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Melbourne: CBD-Running Culture

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Over the past two decades the Central Business District in Melbourne has been gradually transformed into a high-rise, high-density urban landscape, establishing high-concentration employment zones and residential areas for young and middle-age knowledge workers. Simultaneously, a vibrant CBD-running culture has emerged as a result of changing attitudes towards body health and the popularisation of inner-city living.

This SPORTIFY CITIES report aims to explain this social phenomenon by illustrating the prime locations for running in the City of Melbourne – the key inner-city area – and by outlining the key physical and environmental aspects of the emergence of this impressive, yet largely unnoticed CBD-running hub. In order to further improve the quality of its inner-city liveability and to attract large numbers of health-conscious knowledge workers, the report also makes the case for incorporating this growing urban sporting lifestyle trend into Melbourne’s city centre planning strategy and its city branding.


Urban running has become emblematic of the increasingly health-conscious, individualistic and performance- and feedback-driven urban societies in the developed world. Thanks to its stimulating effects on the cardio-vascular system, its independent form of exercising and its compatibility with various wearable, real-time activity tracker metrics, urban running is increasingly becoming the sporting lifestyle activity of choice among young professionals.

In numerous cities knowledge workers have over the years turned public spaces around the high-concentration employment zones – predominantly in city centres and Central Business Districts (CBDs) – into CBD-running hubs (see ‘The Emergence of CBD-Running Cultures’ in Sportify Cities – Guidelines & Strategies). By largely utilising city parks and waterfront trails located within close proximity to workplaces, health-conscious workers increasingly incorporate running into their workday schedule. They typically choose to go for a run during lunch-breaks or after their regular working hours, depending on the local working culture and the flexibility of their employers (for more information on CBD-running in Singapore and Tokyo, please read the chapter ‘Urban Running Cultivation’ in the special Sportify Cities report ‘Singapore – A High-Density City with Sporting Characters’ and the brief Sportify Cities report on ‘The Sluggish CBD-Running Culture in Tokyo’).

In the inner-city areas of Melbourne, the second-most populous city in Australia, both the ample green space and the long riverside provide suitable environment settings for such a CBD-running hub, further enhancing the quality of life of its inner-city residents and workers alike. The southern region of Melbourne’s city centre is perhaps the most vivid location in which the emergence of a vibrant CBD-running culture can be witnessed on daily basis. The designated jogging trails around the large Domain Parklands as well as along the visually stimulating Yarra River offer excellent running routes for local knowledge workers and residents who live within close proximity to these top-notch recreational sites.


Provision of designated parkland areas is a defining urban feature of Melbourne’s central districts.



The Yarra River trails connect the CBD with the city’s sprawling metropolitan areas via an expansive trail network.


The Domain Parklands – which comprises of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kings Domain, Alexandra Gardens and the Queen Victoria Gardens – is the largest green space within the inner-city districts. The most popular running route around this cultural and recreational site is the 3.8 km (mainly) gravel Tan Track, which encircles the Kings Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens (the two largest green areas within the Domain Parklands). Although various paths also criss-cross the parkland, most joggers choose to use the circular Tan Track.

Over the past three decades large areas consisting of heavily polluting industries along the Yarra River have been demolished and re-zoned for residential and commercial purposes, resulting in significantly cleaner waters and adding more recreational space to the adjacent Domain Parklands. Today this popular inner-city riverside contains paved trails that are interconnected with various creek trails via the 29-km Capital City Trail, linking the south-eastern, eastern, northern as well as the north-western suburbs with the CBD.


The riverside running trails are particularly popular with CBD-based workers who typically use the four key access areas to the Yarra River as starting points. Residents living in Southbank, on the other hand, preferably choose the circular Tan Track at the Domain Parklands.



During lunchtime most joggers commence their Yarra River running session either in the Central Business District or in Southbank.



The Birrarung Marr pedestrian bridge is the key Yarra River starting point for joggers whose workplaces are located in the eastern parts of the CBD.



The gravel Tan Track at the Domain Parklands is very popular with the St-Kilda Road-based knowledge workers and the residents living in Southbank.


In all, for running enthusiasts who reside or/and work in the southern parts of Melbourne’s central districts, the Yarra River and the adjacent Domain Parklands area offer great running options throughout much of the day. At dawn, for instance, the circular Tan Track is the most favourite location for local residents who enjoy going for an early morning run. At midday CBD-based knowledge workers use their lunch break for a quick running session either along the Yarra River or around the Domain Parklands. Particularly, the 3.8 km Tan-loop around the Kings Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens has become the route of choice for workers whose employment sites are located along the adjacent St-Kilda Road, whereas CBD-based workers rather opt for the riverside trails (see favourite CBD-running routes in the illustration above).

