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Nice little write up, how another city sees Australia

A lesson from
Sydney and Melbourne
In most instances, Australia's cities of Sydney and Melbourne are an example of what can be achieved - from preserving heritage to safety, security and cleanliness. But the bureaucracy can be trimmed down, writes Neil Fraser.


May 15, 2006
By Neil Fraser

FLYING from Auckland to Sydney, a short article in the Qantas flight magazine caught my eye. Entitled Built-up concerns, it related to a recent book by a certain Alain de Botton, who has evidently authored a number of books, his latest being The Architecture of Happiness.

The book apparently focuses on relationships between people and the buildings that they live and work in and those they travel to see. The article quotes De Botton as stating that, "We're vulnerable to what places around us look like … This is an uncomfortable thought because most of the world is an ugly place."

Interestingly, the article lays the blame for this state of affairs not at the door of the architectural profession but at that of engineers: "Engineers are apparently to blame for much of the architectural horror inflicted on our society … [as] … from the 1950s to the 1970s architects were influenced by the functional design of engineers."

I am not sure what is supposed to have happened on either side of those two decades except that, after a 14-year construction period, the Sydney Opera House was completed in the 1970s, which, while designed by an architect, certainly cannot be included on anyone's lists of "architectural horrors". The combined forces of the design and the location of this remarkable building initially resulted in a constant stream of visitors to view it.

However, that stream of visitors has also resulted in the city increasingly responding by using every opportunity to showcase the natural beauty of its setting, so that, today, tourists flock to experience the city itself, with the Sydney Opera House merely being one of the "must-sees". And Sydney has many "must-sees" and "must-experience".

There is a variety of waterfront experiences, from the brash and busy Darling Harbour to the even busier Sydney Cove and Circular Quay with its ferries, cruise boats, water taxis and the Sydney Harbour Bridge - the biggest single span arch ever built - to the colourful displays, smells and tastes of the Fish Market. A great public transport system includes the Sydney Explorer with its 26 stops; jump-on-and-off distinctive red tourist buses; the regular commuter bus service; electric light rail trams in certain parts of the city; and the futuristic CBD monorail whizzing five metres over the streets between buildings, which reminds me of Dan Dare comics of 50 years ago.


Preserved heritage
Beautifully preserved heritage buildings are all in everyday use, such as the 1866 general post office (now a hotel), the 1869 town hall, the 1849 natural history museum, the massive 1898 Queen Victoria building (now elegant and very expensive shopping) and dozens - no - scores, more. Many sit comfortably between modern skyscrapers that seem to be increasingly challenging the 305m high telecommunications tower, which itself sits on a 14-storey building.
Historic areas like The Rocks offer funky retail and eateries and a superb weekend market. And there are lots of other markets; wide, clean pavements; treed, green parks; and a palpable energy. There are 4 million inhabitants in the city, which is 3 850 square kilometres in size. It was established in 1788 and is described in a city map as "a confident city - very much alive and vigorously determined to make the most of its happy circumstances".

I like that - it is a good summation of a great city. An urban designer who used to work in Sydney gave me the only downsides, from his point of view. They were, firstly, that it is a very expensive city to live in and, secondly, its development is largely in the hands of the private sector with little if any political will coming from the public sector.

The flight from Sydney to Melbourne is an hour-and-a half. It is a very different city - younger, established in 1835; smaller, with a population of 3,4 million. It is certainly not brash, but rather urbane and showcases some iconic buildings, two of which are in the final stages of construction. The first is the Eureka Tower, the world's tallest residential building at 300 metres, with 570 luxury flats spread over 88 floors, and the second is a new railway station, or rather an undulating roof set on a space frame construction that encloses or wraps around the train platforms.

It is the antithesis of the Flinder's Street beaux arts style railway station on the opposite side of town, from where the first steam train departed in 1854. The main form of transport throughout the city, however, is electric tram. They were first inaugurated in 1889 and today have a rail network of more than 500 kilometres.

Melbourne is a clean city with beautiful, wide pavements; it is a green city with lots of trees and parks, a cultural city with great museums, theatres and galleries, and a sporting city with the Rod Laver Tennis arena with its 700 ton retractable roof next door to the MCG, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the huge Telstra Dome sports and entertainment centre on the opposite side of town.


Modern city
It is also a city that combines beautiful heritage buildings with very modern high-rises and sports a slick waterfront development on the Yarra River.
And then there is Federation Square. This new city public space started life with a A$70-million (about R343-million) price tag and ended at A$500-million. Ouch! In The Iconic Building, the Enigma of Power, Charles Jencks describes the controversial square as a "fractal monument to urban diversity. Celebrating the centennial federation of eight different states, it goes beyond American essays in architectural diversity by fragmenting the existing city materials and colours - sandstone, steel and glass - into self-similar shapes that are readable at various scales.

"The layout is a superb transformation of the alleyways one finds in medieval cities. It mediates between the two opposite realities of the site, the grid of the modern city to one side and the fractal forms of the river and trees to the other."

