Friday, November 30, 2007
Sydney: An Architectural Wasteland?

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating has described Sydney as an "architectural wasteland" saved only by its harbor. Do you agree?

Sydney is being choked to death by cars and cut off from its best asset, the harbor, by a freeway and rail link, said architect Jan Gehl, a renowned Danish urban designer who tries to revive the city.

Sydney was an ideal size for pedestrians, taking 12 minutes to walk across from east to west and 30 minutes south to north, noted the architect's plan. But pedestrian priority was low and there was a lack of cycling facilities, in spite of the city’s superb natural conditions for a strong cycle culture.

The city is regarded as one of the most naturally beautiful around the globe and has regularly been voted as one of the top destinations in international tourist polls. But a plan to make Sydney more people-friendly by found city streets were often in shadow due to high-rises, which formed concrete and glass canyons of high wind velocity, and that its open spaces were also bland, said a Reuters report.

"Sydney CBD (central business district) was filled up to the brim with car traffic 30-40 years ago. But this situation has remained unchallenged and unchanged ever since," said Gehl’s email. "Climate challenge, oil shortages and lifestyle changes will see most Western cities change from the car orientation of the 1950s to a much more sustainable and healthy agenda."

Sydney enjoys a "distinctive topography" with its grand harbor and undulating landscape providing "significant character", said a draft of Gehl's plan.

According to the report, Gehl will present the plan to the city council, which had commissioned it, on Monday. He has prepared similar studies for London, Copenhagen, Wellington, Stockholm, Rotterdam and Zurich. He said several cities such as Lyon, Copenhagen and Melbourne had improved their city centers to make them more attractive.

"We have found great things in Sydney CBD, but mainly at the edges and other aspects are not so remarkable," Gehl told Reuters.

Current harborside development will witness a 12-km walk along the foreshore from Woolloomooloo in the east, past the main ferry terminal of Circular Quay, to Pyrmont in the west. Sydney’s infrastructure sees 150,000 vehicles passing through the center and another 80,000 through its parklands, cutting the city off from the harbor.

"Circular Quay where the city does access the water is downgraded by a bulky ferry terminal and a likewise railway embankment as well as low quality retail," the draft said. "Darling Harbor is isolated, not only by closed frontages but also by an intersecting freeway."

Gehl said there were several ways for Sydney to reach a "new balance", citing a congestion charge on cars in London and Stockhol and Copenhagen's reduction of car parking spaces. His plan calls for Sydney to develop car free streets, shift transport hubs from the city center to its periphery and develop a low cost or free lightrail the length of the city.

Additionally, Gehl’s plan also necessitates the demolition of 2 major commuter routes: the western distributor freeway and the freeway and rail link above the ferry terminal.

"San Francisco had central freeways crumbling after the (1989) earthquake. They were removed and have not been replaced. The city is happily living with less traffic in the centre," Gehl concluded.

Sydney is a pretty nice tourist destination. But I do hope the territory’s government should take into consideration dramatic improvements that could boost general welfare and economy.

posted by Car Addict @ 6:31 PM  
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