amazing juxtaposition we have of city, ocean, and mountains. It is a big city, but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s hard to explain.

    To be honest, I never really loved Melbourne. In fact, I would live in both Sydney and Brisbane before Melbourne. I only spent 3 months there, and I’m sure Melbourne has its defenders and all, but for me, it just wasn’t a place I would live. Maybe cities have personalities and ours just clashed.

  6. Timo Says:

    I’ve lived in both Portland and Vancouver for several years and have experienced some pretty significant distinctions between the two.
    As someone who had lived in NYC (Upper West Side and Brooklyn) for several years prior to moving to Vancouver for graduate school, I was shocked by how overpriced the real estate is there. (The quality of the housing construction there is also largely poor relative to other cities I’ve lived in— with some obvious exceptions to be found throughout Vancouver).
    Having worked and socialized with many artists, musicians, writers, and architects in both Vancouver and Portland, I can tell you that innovative, alternative (and I’d add “less corporate”) approaches are more supported in Portland than in Vancouver. Spontaneous and public creativity is actually far more vibrant in Portland (in fact, after living in NYC, Portland, and San Francisco, one of the first striking observations I had of Vancouver what the nearly complete absence of street music, pick-up soccer matches, etc). To compensate for the very civil-peace-and-quiet mindedness of Vancouver, the city does sponsor a good number of decent art/culture festivals, though my personal tastes tend toward the grassroots community festivals I grew up with in New England (and found quite alive and well in Portland, NYC, and San Francisco).
    To be honest, everyone I know in Vancouver who has lived in Europe, Tokyo, Toronto, Montreal, or any number of US cities, struggles with Vancouver’s apparent soullessness. It offers some sublimely beautiful moments (looking beyond itself into across the vistas of water and peaks), but it fails to captivate the spirit. It is, however, very convenient, with quick access to decent food markets, good skiing/ hiking/ sailing, and a surprisingly vital and pleasant (to me) summer beach culture.
    Foodie culture is quite good in Vancouver (especially if you have lots of money or know the right people), though even in this category Portland has the upper hand with its many small, innovative and affordable restaurants.
    I’ll be the first to admit, however, that having a well paying job in Vancouver will really open up the city to you and your family— good primary education, all the skiing you will certainly crave when the mountains glow off in the distance every winter’s night, the symphony and the Vancouver Art Gallery (both truly mediocre, but comparable to Portland’s offerings), restaurants as good as any in North America, and a comfortable residence with nice views and access to nearby open space.
    People in both cities are quite friendly in my experience, though you will probably need to work a little harder in Vancouver to be let into someone’s social circle. You are right to note that Portland is relatively homogeneous, though Vancouver is quite racially (and economically) segregated, with very little mixing at the edges of socio-cultural lines. That being said, I’ve found very little overt racial bias or tension (though about 10 years ago there was quite a bit when immigrants started to move into the traditionally wealthy Anglo neighborhood of Shaughnessey). To make up for this, however, is a systematized and counterproductive sadism directed toward the very substantial population that lives on the streets of the downtown.
    Both cities have several farmer’s and maker’s markets throughout the year, though Portland’s are truly exceptional and fun. (As corroborated by friends of mine in Vancouver who are crafters and family farmers). This is in line with another commentator’s observation that people and cars (but not bikes!) move slower in Portland, since folks there seem more invested in the moment.
    As should be obvious by now, I much prefer Portland in almost every category except job opportunities (specifically: architecture), snow sports, views (as if that should matter), and social services.
    I think that if you spend 4 days in each city these differences will begin to stand out for you too.

  7. Ricky Ricardo Says:

    Which Vancouver? Washington or British Columbia?

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