Who gets to decide Sydney’s best suburbs? After all the problems with this year’s Census, I hope that it’s not the Australian Bureau of Statistics!
That’s why I was intrigued by the list of the city’s “best suburbs” on one of Sydney’s major daily newspapers. Curiously, virtually all of suburbs on the list were from the Northern Beaches or North Shore.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against the Northern Beaches and the North Shore, or the people who live there, but I don’t like to travel more than an hour to get a decent Halal Snack Pack!
But each to their own. Which is actually the point, because there isn’t really a definitive set of universal qualities that determine a “best” suburb – it’s ultimately a subjective judgment. As most good estate agents know what’s “best” for one person, or one family, is different to another.
For me, it’s important to live in a community. I want to live somewhere where I can get to know, and care about, my neighbours, and hopefully they get to care about my family as well. I also value diversity. I like to feel that community is not isolated – that’s it’s connected to, and part of, the amazing global village that we live in.
In Campsie, for example, we’re surrounded by influences from all over the world. It’s a place where my children can be exposed to ten different Asian languages, eat the most amazing exotic food, stumble across some of the best fashion – every time they walk down the street.
I can’t think of a better environment for my kids to learn in, and to grow up with both an appreciation of difference, and an understanding of the things that unite us.
That sense of community, however, can be fragile. The details that make a place human, warm and welcoming – like open spaces, familiarity with your neighbours, architectural heritage, and sense of character and identity – can all be overwhelmed by development that is unsympathetic to its environment, and out of scale.
That’s why Sydney’s suburbs are playing a balancing act – balancing the economic need to accommodate growth (and keeping a lid on the skyrocketing real estate prices), with the human need to retain our sense of place and community.
Mike Baird’s “Plan” for Urban Growth
Sydney is growing – but is the burden of growth being spread fairly? The Baird Government has developed its own “solution” to this problem. The solution has several strands:
1) remove public and social housing tenants out of the inner city, and shuffle them out of the city, to make room for wealthy investors and developers;
2) amalgamate local councils – and replace them with “super-councils” that are less connected to their local communities; and
3) Increase densities – especially along rail corridors.
In Canterbury, we’re dealing with the prospect of rapid change.
The NSW Government has plans to squeeze in an additional 36,000 dwellings along the Sydenham to Bankstown rail line over the next 20 years.
But, don’t worry, this won’t affect the result of the “best suburbs” list, because they are not targeted for “renewal” under the Baird Government’s plan for urban growth.
Sharing the Burden of Growth
Pushing the burden of growth onto the southern and western suburbs is unfair. And it’s also bad policy. It will further divide the city on geographic and economic lines – with the leafy north shore “garden suburbs” continuing to keep their village characteristics, safe in the knowledge that the hard work of accommodating population growth (and driving economic growth) is being done for them by residents in the south and inner west.
Sound planning should make sure that population growth is distributed across the city, so that our local infrastructure and services can best accommodate that growth.
For sure, we should be looking to develop along our rail lines, but that doesn’t mean that other parts of the city should be given a free ride. Spreading growth across the city will mean that we all can contribute to the future of Sydney, without sacrificing the things that we love about our suburbs.
Key services also need to coordinated – so that growing populations have access to the schools, hospitals and other essential services they need. We need targets for the development of affordable housing, and there needs to be a mix of housing with innovative design to accommodate for the elderly, people with disabilities and working families – right cross the city.
And I hope that the next list of Sydney’s “best suburbs” includes places like Earlwood, Belmore, and Clemton Park – some of the friendliest and most diverse corners of our great city!
Sophie Cotsis is the NSW Labor Candidate at the forthcoming Canterbury by-election.