My map of the Melbourne centre city is dotted with the following information: "rated the world's most liveable city"; "Australia's leader in commerce, sport, fine food and the arts"; "some of the world's finest 19th century townscapes"; "Australia's most cosmopolitan city, with over 110 ethnic groups"; "2 000 restaurants and cafes representing 50 national cuisines" (I wonder what the other 60 ethnic groups eat - McDonald's?); "the third largest Greek city in the world"; "a Chinatown dating to the gold rush of the 1850s"; "the bayside city with a hundred beaches"; "a city of obsessive gardening"; "the most Victorian of all large cities"; "one of the world's greenest cities"; "the largest trading port in the southern hemisphere"; "Australia's cultural centre"; "a city of non-stop creative and artistic endeavours".


Perth
This city has a very nice feel; it has good scale and is clearly very liveable. I guess that's the best I can do, but I was there for only five hours. I did undertake short visits to three other cities, all located in Western Australia - Fremantle, Gosnells and Perth - it has been a busy week - but that's for another time. Except to say that Perth is experiencing the construction of an extension to its rail system, rather like the Gautrain.
Looking at the building site of one of the new stations, I realised that we just haven't fully comprehended the enormity of the disruption that the construction of the Gautrain is going to create. The City of Perth has been extremely tough in what it has been prepared to allow, forcing the State to go underground, irrespective of cost, where an above-ground train would have negatively affected their city. And the below-ground work is all by tunnel boring 11 metres below the city so that normal city life can continue.

I can't help wondering whether Joburg's City council has been allowed to be as dictatorial when it comes to our city.

Some general comments to close, and then I am heading off to catch my plane. I found it interesting that city councillors in almost all Australian cities are not elected on a political ticket and that party politics within councils is frowned on. On the other hand, accountability is often very low as public indifference means that persons are voted into office literally by a handful of votes.


Bureaucracy
The degree of bureaucracy in the public sector appears unreasonably high - a project that I looked at in Western Australia was made public in 2001 and still has not got to planning approval stage. It is still working its way through a massive consultation process. A developer I spoke to in Auckland, where bureaucracy is even more rampant, won't work in certain areas or cities because of the excessive delays and the uncertainty of the outcome of the process.
Consultation on some major projects in Johannesburg is nothing better than a sham but here they go to the other extreme and it would be good for us to learn from this and to find the balance.

While I was delighted to see the degree to which heritage buildings are retained in all the cities I visited, some heritage authorities appear to be overly bureaucratic and petty, seemingly quite prepared to jeopardise projects just to demonstrate their power. At the end of the day this has often resulted in a loss of the bigger vision - and heritage itself ultimately suffers.

Street cleaners and police are seldom in evidence but streets are really clean and the cities are not only safe but there is a complete absence of any concern for personal safety and security. A South African living here commented to me that the cleanliness was not due to extra care or equipment but rather to the fact that people just did not litter.

In regard to safety, he said that there was a healthy respect for law and order and perpetrators of the occasional crime were apprehended speedily and dealt with. Certainly on a number of occasions while I was having a late night coffee at a pavement café I saw many women, of all ages, walking alone or with friends and it reminded me that we in Johannesburg do still live in a dysfunctional society.

With the many strides we have taken in the past 12 years, we still have a long way to go before we can live in a normalised society. Be that as it may, I'm greatly looking forward to coming home today.

So, as they say around here, "G'day, mate",

Neil

http://www.joburg.org.za/citichat/2006/may15_citichat15.stm
 

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Galactic Ruler
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Awesome find, that's rather interesting. Alot of those South African cities can be rather dangerous by comparison.

It amuses me that they pick up on the over-managed state of our councils. It would be fantastic to cut some of the red-tape.
 

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Tremendous
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We should really be extremely proud of our cities. After travelling to many cities in the world now Australian cities are by far the safest, cleanest and friendliest cities (with the best looking women ;))

Not say they are perfect but in todays society its as close as your going get.

So why am I in London again?
 

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Tremendous
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Avatar said:
London has its advantages too!
Yeah I know, otherwise I wouldn't be here. But there are many times when an Aussie asks himself why am I here. This statement usually comes out after seeing something Australian on TV, talking about home or after quite a few warm beers.
 

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if you don't like london, stop living there.........
 

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Tremendous
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I never said I didn't like living here, otherwise I wouldn't be here. Its hard to explain if you haven't lived here for an extended amount of time. Its like a love hate relationship. And when your freezing cold and you see a picture of people having a bbq by the pool or going to the beach on TV you wish you were there, and trust me so do most of Londoners.

If you enjoy your life in your home city then there is simply no place like home.
 

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well you have the option then......

and judging from your previous posts, you only said you were in london for the money
 

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I don't quite think your getting my point. Its about being homesick, people get it when they spend long periods away from home, its not uncommon.

I am sure I will miss things about London when I get home but hey what can I do?

I could come home but I want to experience the world outside the little bubble of Australia. Doesn't mean I don't miss that bubble at times.

Money is one reason why I am in London. There are other advantages too.
 

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yer i stamped you down on my list somewhere
 

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Living overseas or spending anytime over there at all is an awesome thing. Only once you have done it do you realise just how good we have it. Little things you take for granted every day you soon notice when you don't have them anymore.

Blaming the engineers? I find that kinda amusing since its all nice to have a good looking building but it has to be possible to build it, and once its built we don't want it to fall down. I believe the Opera House took so long partly because it was very difficult to build? Its easier to draw something on paper than to actually build it in three dimensions with real materials.
 
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