November 19, 2019
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Michael Koziol
Date: 17 November 2019
Gabriel Metcalf, the Committee for Sydney’s recent recruit from San Francisco, spent much of his first year in the job listening to people complain about their own city.
“Everybody just stop whinging!” he joked to stakeholders at a drinks function following the think tank’s annual general meeting last month.
One of the recurring grievances? “So many people told me about how after the  Olympics, Sydney took a break from adding to infrastructure, from building, from moving forward – this so-called lost decade. So many people said that.”
This notion that Sydney squandered its post-Olympics glory – by failing to invest in transport, culture and amenity – is widely accepted. In a blistering editorial in 2006, the Sydney Morning Herald lamented former Labor premier Bob Carr had left NSW as “the sad state” and Australia’s “biggest loser”.
In an interview for The Sun-Herald’s new series on Sydney’s brand and reputation, Metcalf acknowledged it may have been a lost decade “or more”.
Barry O’Farrell swept to power in 2011 promising to “make NSW number one again”. On several counts this has happened: Sydney has returned to its rightful role as an economic powerhouse, cranes are everywhere, the city has its first metro line and soon the eastern suburbs light rail.
But at the same time, Sydney’s mojo still seems to be missing in action. O’Farrell’s lockout laws castrated the city’s nightlife, and Gladys Berejiklian is now trying to unscramble the egg. It was always more than just the lockouts, however. Nanny state regulations, noise-hating neighbours, heavy-handed police, unhelpful councils – Sydney ceded its reputation for fun and became lame.
Meanwhile, Melbourne was ascendant. It was growing faster, and is already bigger than Sydney depending on how you slice the population stats. Its premier Daniel Andrews mocked Sydney’s struggles, marketing his town as a place where you can do what you want, when you want. AFL thrived while NRL faltered. There can be little doubt that over the past 20 years, everything has gone Melbourne’s way.
“Unlike other cities we’ve just been selling the same story – it’s beautiful here,” says Michael Rodrigues, chair of the Night Time Industries Association. “Other cities around the world have moved on from ‘it’s beautiful’ – they’ve moved to ‘it’s sustainable’ or ‘this is an affordable city’.”
Sydney needs a psychological reboot. Perhaps the state government has recognised this with the recent changing of the guard at Destination NSW. Sandra Chipchase stood down as chief executive last month, two years before the end of her contract. The hunt is on for her replacement.
Rodrigues says fresher, younger faces have to take charge of shaping and promoting the city. For example, an “older generation” currently runs much of Sydney’s nightlife, he says, pointing to Merivale’s Justin Hemmes and Solotel’s Justine Baker.
“Beneath that is another layer of emerging hospitality leaders, and that’s where we’re focusing our efforts,” Rodrigues says.
Any period of adversity breeds resilience, creativity and determination. There is a sense Sydney is turning a corner and coming out of its rut – if only we can stop whinging and start acting.