http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/11/ ... 06269.html
Welcome to the CBD: all arteries, no pulseCity centre chaos … a typical analysis argues that "Sydney is actually a wonderful city … but the quality of the city centre has vast room for improvement".
Venture into the the heart of Sydney and you'll find it is lacking ticker. Urban Affairs Editor Catharine Munro launches a Herald investigation into what is wrong with the CBD.
SYDNEY is a trophy wife. Like her smug husband, we bask in the glory of association and smooth over the rough spots.
Sydneysiders struggle with their glamorous, sparkling city.
Catch the bus across town, but not if you are in a hurry. A brisk walk would probably be faster.
Walk a few bus or train stops to lose weight. But rug up against the wind tunnels and the deep shade thrown by our skyscrapers.
Meet a friend for a drink in town. But do not expect to hear each other talking.
Pop out for a sandwich in Hyde Park. But expect to spend most of your lunch hour waiting to cross the road to get there.
Sydney's streets are so overwhelming that it is often easier to burrow underground to eat, as the president of the NSW branch of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Deborah Dearing, points out.
"Sydney is actually a wonderful city and has extraordinary potential for being a nice place," says Dearing, a former senior government planner. "But the quality of the city centre has vast room for improvement."
Street-level traffic makes Sydney's centre difficult to enjoy, she says, calling for changes to attract the old and young and make tourists enjoy the trip to the Opera House, not just the destination.
In a series this week looking at the CBD's failings, the Herald considers how we can accentuate its attractions and make them easier to navigate while unpicking the ugly bits of the urban fabric.
Often compared with Manhattan, Sydney's CBD is naturally constrained by water. But many of the challenging features were woven in decades, if not centuries, ago. Even in the nascent years of the 19th century, authorities could not keep pace with developers.
"Sydney just developed pretty randomly in the first few decades because nobody thought it was going anywhere. It was just a convict dump, really," says City of Sydney historian Dr Shirley Fitzgerald.
First was George Street, built to allow settlers to pass through the bush from the harbour all the way to where Central Station is now. Along with most of the city centre, "it probably follows bullock drays and indigenous tracks," Fitzgerald says.
Later came the crowded mish-mash of Young and Alfred streets behind Circular Quay. Now among the most plum addresses in the city, they evolved where there was a bit of dry ground when the waterfront was still a mangrove swamp. Main streets such as Pitt were no better planned but occurred where rows of buildings went up, Fitzgerald says. Unlike Melbourne's famous grid, nothing is really straight or parallel, but instead "determined by common use".
Surveyors tried to bring order to Sydney in the 1830s but by then the place was "fairly messy".
Planners have always been trying to keep up with the city's wheelers and dealers. Witness the area around Town Hall. Desperate to be as far away as possible from the other seat of government on Macquarie Street, the city fathers won approval to build on top of a cemetery and opened the council chambers in 1869, Fitzgerald says.
They plonked the sandstone monument right in the middle of York Street, conveniently close to their market-trading constituents, but destroying the best-laid plans for an ecclesiastical district. St Andrews' spires were suddenly facing into an empty square instead of onto York Street.
Town Hall's location also turned one of the most important thoroughfares, from Kings Cross to Darling Harbour, into a dog's leg. Park Street and Druitt Street do not line up comfortably. Too bad that it creates a deadly traffic challenge for pedestrians negotiating buses these days.
The City of Sydney lacked a permanent town planner for years, to little outcry.
Now the well-regarded Michael Harrison has been appointed, after what the chief planner from 1991 until 1996, John McInerney, describes as a "desperate" search that took more than a year.
"We have always seen it as the most important position in the city," says McInerney, a councillor since 2004. The most challenging part of Harrison's job will be dealing with traffic rules, McInerney predicts.
Harrison faces the political and diplomatic challenge of trying to get everyone to get along.
Sydney's rules are set by at least five distinct organs of state and local government: the City of Sydney Council, the Roads and Traffic Authority, the NSW Department of Planning, State Rail and Sydney Buses.
Forging a new alliance with the Roads Minister, Eric Roozendaal, and the Transport Minister, John Watkins, is crucial, McInerney believes.
One feature of the CBD that has gone but is acutely missed by romantic urbanites is the network of hundreds of laneways. They made Sydney less stratified than Melbourne, but got swallowed up by the likes of Harry Seidler's Australia Square when Sydney's 150 metre height restriction was dropped in the late 1950s.
Ironically, the one place where laneways within large blocks have been re-etched is World Square, further down George Street.
Durand's Alley was once the home to pimps and prostitutes. Its legacy continues: it has been identified as the most dangerous part of the CBD in a new map of the city's crime hotspots.
As Lord Mayor, Clover Moore is keen to improve the relationship between Sydney and its residents. Consultation shows they want a 24-hour city: "affordable spaces for creative people", "a city with a soul", safety and a winding back of property prices, culture but no grit. Are the two mutually exclusive?
More unanimous is the call to get rid of the car. Developers, bus drivers and planners all agree that it is time to put up a big red no-stopping sign up for cars, at least in some main streets.
Jan Gehl, an urban planner engaged by the City of Sydney, who specialises in making cities more attractive to pedestrians, says vehicles should lose their priority and even be banned from some streets.
Dearing says: "Maybe it's time Sydney bit the bullet, restricting vehicles … I personally don't think that making the city attractive to pedestrians is an impediment to growing its role as an international powerhouse."