The youthfulness of Sydney, Australia can be seen throughout its bustling neighborhoods and sprawling outer suburbs. From the gleaming new buildings sprouting up around the Central Business District to the fresh array of cafes and pubs squeezing into every bit of real estate in Bondi Beach, this relatively new city seems to be growing and shaping its own culture with every passing day. Its sunshine-baked beaches are always teeming with beautiful people, and its quaint restaurants regularly receive awards for delicious dishes. The citizens of Sydney seem to understand how to take full advantage of their extraordinary environment and climate.
With a lack of the historical sites and architecture one equates with cosmopolitan cities of Europe, Sydney is profoundly distinctive from its motherland of the United Kingdom. But the dilemma that Sydney faces (along with many other cities that were formed in the eighteenth century) is that it was designed around the newly emerging automobile. Although the potential for Sydney is huge, it seems the dependency on its citizens driving cars has greatly reduced the walkability of its streets.
The initial planning of the city around the automobile has exacerbated numerous issues that affect citizens’ daily life. The lack of a grid-system makes navigation treacherous for most: without the aid of a map one can easily end up walking in the opposite direction than one intended as streets can make drastic twists and turns, or simply change names, without any indication from signs. Signage is another big issue in Sydney; with a lack of uniform signs on street corners, and often a total absence of a street sign, finding one’s way around can seem impossible without a smartphone.
Sydney’s “suburbs,” or neighborhoods, are often described as bland and lacking the energy of other urban cities. Darling Harbor and Circular Quay are two highlights of the city, showcasing the famous Opera House and Harbor Bridge. But the journey in between the city’s suburbs is much less charming than one would hope. Even in artsy, hip areas like Surry Hills and Darlinghurst, finding four to five lane streets with zooming cars and far-between crosswalks is commonplace. The stretches of land one must traverse with only the sound of bus engines and views of windowless buildings and shutdown storefronts can persuade anyone to hail a cab or long for their automobile. This is especially significant because there are only a handful of train stops within the city, forcing commuters to take a second mode of transport in order to reach one’s destination. And even with the notably wide streets, there is a sweeping absence of bike lanes for those who opt out of driving or public transport. Bikes often take to the sidewalks to avoid accidents on the busy roads, which only clogs up the already-bustling sidewalks of many areas. Poorly lit streets at nighttime give pedestrians another reason to opt out of walking, as dark streets and alleyways glow with blue lighting to ward off drug users.
Although the outlook might look grim, the potential for Sydney to be revived with a stronger sense of quality and character is great. Australia is one of the world’s richest countries and residents pay particularly high taxes, which could be used immediately for installing more streetlamps, inserting bike lanes, and posting more legible street signs. In the long term, more public transport would make travelling simpler, and as the city continues to expand, the distance between suburbs will decrease. The charm of Sydney lies within its rough edges; blocks of posh neighborhoods seemingly left behind, crumbling ruins sharing walls with optimistic hotels: a throwback to the New York of decades past. Whatever one’s opinion of Sydney, its pull is undeniable: the complexity and mystery of a city not yet polished, the lure of finding beauty in an unexpected place.