Sydney – where’s the colour?

Last night I found myself driving through the Sydney CBD at 4am. It was a worthwhile drive as I discovered two things.

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1) No one-year-old can stay awake with the monotony of the 702ABC graveyard shift and street lights passing by, and
2) There are still people sitting on the Town Hall steps waiting for people at four in the morning.

Apart from those stunning discoveries, I took note of Sydney’s colour palette. If you ever get the chance to, don’t. We are a city bathed in light, imbued with a harbour and buried in trees, but once development gets a green light, that’s where the colour stops.

I see concrete… concrete for miles. Our buildings, our footpaths and our monuments are grey, nearly without exception. Some of our older buildings may be Sydney Sandstone – the art gallery, the museum, the QVB – but the years and the traffic leave so much of it a dreary, dull tone. We have so little public art that the only thing punctuating our passion for grey is the electric blue sky. But don’t worry, we’ve done away with that too. Sydney’s latest shopping destination, Westfield Sydney at Centrepoint, is such a cave that I feel lost as soon as I enter and adding to the claustrophobia, natural light seems like a memory.

If you follow me on Instagram you will know I have a love/hate thing with Sydney. My photos of our hot, dirty town are either critical or adoring.

What is it with this city? Why did we make the plaza in front of St Mary’s Cathedral completely paved, unusable space? Why is the Cahill Expressway (below) still standing and, for that matter, Harbourside in Darling Harbour?? As monstrosities go, that one literally saps your soul just walking past it.

The Cahill could never look as good as Jeffrey Smart made out

The Cahill could never look as good as Jeffrey Smart made out

I am feeling the effects of reading Delia Falconer’s book ‘Sydney‘ which provides countless metaphors and historical tales telling how our great city functions and, more intriguingly, how it malfunctions. It misfires socially, spacially and structurally, but we still wouldn’t give it up for anything, not even Melbourne.

We insist on ugliness when all around us is beauty. We glorify Kings Cross, our dingiest strip. We have tainted the harbour since day one of European settlement and nowadays we just slap cookie-cutter real estate over one-time toxic waste dumps. (Hello Breakfast Point!)

I am also grieving the loss of enormous Wynyard Park, now a small strip of grade about the size of three acres. Last week I stumbled upon a photo of how large this invaluable green space once was – as big as a three football fields.

Now, at lunch hour, as office workers pile in, you struggle to find a square metre of grass.

I am also peeved that when given massive opportunities to impress, our planners entirely opt out. The City West Link is one such example with four-metro high concrete walls. Some of these lifeless panels feature a metal sculpture laid over them – it could be a stimulating addition until you realise it’s repeated like a stamp on one hundred subsequent panels.

Recently, the bus depot at Balmain Road had a makeover. I travel past this corner often so was eager to see what design they came up with.

Have you seen Silverwater Prison? It looks five times better. And, as they are made of wire, at least you can see through the first two maximum security walls.

The bus depot is grooved concrete all the ways round. Lifeless. Thoughtless. Practical. Well, we need walls don’t we. Must protect the buses.

Concrete panels - adlib to fade

My wife hopes that the grooves are meant to represent something – corrugated iron roofs perhaps? I wish it was corrugated iron. A least that would rust and we wouldn’t have to look at any more soulless concrete.

Paying for your Tree-Change

Saw an article yesterday…

Families given $7,000 to leave Sydney

Riiiiight. Except people move to the cities and outer-urban areas for opportunities, not just the lure of good espresso and more schools to choose from.

Then there is the more moderate weather, the better health care resources, the beach…

Read the full story of the government’s latest cash-bonuses-as-social-engineering initiative.

Surely an attitude change would have to come first; like those perceptions that all folks in regional areas are short-sighted, uneducated or filled small-town busybodies and Fossey’s outlets.

However, other generalisations are based in fact.

People in regional areas of Australia tend to have broader accents, have the worn skin of years spent laboring in the sun and they more frequently wear shapeless fleece tracksuits in public.

So if you are planning on a tree-change to the outer-urban fringe, as several of my friends are, remember this:

1) Once you leave the urban property market, you may never be able to re-enter it.
2) If you’re moving to save money, and you only go an hour or two from the city, I doubt the relatively small savings on your cost of living and/or your mortgage will be worth the trade-off. This goes double if you are planning to commute from your now distant location.
3) The thrill of a move away from the crowded, over-priced, hectic lifestyle will eventually wear off and you may then regret leaving the diversity, opportunities and energy a city usually delivers.
4) People who love you will miss you.

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