Monday, 3 December 2007

More on improving Sydney

The Sydney Morning Herald has taken on Jan Gehl's report Public Spaces, Public Life for the City of Sydney with all the fervour of a religious crusade, which I have to admit makes the whole proposal less attractive to me. Anything the SMH favours I treat with almost automatic suspicion, as they tend to be cynically anti-Christian whenever they report or opine on religious affairs, and given to inaccuracy.

However the man himself talks sense. From the piece:

To do this you need a long-term plan. Two great acts would symbolise this change in thinking: to demolish the Cahill Expressway and train station that sever the city from its harbour (the trains then go underground); and to bury the Western Distributor, whose spaghetti-tangle throttles Darling Harbour and cuts it off from the lifeblood of the city.

Freed from these constricting bands, the city centre will breathe again and be open to its harbour. It will be a welcoming place for people from all over greater Sydney.

Meanwhile, there are other steps to take. Sydney needs a coherent, attractive, walkable north-south link. All great cities have such a street - think of the Champs-Elysees in Paris or the Ramblas in Barcelona. It could be George Street, the city's most historic street, linking the two great doorsteps of Circular Quay and Central Station. But who would dream of walking this great street, clogged as it is with buses and angry traffic?

But close it to vehicles, allowing only buses and bicycles, provide wider footpaths, canopies of trees, and three great public squares at Circular Quay, Town Hall and Central Station, and watch what will happen.

It becomes the great organising spine, with a network of vibrant lanes such as Angel Place and small plazas such as Regimental Square running off it.

As well as observing that the city is choked by the internal combustion engine, Jan Gehl notes the key symptoms of this, which is the near-absence of the very young and the very old from the city centre. Think: where in the city can you find a children's playground? And why, in its current choked state, would you take a child to play there?

Pete wondered in his comment on this entry whether Prof Gehl's vision was utopian; however it is worth noting that he has seen a similar transformation to the one he proposes take place in Copenhagen over the last 30 years.


Pete said...

Just a block away from my office there is this beautiful north-south pedestrian thoroughfare. It is rarely overcrowded and there is a plan to extend it even further north as time and development marches on.

People love it, and on the weekends there is a real hive of activity around it, without any need for retail therapy.

I think it is called Darling Harbour, though different bits of it each get their own names (King St Wharf, Cockle Bay, Pyrmont).

If they are going to shut down roads in the city, they should buy back the Eastern Distributor, and also the cross city tunnel. With one swift move, so much of the need for an easy transport solution to get from one end of the city to the other (or in my case from the north to the South East) above ground without filling the coffers of various tolling companies could disappear (and with all the liberated surface space they could invest in good public transport thoroughfares, though we wouldn't want a city that looks like Melbourne).

I personally like the western distributor. Because of it, the building next to mine has been designed to look like a boat, and a hotel I stayed at recently for work (which is about 500m from the office even though we didn't go to the office for the three days) actually overhangs the road. Oh well, silly me for calling things utopian.

On the other hand, the headlines about kids playing in the CBD streets, that seems more utopian, especially because they should be at school.

Gordon Cheng said...

I suppose he is talking about kids from St Andrew's Cathedral school!