Sydney: A Case Study In How To Suffocate A Vibrant City

Dear fellow managers of cities around the world,

Is your city at risk of becoming too vibrant?
Is your city becoming far too interesting a place to live?

If so,­ then we’ve put together this case study for you.

Over the past few years down here in Sydney, we’ve learnt many lessons that we felt were important to share with you. You see, after quite the concerted effort ­we’ve managed to pull our wayward city back into line.

For a long time, Sydney was beginning to thrive. There were late nights, it was brimming with effervescence and some actual personality was beginning to show in its swagger. There were even whisperings of that word, ‘culture’. Alongside its natural beauty, it was becoming a charming place to live. Sydneysiders began to talk about their home like it was an ‘international city’. You know, up there with the likes of New York, London and Tokyo.

Something had to be done.

So, after much consideration, and much ‘trial and error’ ­ we created and implemented what we like to call “The Seventeen Steps of Sydney.”

We believe that a clinical implementation of these simple steps will help you to knock the life blood out of your city. In no time at all, you’ll begin to taste the vanilla again and to relax with a smooth regime of comfortable predictability. We recommend just working through them, one by one.

Of course, always open to feedback and suggestions on on how to optimise these straightforward controls.

Kind regards,
The Managers of Sydney

STEP 1: COST OF LIVING — EXORBITANT IS BEST

Everything is a rip-off down here. Businesses charge whatever they can get away with. We do nothing to quell that and we actually encourage the belief that high prices are the norm. $4 for a coffee. $5 for a bunch of bananas. The more they’re spending on the basic staples, the less they have to spend on going out and having a good time.

STEP 2: PROPERTY PRICES — ALLOW THEM TO SOAR

This has been an easy one. We just sat back and did nothing! Property in the city centre is now unobtainable. This suits us, because it pushes the riff raff further out West to fend for themselves and to spend money on our toll roads (see Step 11). It also keeps the more manageable ‘nouveau riche’ closer to the centre (see Step 3). Meanwhile, we maintain the myth that inner city property is still ‘aspirational’. Also, high property prices lead to rental hikes ­which means less spending money again for leisure activities.

Interestingly, the absurd property prices dominate much of the local conversation.
“What did you pay for it? How much did it go for? Did you hear about so and so?”
There’s a healthy level of property gossip and hearsay. This suits us, because if the population is preoccupied with this sort of crap, there is less of a need for more cerebral things like the arts (see Step 7) and museums (see Step 8).

STEP 3: GENTRIFY — WHEEL IN THE ‘NOUVEAU RICHE’

We adore this group because they’re vanilla, colourless and spend a fortune on active wear. With their help, some of the more interesting suburbs in the city centre have been gentrified and sanitised. They have a real knack for applying that uptight polish of theirs. They’ve also been loyal allies in the fight against inner city noise from raucous places like beer gardens, nightclubs and music venues. All you need to do to keep them happy is to give them rich coffee and clean parks where they can ogle each other, do yoga and talk property.

STEP 4: ­PUBLIC SPACES — STIFLE THE USE OF THEM

A city with vibrant public spaces is one inclined to thrive. So we do what we can to stifle these. Alcohol is banned in most public piazzas. This hardcore stance has helped to eliminate that lovely aura you get in cities like Madrid, Milan and Paris, where locals congregate in main squares to share red wine and to chat. We don’t waste our time in offering initiatives for these spaces either, like cool activities for the kids or world­class buskers for atmosphere.

STEP 5: ­NIGHTLIFE — IMPLEMENT A CURFEW

We heard these were incredibly effective in the European cities during WWII. So we thought we’d give them a go in Sydney during peacetime. All you have to do is give them a cute name like ‘lockouts’, and your electorate will think they’re all about safety, rather than control. Even though Sydney consistently ranks in the top ten safest cities in the world, we still think there’s room for improvement. What’s more, if you give these bastards an inch they’ll only take a mile.

STEP 6: ­SECURITY — EMPOWER THE ‘BOUNCER’ COMMUNITY

Our police force is often stretched hunting for speeding fines and busting jaywalkers (see Step 16). So we lean heavily on a robust community of security staff, more affectionately known as ‘bouncers’. These guys patrol every night time venue in the city and hustle to keep a fastened lid on any form of excitement or fun. They’re like hawks in spotting the smallest signs of inebriation. Often, they’ll refuse entry or service without a reason, and take real pride in squashing the flow of a fun night out. Great bunch of blokes.

STEP 7:­ THE ARTS — SPEND YOUR MONEY ON THE “CHERRIES”

With your arts funding, invest all of it on the ‘cherry’ venues ­then just ignore the rest of the cake.You’ll then be able to tell the world and the media that you’re kicking goals. As long as your ‘Opera House’ glistens, your ‘Walsh Bay’ is in good nick and your ‘Carriageworks’ is smiling, ­there’s no need to concern yourself with the rest of it. Everyone is down at the beach half the time anyway, or bitching about those property prices to worry about the lack of creative vision.