After 5pm the crowd of devoted runners is larger and more diverse than during any other time of the day. Three groups of joggers, in particular, can be identified: local knowledge workers who go for an after-work run before heading back home to the suburbs, local residents who live in the nearby high-rise flats and ‘non-local’ joggers who choose to drive to this recreational site (after 6.30 pm car parking around the Domain Parklands area is free and in abundant supply). A smaller group of workers also choose to run-commute from the CBD to the eastern and south-eastern inner-city districts – most notably, districts such as South Yarra, Toorak, Richmond and Hawthorn are perfectly located for mid-distance run-commuting. 


The circular 3.8 km Tan Track around the Domain Parklands is popular with Southbank-based workers and residents alike. As the lighting of the track remains switched off only between midnight and 5.30am, joggers can utilize this outdoor recreational space until late at night.



Southbank is an expanding commercial and residential inner-city district. Thanks to its proximity to the Yarra River as well as to the Domain Parklands this fairly recently established central area will continue to play a crucial role in Melbourne’s CBD-running culture.


Due to changing attitudes towards physical health and body image, a growing number of CBD-based white-collar workers have been incorporating running into their workplace environment. And the continuous expansion of high-concentration employment zones within Melbourne’s city centre has only accelerated this emerging CBD-running trend. According to the latest ABS workforce survey, about 350,000 people now work in the City of Melbourne – that is, this key inner-city local government area offers job opportunities for nearly 20% of all employed Greater Melbourne residents (overall, 31 local government areas define the metropolitan area of Greater Melbourne). Given that a large proportion of this workforce is based in the southern parts of the CBD, it can be expected that Melbourne’s CBD-running culture will continue to thrive in the years to come.

As previously outlined, the Main Yarra Trail and the running track around the Domain Parklands (Tan Track) are very popular with the growing number of inner-city residents, too. Since the mid-1990s there has been a construction boom in high-rise apartments in the central districts of Melbourne, transforming large parts of the city centre into a vertical urban landscape and attracting predominantly young professionals, overseas migrants and foreign students from Asia (only around 20% of the residents living in the CBD were born in Australia, according to the latest available ABS data). This marketing-driven popularisation of high-density, inner-city living – an urban concept that, until fairly recently, has been considered incompatible with the Melbournian way of living – has boosted the number of people residing in the central districts (in the City of Melbourne) from 45,000 to around 130,000 over the past 20 years.

Particularly, the urban redevelopment of the former industrial zone in Southbank into a commercial and residential central district has undoubtedly facilitated the emergence of Melbourne’s CBD-running culture. Today large numbers of high-rise residential blocks in Southbank and along the St Kilda Road are clustered within close proximity to the Domain Parklands area and the Yarra River, providing great running options for the mostly young and highly-educated inner-city residents (the median age of Southbank residents is 29 and more than 60% of these residents have at least a bachelor degree).


The long-lasting economic boom and the growing demand for inner-city living among predominantly young, affluent Asian migrants have transformed Melbourne’s CBD into a more densely populated district.



Melbourne’s CBD population is, by no means, representative of its metropolitan area, clearly demonstrating a skewed demographic distribution – with young adults accounting for the large majority of the CBD-based residents.


Apart from the provision of an expansive running trail network and the densification of its inner-city districts, the city’s good air quality record is another important aspect of the emerging CBD-running culture in Melbourne. It has long been known that high levels of air pollutants increase the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. For instance, the PM2.5 (particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometres) is considered a critical air pollutant for sporty folks, as it is able to penetrate deeply into the respiratory tract. With an annual average of 8 μg/m3 Melbourne demonstrates one of the lowest PM2.5 values in the urban world (as illustrated in the chart below), indicating that the city’s air quality is suitable for outdoor sporting activities such as running.

Especially the rezoning of former industrial land has led to improved air quality, enabling Melbournians who reside in the central districts to enjoy relatively clean air all-year-round. Only during the morning hours of the few windless and slightly foggy winter days a thin blanket of smog tends to settle over the Melbournian Bay area. Yet thanks to Melbourne’s favourable geographic location, the reoccurring northern and southern winds usually blow away much of its man-made fine-particle pollution.


Melbourne demonstrates relatively low levels of air pollution. As good air quality is one of the key criteria for the popularisation of an urban running hub, maintaining its air pollution at the lowest possible levels will continue to be vital for Melbourne.


Melbourne’s kindly climate is another key aspect of its vibrant CBD-running culture. Throughout the year temperatures are mostly suitable for outdoor sporting activities, allowing sporty folks who live and/or work in the southern areas of the CBD to embed running into their everyday life. The city is located in the oceanic climate zone, which is characterised by warm summers and cool winters – based on the Köppen climate classification system. Although hot and dry weather conditions regularly prevail between December and February (with maximum day temperatures occasionally exceeding the 40°C mark), Melbourne’s summer period is, for the most part, fairly accommodating. As trees are planted along the circular Tan Track (and partially on the Yarra River trails, too), the natural shade provides joggers with vital protection from the ‘extremely high’ UV (Ultra violet)-levels monitored on sunny days during the summer season.

