Someone once commented that you could judge the relative size of unproductive bureaucracies in different countries (the examples given were the US and Soviet Union) by comparing the skylines of their biggest cities. Great clusters of office buildings and skyscrapers testified to the presence of many financial, legal and advertising workers. As Adam Smith tells us, these workers consume rather than contribute to the social product.
Even worse, their horrible buildings create dark and unpleasant wind tunnels. In Melbourne’s CBD the tallest office towers are thankfully – as this slightly out-of-date video shows – concentrated at certain points: the western and eastern ends of Collins Street, and generally at either end of the east-west-running streets (Bourke, Lonsdale, etc). These areas are cold and uninviting, with the sun obscured unless it’s directly above you. But this also leaves a nice, clear hollow patch running north-south along the CBD’s spine, Swanston Street, where an entire winter’s day can be spent in sunlight.
Until, that is, a bunch of office towers and apartment buildings began popping up on the northern end of Swanston Street around Victoria Street, between RMIT and Melbourne Uni. Now some yuppie who’s spent his day not so much performing work as applying force can sneak a convenient spot of indoor rock climbing in before dinner, thereby denying all of us the late-afternoon sun. Here’s the relatively unimpeded view, which no longer exists, looking north up Swanston Street from the State Library’s lawn.