Why Sydney’s still Australia’s best city

  • ABC, Blog

Sydney is finished. As my dear friend Andrew P Street told the ABC yesterday from his new base of Adelaide, Sydney is a cesspit of overpriced houses connected by hopeless public transport, where you can’t get a drink anywhere at all and every single cultural centre has closed down. The only tourist attraction in my hometown these days is tumbleweeds.

Nobody wants to live here anymore, he says, so every single Sydneysider is currently scheming to move to Hobart, the Gold Coast or even Adelaide. Sydney is a city that “punishes you for living in it”, Andrew has written, as often as our courts are punishing Salim Mehajer.

Well, I’m convinced. We should all leave immediately. Go ahead — I’ll sacrifice myself by being the last one out.

Hobart is waiting for you, and it’s sort of near the amazing MONA! And how about the Gold Coast, which now has its very own train line? Get to it!

Okay, so that was a blatant attempt to push down Sydney property prices. But it won’t work, because the fact is that for many of us, this city is the only place we’d consider living. Well, maybe Melbourne.

Admittedly, Andrew isn’t the only friend of mine who has left Sydney this year with the unreasonable demand for a house with a backyard that’s less than a forty minute commute from where they work. He’s not even the only one called Andrew.

A few years ago, I was drinking with a bunch of commercial lawyers who were all bemoaning the impossibility of buying a place where their kids could frolic in even a modest-sized patch of grass.

Gosh, I thought — if none of you high-salaried corporate workaholics can afford it, how on earth can someone making a crust as a writer?

More Australians leave Sydney than move to it. The Herald recently published a study saying that 129 of us leave Sydney each day, while only 85 move here. But instead, people move here from overseas, as happens in places like London and New York, too. The result is a more diverse, globalised city. And while we may not have backyards, we get to live in a city that’s one hell of a playground.

This town is full of people who are determined to stick with Sydney’s unique blend of almost obscene natural beauty, cultural and nightlife (which is in many ways better than ever, thanks to the small bar laws) and food culture (still terrific), and all the perks that come with being a big city.

So, we move to smaller homes — I’ve been an apartment-dweller for nearly 20 years because I prefer being in the centre of things to having space. We mortgage ourselves to the hilt to get a tiny foothold into the city’s property market, because we know it’ll almost certainly be a great investment.

And guess what — property prices are actually falling in many areas for the first time in years. Slightly. We’ll soon be able to afford housing again, in only 80 or 90 years’ time!

Just this past week, I watched one of my favourite bands play the Opera House, discovered a hidden underground cocktail bar, had truly excellent sushi and watched a seriously funny play written by a fellow Sydneysider that was all about the complexities of contemporary Aboriginal culture. I hardly spent any time in my apartment except to sleep.

Sydney’s is headed towards the diversity and vibrancy, but also the population density, of Manhattan. That comes with innumerable benefits but some enormous challenges. We need to lift our game in all sorts of areas — public transport and affordable housing among them. But personally, I can’t imagine living somewhere where I wasn’t a cheap bus ride away from some of the world’s best beaches.

Well, unless I got offered a great job in Melbourne.