For many years now, I’ve wanted to live somewhere that would allow me to come home to a balcony with a westerly view. And so, now I come home, plop down on a chair on the balcony, and watch the sunset, whilst sipping a glass of wine. A portion of our balcony looks out over a moderately crowded street. The other side looks out onto a side-street featuring something that, at first glance, would seem rather unremarkable. Houses. Trees. Apartment blocks. But it’s far more appealing than the main road, which features, apart from some tree-lined side-walks, a park, and some buildings built well over 50 years ago, which now sit unloved, rotting away, featuring about as much aesthetic appeal as a turd.
So it is with the main streets of Sydney. We don’t know much about how to make our main thoroughfares [outside the CBD] of any interest. Parramatta Road? It’s a dour piece of work. Unimaginative, tacky store-fronts for miles on end. One stretch of road (near the Italian quarter) features, at last count, six different stores selling wedding dresses. A whole half-mile that takes the highway car-dealership approach, and simply stuffs them close together, like members of an unhappy family. Later spots along the road? Car repair stores. Dingy pubs. Fast food chains. Houses framed by rusting fences, overgrown weeds.
Sydney, lovely Sydney, is only lovely behind the scenes. The arteries of our city feature an almost relentless lack of beauty. I wonder sometimes if the people involved in the development of these major arties thought “Beauty? When yer goin’ fohty kay down the bloody street? Whatcha be goin’ on about?” (That may have been an Irish accent, it may have been Scottish…let’s just call it a pan-anglo accent).
And the good people of Sydney, being a fairly practical lot said: “Well this is a bit shite, innit? Let’s just make sure the rest of our city doesn’t look like this” and set out to build a lovely set of side-streets alongside 19th century churches, micro-parks, and even places to barbeque near cricket ovals.
It makes me think that perhaps I should give tourists a walking map of Sydney, and say “Now, when you get a bit outside the inner city, it gets a bit suss for a few suburbs, but if you hit the side-streets, well golly it gets pretty”. Because that’s where Sydney’s prettier locations are hidden. And it’s worth taking a visit.
Luckily, my balcony looks out onto just such a set of side-streets. And it’s a pretty marvellous sight at sunset.