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Mix cows, six thousand people, truckloads of imported turf and lots of yummy food and you get the first ever Breakfast on the Bridge. Me and Ru Jih were lucky enough to score tickets to the event, where Sydneysiders were invited to picnic on the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge – closed to traffic – as part of Crave Sydney.

(Click on the images to enlarge.)

No end in sight... people queue to get onto the bridge

No end in sight... people queue to get onto the bridge

On the way up

On the way up

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Watch out Sydney: more public relations creations of Events NSW are coming our way.

This time round, we’re being asked to Crave Sydney — incorporating such interesting events as, for example, eating breakfast on the bridge. I do indeed crave eggs benedict together with caffè latte for breakfast but I must say I tend to prefer it sans car exhaust. And apparently, we will also be introduced to the “world’s funniest island”. No idea what that is — but could it be a reference to how funny it is that this island continent spans all of 4000 km from east to west, yet we can’t seem to get excited about anything happening in my own backyard? (The Crave Sydney website doesn’t have anything substantive yet as of writing — but I’m not holding my breath.)

Then there’s the ferry-hopping. Fort Denison does have some of the world’s best views, but there’s only so much you can do on an island on which you can walk from one end to the other in about two minutes.

Apparently, January this year was “Vivacity Sydney” (I didn’t even realise that existed), but I do recall that Vivid Sydney was on in June (although nothing there was particularly attractive): take a look at the master events calendar 2009.

(Just putting it out there: these “master events” are probably designed purely to lure tourists into the hole that is Sydney, but surely they could find something that excites both residents and non-residents?)

And finally, to cap off this exciting year in Sydney, we have, according to this master events schedule, Rupert Bunny to look forward to in November:

Rupert Bunny

Unfortunately, no, it’s actually this guy.

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Minimal funds to fix Sydney congestion: no surprises here, but what will Sydney do? We can’t just sit here while Melbourne steams ahead. And what needs fixing about the Perth-Fremantle railway? When I was over there, I thought Transperth was almost a model of perfection…

13 May 2009 | No comments

I don't think it's time for me to give up my day job yet.

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The metallic screeches of train wheels as a tin can enters the ever-popular Airport Line tunnel. The smell of salt as you lean over the peeling railings of a Sydney Ferry. A smattering of the day’s rubbish swirling outside closed shop-fronts early in the evening.

We enjoy the daily Sydney grind. We hope you do too.

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I was going with Ru Jih to Darling Harbour last week (she hasn’t been there before!) when we ran into the Earth from Above exhibition, a series of breathtaking aerial photographs displayed alongside the pathway from Haymarket to Darling Harbour (adjacent to the so-called “Urban Stream”). Photographed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the idea behind the exhibition is to focus attention on sustainable development, and short factoids about the impact of human development accompanied the photographs.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that at Darling Harbour, or for that matter, in Sydney – I was nicely surprised to come by it. Given my recent comments on how Sydney feels like a doughnut, hollow in the centre, compared with Melbourne, I’d have to say this is a positive step forward, in bringing some sense of “culture” back into the city. Danielle didn’t seem to think so; on hearing about it, he commented, “this would be high culture… what about the culture that develops naturally. the vibe of a city”.

I guess you can’t please everyone. I just wished that I had known about it before – but it’s there till 26 December if you’re interested in seeing it.

In any case, Darling Harbour will have to wait another day; we used up all our time looking at the pictures.

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Sydney and Parramatta – the London and Paris of the Great Southern Land? A laughable proposition by any measure.

As part of the Sydney Design festival (the existence of which I was not aware of before this event – it’s rather telling that I know more about the festivals currently on in Melbourne than in my home city), the Lord Mayors of Sydney and Parramatta (Clover Moore and David Borger respectively), together with three panelists, presented their visions of their respective cities before a minuscule audience. I went with Daniel, and he has already made some comments.

Firstly, the concept of Parramatta as a city distinct from Sydney, as a city with a distinct role, culture and vision, was foreign to me. I had known that Parramatta was growing in importance as a centre of government and business, and I had viewed it as a regional centre, but I had always perceived Parramatta (along with Liverpool), as being merely regional centres of the larger entity known as Sydney. Borger’s vision of Parramatta being the complement of Sydney, as being the hub of western Sydney – perhaps inspired by self-interest as he is the Mayor of Parramatta – made little sense, for economies of scale and the innate attraction of the larger city centre (Sydney), will deprive Parramatta of the fuel required to make it truly great. Perhaps the problem is in the definition of “city”. As Daniel noted, the two mayors’ speeches focused almost exclusively on inner-city living – on the development of the City of Sydney and the City of Parramatta – but hey, Sydney is more than that. What Sydney (as a metropolitan area) doesn’t need is for such a limited vision restricted to two central business districts and their immediate surroundings. That is Sydney’s problem – a fragmented, localised approach that lacks coherent oversight. Fortunately, at least in Borger’s case, he recognised the need that the existing governance structure of local governments in Sydney is problematic. Sydney is a whole, living, breathing organism – and it deserves an authority with the jurisdiction of the entire greater metropolitan area.

