February 6, 2020
Source: The Australian
Author: Milanda Rout
Date: 6 February 2020
Sydney is undergoing its biggest transformation in decades, with billions being spent on public transport, the arts, retail and commercial developments as it fights back against an image of being a dull, car-clogged metropolis.
With the opening of the $2.9bn light rail, the pedestrianisation of George Street and the reported $16.8bn metro rail project, plus spending of $344m on the extension of the Art Gallery of NSW and a $300m revamp of the Sydney Opera House, the city is taking its first steps towards transformation.
Add in the revitalisation of the Circular Quay precinct, $23.1bn in development along the light rail track, a boom in luxury retail, and the lifting of the much-maligned lockout laws, and Sydney is finally making a comeback 20 years after the high of the Olympic Games.
The transformation of Sydney is the subject of a special issue of WISH magazine, out on Friday with The Australian. Leading figures — Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Sydney Opera House chief executive Louise Herron, Merivale chief executive Justin Hemmes, Lord Mayor Clover Moore, and Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand — talk about what they are doing to revive the city.
Ms Herron, who is overseeing the $300m revamp of the Opera House, believes the evolution of the national icon is being matched by the evolution of the city itself.
“I do have a sense at the moment, subject to the fires, that Sydney is in the process of reinventing itself, adapting, adopting a new identity,” she says.
“I think the future of Sydney is looking good.”
While the revamp is under way, the most recent benchmarking report by the Committee for Sydney shows the city has a way to go, ranking it 15th in the world.
Sydney is outside the “Big Seven” most influential metropolises of London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and Seoul.
Committee for Sydney chief executive Gabriel Metcalf says the light rail and turning part of George Street into a boulevard were a step in the right direction to making the city more globally competitive.
“My point of view is that Sydney is one of the greatest cities in the world today but it could be even better,” Mr Metcalf says.
“There are issues we need to work on. Sydney is seen as lacking cultural breadth. We are not a world leader on climate change and Sydney is more car-dependent than the competition.
“And the city is a very expensive place to live.”
The Premier argues that her government’s focus on infrastructure — including the $2.9bn light rail, the pedestrianisation of George Street and the reported $16.8bn metro rail project — is the way to take Sydney into the future.
“I think since the Olympics, I would argue, as you would expect, that the previous government spent nearly two decades not doing much,” she tells WISH.
“We have turned that around so what you see now, the projects that have come to life in Sydney, are the result of eight years of hard work.”
Mr Hemmes, who has more than 80 venues across Sydney, believes these developments are a step in the right direction but more needs to be done to revitalise the CBD after the lockout laws were lifted.
“There’s a much bigger picture because after eight o’clock at night it’s dead, the city is dead,” he says.
“The lockout laws was one piece in the puzzle that needed to be resolved … to release the shackles and allow the city to prosper. So for me … post-sunset … how are we going to invigorate our city?”
NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay is one of many critics of the state government’s handling of the light rail project, highlighting the cost blowouts, legal action and delays.
Nor is she a fan of Ms Berejiklian’s focus on building things as a way to make Sydney a more liveable city.
“What I see with this government is that it’s all about infrastructure,” Ms McKay says.
“But will that add to the vibrancy of the city? I don’t think so. We are not going to oppose it (the light rail) now that it’s open but it has caused the closure of many small businesses over that period and I think it is going to take a long time to recover.”