22 years of printing the news and raising hell

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Once again Melbourne has been named the World’s Most Liveable City by the Economist. Three of the top 10 rated cities are in Australia: Adelaide came in fifth and Perth is seventh. Neighbouring Auckland in New Zealand has been ranked eighth.

For the second year in a row Sydney has not been included on the top ten list.  Three Canadian cities (3 Vancouver; 4 Toronto and 5 Calgary) are in the top ten as are three European cities (2 Vienna, 6 Helsinki and 10 Hamburg). None of the world’s most liveable cities are in Asia.

Sydney has been shanghaied by property developers and government agencies who believe the only way is up.  For decades Australia’s economic growth has been fuelled by a property boom to accommodate an ever increasing flow of migrants onto our island continent. Each year hundreds of thousands of people move to Australia requiring the construction of ever more high rises to keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

Writing in the Conversation last month, three academics argued that the economic growth delivered by this relentless building boom benefits large corporate interests, developers and the real estate market. For the average Sydneysider increased population densities and the impact of more and more people on our fragile ecosystem mean that our overall quality of life has deteriorated over the last 40 years.

Rather than pursue a medium density plan to accommodate more people into the future (think Paris with 7 million people or the San Francisco Bay Area with 7 million people) Sydneysiders have been convinced that Sydney’s future lies in high rise developments such as you would find in Shanghai, Singapore or Hong Kong. From the Bays Precinct to Barangaroo, you would be hard pressed to find many opinion makers who do not believe that Sydney should and will accommodate many more high-rise buildings.

Last weekend Urban Taskforce, the property developers’ peak industry group, hosted a High-Rise Summit here in Sydney, promising to showcase a range of erected protrusions. Even the populist Lord Mayor Clover Moore has gotten on the bandwagon, promising to roll out a new policy that will change height limits in the CBD:  soon Sydney’s Centre Point Tower will no longer tower over the city skyline. Welcome to Sydney where new concrete corridors funded by Chinese money will either house multinational corporations or provide shelter for foreign workers.

Most Australians who are lucky enough to afford Sydney rents will be consigned to live in one of the poorly constructed, appallingly designed eyesores that one of Australia’s most wealthy men, Harry Triguboff has bestowed on our once fair city. From Harold Park to Waterloo and Green Square Sydney is awash in monotonous rows of drab concrete blocks such as you would find in public housing projects in the Bronx or East Berlin save the earth tone veneers and pastel interiors.

Twenty-two years ago, I moved here from Sydney’s sister city of San Francisco. In Sydney, I saw another water front city that respected its nineteenth century heritage and protected its vistas and views. Glimmers of that city still abound. Cherish it before it is ripped down or overshadowed.

This week marks the City Hub’s 22nd anniversary. Once again, we mark the occasion by producing our annual guide to the BEST OF SYDNEY. For two decades and two years we have made it our mission “to print the news and raise hell… to fight for progressive social change….to champion Australian arts and culture.” Over the last few years, in the face of dwindling local news coverage, moribund main streets and comatose night life, we have continued to scour our fair city for signs of alternative life, dissenting voices and underreported views.

Earlier this month at the launch of the Sydney Fringe Festival, Festival Director Kerri Glasscock proclaimed: “Sydney isn’t dead, it’s just been in an enforced hibernation.” In the face of local lock out laws and an over-zealous nanny state, Sydney may have a hard time claiming to be the world’s best city. But there are still causes for celebration and counter cultural heroes like Kerri who have made the best of Sydney’s currently dire circumstances. While Sydney sleeps, we might as well dream of better days to come.

 

BEST FESTIVAL: THE SYDNEY FRINGE

By Kerri Glasscock

Sydney Fringe has always shined a spotlight on what Sydney represents, what our artists are saying and what our city is feeling. This year, our 8th, Sydney Fringe does all that, but we are also boldly projecting what we believe Sydney could be. Each year we ask our festival Ambassadors “Why is Fringe and an independent voice is important?” I’d like to share Tim Freedman’s response.

“The next time someone drags me into a conversation about what Netflix series they are addicted to I am going to scream. Sometimes I drive through the sleepy midweek streets of Sydney at night and I can feel the thick torpor of the Golden Age of Television wafting down from the balconies and leaking through the curtained windows, making me slightly nauseous.”

Welcome to the Sydney Fringe, where the artists answer only to themselves and where eccentricity is not hammered down by the sheer heft of the mass media. Where we can forget for a while that over the last decade the edges of the inner city have been scraped smooth, and where for a few weeks we can celebrate that the ecology of our culture is healthier because again the exotic creatures at the bottom of the forest can breathe and fuss around and have a little fun.

After this year’s Fringe I hope I won’t have to hear anymore “why can’t Sydney Fringe be like Adelaide Fringe” and hopefully I won’t have to read next year another article about why Sydney can’t have a festival like Dark Mofo, and I sincerely hope that after September I won’t have to defend against the much-touted claim that Sydney is dead. Sydney is emphatically not dead and we intend to show you why.

Our program is full of the most brave, vibrant, inclusive, experimental, wonderful creatives that this city has. Sydney isn’t dead, it’s just been in an enforced hibernation. Sydney’s creatives are still here, we just need a little space, a small amount of support and a whole lot of freedom.

This here is an example of everything that is right about Sydney. The coming together of business and creative to forge a new world and activate a city in the best possible way, a generosity that enables a wealth of opportunity and experiences. This year we are finally able to demonstrate to the powers that be the type of city we want. A vibrant creative urban landscape, where warehouse parties are legal, alternative, secret spaces sanctioned and creative freedoms taken, were audiences can truly escape the daily grind, can experience new worlds and celebrate a true connection with their fellow Sydney-siders. This is what the gift of space in our city does. It provides opportunity beyond your wildest dreams, encourages creatives to think beyond their wildest dreams and lays out a platform for all of us to have a fantastic time. That’s the city I want to live in, and that’s the city we will be giving you this September.

Sydney Fringe Festival runs throughout the month of September. Details are available at sydneyfringe.com