Most historians, architects and town planners would agree that Sydney is one of the worst, if not the least planned cities in the world. Unlike Melbourne and Adelaide which were laid out in grand grid patterns with impressive broad thoroughfares, much of Sydney’s streets evolved from the routes of narrow cattle tracks. Over the past two centuries we have become slaves to this lack of colonial insight and much of the city’s development has been ad hoc and chaotic.
There are many other contributing factors, but the ongoing legacy appears to be a process of urban malaise followed by either radical renewal or at least the promise thereof. Sadly it’s the latter which appears to linger frustratingly for years as areas of the city that have fallen on hard times are touted for regeneration. The classic example in recent years is Oxford Street, Darlinghurst – once a lively strip of retail, restaurants, night clubs and gay culture. Those halcyon days have since long departed and with numerous vacant shops and endemic dilapidation, the area has hit a kind of rock bottom.
The past 15 years have seen a number of initiatives to revive the street, none of which have had any significant impact. The latest is a $200 million plan by the TOGA Group and Sydney fund manager AsheMorgan to develop an extensive mixed retail precinct. The plan includes some 1600 square metres of cultural and creative spaces designed to lure start-ups to the area. Let’s hope there are a few bucks devoted to the revegetation of Gilligan’s island and its restoration as one of the city’s most significant cultural icons.
Elsewhere in Sydney urban renewal is either on a furious charge forward as in the Zetland/Green Park neighbourhood or has permanently stalled with little hope of rejuvenation. Millions are currently being spent on the development of Central Station and the new Metro hub, but what of the actual rail gateway to the city. Take a trip from Newtown to Central via Redfern station and it’s like you are entering the South Bronx, circa 1975 or the set of Blade Runner III.
The bleak landscape of crumbling railway sheds combined with every patch of bare concrete anointed with the city’s least inspiring graffiti, are hardly the kind of visual welcome that a city like Sydney should extend. Those arriving by rail from interstate must wonder just what awaits them and even everyday commuters must dread that two to three minute journey through the apocalypse.
The State Rail authority, which owns much of the buildings and vacant land needs to get with the City Of Sydney Council for a much needed redevelopment of the eastern side of the line. One suggestion to conceal the gut wrenching ugliness would be to green the entire area with vines and other prolific foliage. If we can green an entire building as has been done at One Central Park, it should not be difficult to turn the Newtown/Central rail corridor into something that welcomes commuters into the CBD, rather than freaking them out. Forget about reclaiming half the golf course at Moore Park, Clover – turn your attention to beautification of the major commuter entrance to this city.
If you are about to enter the concrete jungle how about a few miles of real jungle to ease the pain. A green Sydney welcome to thousands of rail travellers everyday would be a huge morale booster and could even become a major tourist attraction. With hundreds of trees planted wildlife could be attracted and bird spotting would be infinitely preferable to the current onslaught of mindless graffiti. Even a minor improvement to the current eyesore would be a step in the right direction.