Sydney struggles with growing pains

Sydney is regularly voted one of the world's best cities by travel magazines, but for many Sydneysiders the allure of its beautiful harbour and beaches is fading as they struggle with urban sprawl and congestion.

Some urban planners say Sydney is like a supermodel on drugs great to look at but difficult to live with.

Frustration with living in Sydney has many residents feeling their harbour city has become aggressive and rude.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper was inundated last month with angry letters complaining that Sydney was ruder than Paris and its road rage was worse than Italy.

"Having lived here all my life I agree this city has become increasingly rude, aggressive, arrogant and self-centred," wrote Sydneysider Kel Joaquin-Byrne.

Sydneysiders complain of daily traffic snarls that can gridlock parts of the city, the high cost of road tolls, routinely late trains, hospitals that struggle to cope with more and more patients, worsening air pollution from cars, a rising cost of city living and lack of affordable housing.

Even former prime minister Paul Keating has labelled his hometown an ugly city, ruined by rapacious property developers who have constructed apartment blocks that resemble "egg crates" to house the growing population.

A benchmark report on Sydney this year began with the headline: "A city in love with its own image."

"Sydney is often described as the most deeply superficial of towns. A party town so enamoured with its postcard-perfect imagery that reality rarely gets an invite," it said.

The "Essential Sydney" report by Sydney University's Planning Research Centre found that reality has been biting Sydney for decades, resulting in declining economic growth, poor infrastructure and rising traffic congestion and pollution.

The report expressed concern on Sydney's future ability to support its population, now around 4 million, but expected to increase by 1.1 million by 2031.

The new arrivals will come from elsewhere in Australia as well as migrants who see Sydney as offering the best opportunities.

"Consolidation is helping to slow the spread of our environmental excesses...(but) Sydneysider's consumption of energy and water in particular are running at a rate beyond which they can be replenished," said the report.

It said Sydneysiders disposed of 1.1 tonnes of waste per person in landfills each year, making them per-capita one of the world's worst generators of waste.

Unplanned urban sprawl

Despite its vast empty outback, Australia is one of the world's most urbanized nations, with 85 per cent of its 20 million people living in cities and towns along the coast.

The nation's biggest city, Sydney, began life as a penal colony with a row of tents to house English soldiers and convicts. As free white settlers arrived they spread west towards the city's open plains, settling along winding streams.

The lack of an urban plan saw the modern city grow, fuelled by waves of immigration, along rail and road ribbons stretching out from the harbour like fingers.

Major suburban shopping centres arose in the 1960s and 1970s to cater to the spreading population, robbing Sydney of an urban heart and a collective identity.

Sydney today is a collection of dislocated suburban villages connected by transport ribbons which, due to lack of investment in recent decades, have become the city's clogged arteries.

"Demand for travel is growing faster than population growth," said the "City of Cities" report. "In the last 20 years, Sydney's population grew by 21 per cent and the number of cars by 58 per cent."

Unreliable public transport and road congestion are the top complaints by Sydneysiders, with 70 per cent of all trips made in cars. Rail represents just four per cent.

In an attempt to solve Sydney's problems, the "City of Cities" plan envisages five "inner cities," spreading resources to new demographic centres in the west and south.

It envisages 640,000 new homes in Sydney by 2031. The housing strategy incorporates "active transport," walking and cycling, with two-thirds of new housing within 800 metres of a train station or 400 metres of a bus stop.

Source: China Daily

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