Sydney is choking. So says the Danish urban planner Jan Gehl, who has been enlisted by Sydney to turn the city’s downtown area into a better place.
Gehl – who has made city centres from Copenhagen to Melbourne pedestrian friendly – believes Sydney is held hostage by the private car. As successive town planners have attempted to accommodate rising traffic levels, they have created a confusion of overpasses that pay no heed to the needs of people on foot. In the CBD (Central Business District) pedestrians are forced into packs, or “platoons”, as Gehl calls them, to dodge the traffic. Gehl’s prescription is radical: ban cars and bury the roads.
It is a plan that Gehl does not expect to be accepted overnight. “In all cities I ever worked for, someone would, at the start of the project, point out that this city is different because people here love cars more than any other place. But when the improvements have been introduced, the sceptical have turned silent,” he says.
Under Gehl’s vision, George Street, the city’s main strip, would be pedestrianised, with three grand squares along its 2.5 km, giving the city a sense of focus. It would be a Champs Élysées in Sydney.
At the famous Circular Quay, from where ferries depart, the hulking mass of the raised Cahill Expressway would go underground, opening up water views from the city. The Quay itself would be redeveloped into a grand square. The Western Distributor, a network of LA-style overpasses, would be buried to connect the CBD with the Barangaroo development, an old port that is being turned into residential complexes and parklands. Despite a warm initial reception from the public, Gehl’s plans still have to get past the roads lobby and government bureaucracy. And Sydney has a habit of undervaluing the contributions of Danes. Jørn Utzon was hounded from the country for giving the city its most distinctive icon – the Sydney Opera House.
Between 2006 and 2007, 37,000 Australians abandoned the barbies and moved abroad. There are 99,000 in the UK.
Despite its reputation for harsh immigration laws, 140,200 people, including 24,000 Kiwis, headed to Australia in 2007.
Sydney really only does two types of bar – top-end, or barn-like pubs stuffed with gaming machines. Forget about small, intimate bars for a drink. The situation bemuses visitors and frustrates locals, but come July, Sydney’s drinking landscape will be forever altered after two opposing characters unwittingly came together to change the archaic drinking laws.
At issue were the exorbitant costs and time involved in obtaining an alcohol licence – up to A$65,000 (€39,300) and 18 months. It ensured that only big business opened bars, and it was big business that ensured the laws stayed. But last year the city’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, introduced a bill aimed at making it easier for small bars to open.
Opposing her was John Thorpe, president of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Hotels Association, a powerful lobby group with deep pockets. Thorpe helped Moore’s campaign by simply opening his mouth. “We aren’t barbarians,” he told one newspaper, “but we don’t want to sit in a hole and drink Chardonnay and read a book. That’s not what Sydney wants.” He was wrong.
Thorpe’s comments galvanised Sydney (in rival Melbourne, things are already more liberal). The media backed Moore, and a grassroots campaign – Raise the Bar – soon kicked off, encouraging people to lobby their MP. The government caved in, slashing fees and approval times for licences and ditching a requirement for restaurants to serve food with alcohol. According to Raise the Bar organiser Jonathon Larkin, changes are afoot. “There are quite a lot of people now dusting off their old ideas or thinking of doing something.” And Sydney’s drinkers can thank Thorpe.
Boeing is to establish a branch of its Phantom Works advanced research and development unit in Australia, only the third outside the US. Phantom Works is the incubator for Boeing’s most creative projects, from stealth fighters to Nasa vehicles. The Australian arm, which will be based in Brisbane and Melbourne, will employ about 30 staff developing military and commercial technologies in collaboration with local research bodies. Boeing Australia president, Craig Saddler, says Boeing’s Australian operations are the group’s largest outside the US, with more than 4,000 staff and numerous subsidiaries, giving the company “critical mass” in the country.