The winter temperatures in Melbourne are relatively mild and rather consistent, with maximum air temperatures usually ranging from 10 to 15°C during the coldest months of the year (that is, in June and July). Joggers who prefer to go for a run in the very early morning hours are exposed to cooler conditions – yet the minimum air temperatures do not drop below 0°C. And while Melbournians love complaining about the reoccurring chilly and humid southern winds originating from the Antarctic region, they have learned to adapt to these temporarily uncomfortable weather patterns.


The chart displays the day-by-day temperatures during an exemplary peak summer and winter period in January 2016 and July 2016, respectively (weather station at the centrally-located Olympic Park). The best meteorological conditions for running on a hot summer day prevail in the early morning and late evening hours, while the early afternoon is the most enjoyable time of the day for jogging on a typical winter day.


Given the growing trend in the developed world towards improving the liveability of the inner cities as well as establishing the central districts as the key employment zones for health-conscious knowledge workers, Melbourne’s city centre could potentially position itself as a top-notch CBD-running hub. For the local government representing Melbourne’s central districts, i.e., the Melbourne City Council, the most lucrative prospect of marketing its vibrant CBD-running culture could come in the form of businesses relocation and human capital, potentially attracting large numbers of global-minded urbanites of desired qualification (talent magnetism as a result of city living attractiveness, as outlined in the recent SPORTIFY CITIES – Guidelines & Strategies ‘Sporting Lifestyle Cities – Framework’).

To achieve this objective, the Melbourne City Council will need to incorporate its key inner-city recreational space – combined with its good air quality record and its outdoor sporting-friendly temperatures – into a novel, recognisable CBD-running identity. Although Melbourne can take pride in having established a distinctive city brand, the inclusion of this under-explored sporting lifestyle element into its inner-city living concept is certainly worth considering. After all, it is reasonable to suggest that its CBD-running culture will mature as a result of the evolving socio-economic circumstances and the current urban planning policies.

Due to the ever-growing significance of the CBD as a high-volume employment location for finance, business and knowledge industries, for instance, more white-collar jobs will continue to be clustered in the inner city areas of Melbourne (currently, almost 55% of all employed people in Melbourne’s central districts are either managers or professionals). And at the same time, more high-rise apartment blocks are being planned in the Central Business District and in Southbank, potentially increasing the number of running enthusiasts even further. That is, the growing demand for CBD-running will eventually need to be matched with sufficient supply of supportive infrastructure.

For instance, in any future CBD-running policy strategy high priority should be placed on improving the accessibility and the design of running trails that connect the slightly isolated high-rise residential area of Docklands (located next to the western part of the CBD). Also, the main trails by-passing the Flinders Street railway station and the Southbank Promenade tend to get overcrowded during lunchtime, considerably disrupting the running rhythm. As the number of people working within walking distance to the Yarra River is expected to increase in the coming years, these popular locations will possibly turn into bottlenecks for midday-joggers.

Most inner-city-based workers who embed running into their working life rely on indoor shower facilities provided by their employers. Some workers also use their membership in one of the nearby health and fitness clubs; that is, they regularly combine a workout in the gym with an outdoor run, before taking a refreshing shower. As managing personal hygiene after a run is a critical aspect of the CBD-running culture, the subject of providing adequate shower facilities at workplaces will surely have to be integrated in any future CBD-running strategy proposed by the City of Melbourne.


Could short-distance cycling to the key running trails be promoted as a viable transportation option for CBD-joggers residing in Melbourne’s inner-city areas?


In order to get more inner-city folks to utilize the key CBD-running trails, the local government could promote short-distance cycling to the Main Yarra River Trail and the Domain Parklands. Given that a large majority of the inner-city residents live within cycling (but not within walking) distance to the major CBD-recreational area, this convenient and healthy transportation option could potentially be implemented in any future CBD-running strategy. Hence, local residents could be encouraged to cycle to the Main Yarra River Trail or the Tan Track, enjoy a running session, cycle back home and take a refreshing shower thereafter. In this way, the extra bicycle trips could be added to the actual sporting activity (i.e., the run), thereby extending the total time of the individual’s physical activity.

Again, this SPORTIFY CITIES report argues that creating healthy and sportified urban environments for both inner-city workers and residents will become an essential aspect of inner-city liveability across the developed world. Melbourne’s CBD could thus boost its international reputation as one of the most liveable inner-city areas by embedding its CBD-running culture into its city identity and by highlighting the utilisation of its public space for sporting lifestyle purposes. And if desired, its CBD-running strategy could eventually become a supportive component of a more comprehensive inner-city sporting lifestyle framework, potentially transforming the increasingly high-rise, high-density urban landscape of Melbourne’s city centre into an aspiring and globally recognisable Sportified City zone.


The Yarra River and the adjacent Domain Parklands could potentially evolve into an internationally recognisable inner-city sporting lifestyle hub.




This report was first published in October 2016; updated in December 2018.


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