My other criticism relates to the Mayors’ visions themselves. Putting aside the fact that clearly neither of the two Mayors could be bothered coming up with decent speeches, the visions (presented as a Utopian vision of Sydney in 2030) lacked generality. We heard plans for a theatre here, the demolition of a carpark there, and the specifics of the environmentally friendly solutions in a building somewhere else, but there was no underlying context in which to place these ideas. You walked out of the talks feeling as if Sydney’s going to be going on with the business of just getting things done by 2030, but I left the Town Hall without the excitement that I’m living in a city that has a goal: a united goal that all Sydneysiders will be proud to take part in, a goal that will cause Sydney, as a whole, to shine brightly. The motto was that Sydney was to become a city of villages (ignoring the fact that that is simply copying Melbourne’s reputation) but there wasn’t any sense of that either. It’s true that large visions can often be a panacea for having real concrete plans, but if done correctly, it will motivate the people of Sydney to take ownership of their city’s destiny.

Update: An extract from David Borger’s speech can be found on the SMH site: here

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Let’s see if all this development will inject some life back into the city, given my previous comments. The swing towards non-office buildings is admirable, although shopping doesn’t still define a city – I wonder what will differentiate these shopping centres from every other shopping centre that’s already there? Also, there’s no mention of how long it’ll take to finish building it all – but at least with commercial developments, you don’t have 4 year election cycles that cause short-sighted scrapping of projects.

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I promised to write a little more thoughtfully about my trip down in Melbourne, but I’ve been a little lazy and it’s been over a week. Apparently, the longer you leave it, the rosier your memories become, so I may very well be extolling non-existent virtues of Melbourne.

So, the hard question first up: is Melbourne better than Sydney? In some respects, yes. Just like this Heckler heckles, Sydney’s CBD is becoming increasingly hollowed out by the dearth of things to do in the heart of the business district — this is none more evident than in the area just south of Circular Quay. (For those of you who don’t know me well, the ample abundance of clubbing does not count.) Melbourne, on the other hand, lives up to its reputation as being a “network of villages” — pockets of life are sewn together by a carpet of restaurants and cafés that spill out into the street, odd pieces of street furniture, often slightly eccentric, and the well-designed public spaces that make you want to appreciate the city’s beauty at night. Clearly, it hasn’t worked everywhere though; the Docklands was something I was looking forward to see, but although the sleek, modern buildings complemented the smooth tranquility of the waterfront, it was devoid of life — but perhaps it was just the wrong night for that. During the day, Melbourne’s full of the hustle and bustle that you’d expect to find in a city that’s confident of itself and how it can make its own way without blandly copying what others have done before — it’s easy to get lost just wandering around the shopping centres (Melbourne makes shopping centres sexy) and the alleyways that the city is famous for.

The other thing that I’ll comment on is the transport, and for this I’ll drop the rosy language and get a little more objective. Trams are a fantastic idea, but I can see why it might not work so well in Sydney. Trams steam ahead without being forced to start and stop and start and stop by the rest of the traffic on the road (buses in Sydney make me think of priority inversion), but in order to achieve this, you need dedicated tram lanes — Melbourne’s main streets are noticeably wider than than those in Sydney (say, compared with George, Pitt and Castlereigh Streets) and thus you can afford to give an entire lane to trams. If you’re hopping around the CBD, you don’t really have to walk a lot because of how the lines are set up — which is how public transport should be — hop on, hop off at will. Trains were bewildering though. I don’t understand how you can run a train system where you can get from A to B by train, but there’s no way to get from B to A without taking a tortuous route (the station staff just told us to catch a tram instead). Seemingly obvious (to tourists at least) routes between popular stations just don’t exist, and if you’re just hopping around the CBD, you’re best off pretending the trains don’t exist. Southern Cross station, however, is one impressive piece of architecture, and it just shows how Sydney has fallen too far in favouring utilitarian function over form.

Will I be visiting again? Yes, definitely, if I’m after a break in civilisation (as opposed to a break with rocks and trees and things), Melbourne is the place to be. As you probably noticed, we spent the entire trip basically in the CBD — next time, I’d be sure to have a look a little further out, and see what gems lie outside the (attractive) stainless steel and glass jungle.

Lots of photos: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

P.S. Wikitravel is quite useful and clearly contains tips from everyday locals who know best: see, for example, the Melbourne entry.

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So did you turn off the lights for an hour on March 31? I certainly did, and felt all the better for it… and it appears from the statistics that quite a few Sydneysiders thought the same way (although they compared the electricity consumption for the hour with the consumption averaged over the last three years for that hour… I think the statistics work is just a little dodgy).

I took it as an opportunity to go out to the backyard and try out the binoculars people got me for my 21st 🙂 and what I saw did make me wonder what kind of amazing things await me if I (ever) decide to head further out from the city. One annoying thing that I haven’t worked out is how to use the binoculars properly with my glasses on…

I’ll upload my pics sometime soon, but for the time being, there’s the Flickr group for Earth Hour, and a screensaver with some personality.

Update: My Earth photos are here. Looking at how small the moon turned out, I can’t believe I forgot I have a telephoto lens.

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