STEP 8: MUSEUMS — MOVE THEM OUT THE CENTRE

We’re moving ours out West, where we’ve been telling Sydneysiders the new cultural centre of the future will be. They’ve been swallowing that crap for years! We know, we know ­Berlin, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires (not to mention most big capitals) all concentrate their museums in the centre where the tourists visit. However, when everyone else zigs, we prefer to zag. After all, if we followed this trend, then we couldn’t sell off the prime real estate to developers to build more unaffordable apartments to peddle to the nouveau riche. See how it’s all just one big jigsaw puzzle!?

STEP 9: ­THE MUSIC SCENE — TURN OFF THE TAPS

Rigid implementation of Step 3 and Step 5 should be enough to tick this box. Simple.

STEP 10: ­HERITAGE — CASINOS ARE TO SYDNEY, AS CATHEDRALS ARE TO ROME

Here’s a bit of local knowledge that you won’t find in Lonely Planet. Gambling is to Sydneysiders, as bullfights are to the Spanish or burritos are to the Mexicans. Visiting casinos, therefore, is a quintessential part of life in our city. Fostering cultural fundamentals, like this one, are critical. We make sure our casinos have preference, pride and place. We also make a pretty penny from them too, which is a bonus. This then allows us to fund new toll road projects, polish the Opera House and hire more police officers.

STEP 11: ­ROADS — ENOUGH TOLL ROADS IS NEVER ENOUGH

Sydneysiders love sitting in traffic and paying extortionate tolls. Without a good transport network, they don’t have much choice and it’s another great way to keep them out of trouble. Once again on this step ­ not much to do, but loads to promote. We just think of the concept, bulldoze some old houses, sell the idea to a business and they build and manage it. That way, we can take credit or absolve ourselves ­where needed. When locals kick up a stink about the surrounding routes being strategically choked up, we fall back upon our default response of “Wasn’t us, it was them”. Seamless!

STEP 12: ­TRANSPORT — DILLY DALLY ON THE INFRASTRUCTURE

If you take a step into two of our main train stations, ­Wynyard or Town Hall ­ you can quite honestly still smell some of the 1960s. Down there, they blow these outrageous whistles and attempt to slow down trains by waving big orange flags. It’s hilarious! In all seriousness though, after years of trying to get away with just ‘talk’ ­ we’ve finally decided to build these whingers a light rail. Cheekily though, we had a good giggle along the way. We told them we needed to tear out some of their favourite trees to build the thing. “Progress means sacrifice”. Never let them forget that.

STEP 13: ­TAXI INDUSTRY — STRIVE TO MAINTAIN YOUR MONOPOLY

The ideal taxi industry model is a monopolised one. For years, all of us were making a killing. We’d charge the customer through the nose, while paying the driver a pittance. It was quite the racket! It’s only been recently that we’ve conceded some ground to an irreverent community push for more competition. We keep the locals flummoxed, though, by not giving the driver’s knowledge tests and swapping them over at the same time as the pubs shut. You’ll often see the them frustrated, sitting in the front seat, having to direct the driver all the way home.

STEP 14: ­PARKING — TORMENT THEM WITH METERS

Once you’ve identified the most beautiful spots in your city, inundate them with parking meters. These things are a simple way to piss off the locals and to remind them that this is not their city. Always prioritise parking infrastructure over secondary things ­ like playing fields, community centres and general suburban ambience. Furthermore, these will discourage the Westies from migrating in to visit the beaches. These traditional family days out will increasingly feel like a ‘chore’, or an ‘expense’, rather than a ‘joy’.

STEP 15: ­THE CYCLING COMMUNITY — MAKE LIFE TOUGH FOR THEM

The more cyclists you have, the less tollway and parking meter revenue you can generate, and the fewer speeding fines you can tally up each year. Cyclists are near impossible to milk revenue out of and they’re frighteningly independent. So, we just intimidate our cycling community. We stymie their infrastructure and force them to carry identification, even if they’re riding down to the shops to buy a litre of milk. Keep those bastards on their toes.

STEP 16: ­POLICE — HUNT FOR INFRINGEMENT REVENUE

With a large police force, low crime rate and a population that still doesn’t know what’s good for them ­one of our favourite things to do when we’re bored is to hunt down infringement revenue. It’s easy pickings and a simple way to keep them uptight and on the backfoot. Jaywalking, not wearing a helmet, parking crimes and speed excesses we sting ‘em for all they’ve got. The higher the fines, the less they’ve got to spend on piss and the better the books look at tax time.

STEP 17: ­ NEW YEARS EVE — GIVE THEM A REAL PARTY

The final step is one we’re proud of. Proud, because it’s cunningly creative. On New Year’s Eve, we grab a big handful of cash out of the overspilling coffersand basically, just blow it up! Then, underneath one of the world’s most drawn out fireworks displays, we have our final laugh of the year.

We tell them that the curfew has generously been switched off for the night. We tell them the transport will run until dawn. But then when they make it down to the harbour foreshore to marvel at the expensive drama we tell them they’re not allowed to have a drop of alcohol in public spaces. They can’t share a bottle of red and they can’t sip on a cold beer. And if they do? Well, we sting them for it. You should see their faces, it’s classic! And yet, they always just seem to roll with it. No one ever says a thing.

Originally published in the Daily Review

Joseph O'Donoghue

Discussion and comment about Australia's young, vibrant and emerging culture - our own blank canvas.

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