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The perpetual blue sky, the harbour, the stunning beaches, the bushland humming with wildlife… Sydney’s natural beauty is relentless. The city bewitches its citizens, who react by prancing to the beach with a cappuccino or lounging in a café with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand. Sydney is showing off. Again.

The outdoors lifestyle – half of the city is green space – has created a relaxed vibe. This counterbalances the angst that goes with being the economic capital of Australia, and generating over AU$60bn (€40bn) each year. The sense of openness has attracted Lebanese, Greeks and other migrant groups; a third of Sydney’s inhabitants were born overseas.

Its good looks and cosmopolitanism come at a price for Sydney’s residents – the cost of housing is high. And apart from house prices, the biggest whinge is transport. The public system is unreliable and incapable of smoothly connecting this sprawling city; the major roads are clogged with cars on bad roads. Transport experts estimate it will cost up to $7.8bn (€6bn) over the next 15 years to fix. Getting on a bike isn’t easy either – there are few cycle paths and, frankly, it is tiring riding around a hilly town.

Despite its prettiness, Sydney is a former penal colony and still has an edginess. Local council corruption scandals regularly flare up, and punters open the likes of Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque (a club named after the drug dealer Warren Lanfranchi, who was shot dead in a nearby alley by a crooked cop). While Art Deco and old workman’s cottages lace the city, Sydney’s modernist architecture has been labelled ugly by prominent figures. Ed Blakeley, an authority on urban planning and design, says there is a lack of a 30-year long-term vision of how to turn things around in Sydney. A metropolitan plan for Sydney released in 2005 has also found many local critics. But does Sydney care? Nah. It’s off to the beach.

Sydney metrics

Population: 4.2 million.

International flights: 49 international destinations are served out of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith. As well as the domestic network, the city is well catered to LA and London.

Crime: murders, 57; all break-ins 29,804 (2006).

State education: there are around 920 state schools in Sydney. Critics say the public system is underfunded and that private schools are costly in comparison worldwide. There are six major universities.

Health care: the health-care system is good, with a mixture of public and private services. A government health survey in 2005 found around one in 10 Sydney-siders had difficulties accessing health care.

Sunshine: annual average, 2,568 hours.

Temperature: in January (summer) the average temperature is 23C, in July 12C.

Wired: state government has put out tenders for free Wi-Fi in commercial hubs throughout Sydney.

Tolerance: ethnic tensions on Cronulla beach exploded into riots in 2005, but Sydney is generally a tolerant city. It has a large gay community.

Drinking and shopping: there are a number of establishments open past 01.00, but it is more likely to be a trashy pub in the red-light district of Kings Cross or a one-off bar in the suburbs, than a cool, quiet bar. There are numerous convenience stores.

Transport: Sydney’s public transport situation is dismal. It is plagued by congestion and poor bus and rail services. Cab-drivers lack knowledge of the city.

Local media: the city has three major dailies – The Sydney Morning Herald, a middle-class broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph, a tabloid, and The Australian, a conservative national paper. There are three commercial TV networks and two government broadcasters.

International media: a wide range of publications are available.

Green space: 91 per cent of people live within 800 metres of open space.

Access to nature: an impressive 49 per cent of the Sydney region is made up of national parks, state forests, regional parks, nature reserves and recreational areas.

Environmental initiatives: needs to clean up its act. Electricity use is up. Only 37 per cent of municipal waste is recycled. An NSW report revealed that 1,600 people die each year in Sydney from air pollution.

Monocle metrics: runs in the Botanical Gardens, lunches at Icebergs, business dinners at Longrain, SBS, good apartments with views over Rushcutters Bay, Potts Point and weekends up at Whale Beach. Not much to dislike here.

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