.
There is some growing global interest for a city that has for long been considered as synonym with "antipodes." If less than a quarter of a century ago Sydney, the capital of Australia’s New South Wales, was deemed as a peripheral node for the Asia-Pacific, and little more than a significant national gateway, then today most urbanists, if not the public at large, would argue in favor of a much more balanced analysis. Sydney has since the 1990s rapidly moved to a centre stage in both popular and academic discourses. It has firmly surpassed Melbourne, its long-standing national rival, to become Australia’s core settlement. It has become the country’s key mobility hub and primary link with the world economy and reached global recognition by hosting the 2000 Summer Olympics.

At present, the city is an increasingly stable presence in the plethora of urban rankings that has sprawled amongst academic and journalistic publications. In the Globalization and World Cities’ 2010 roster, Sydney occupied an "alpha+" position that is second only to the ever-dominant NYLON (New York and London) duo, and its rapid elevation to this status — along with Beijing and Shanghai — is considered to be the key finding of that survey. Yet, if financial records are set aside, there is more to the rise of Sydney as a global city, and this is not simply an Olympic legacy. Symptomatically, this year’s “Cities of Opportunity” roundup edited by PriceWaterhouseCoopers ranks Sydney at the very top of the world’s most globalized cities just after Berlin in terms of sustainability, and just after Stockholm for livability.

Since the urban boom of the mid-1970s, and even more markedly from the mid-1990s with the growing importance of its CBD as financial hub, Sydney has been developed around a two-fold imagineering underpinning the policies of various state and local governments. As Peter Murphy and Sophie Watson underlined, the Harbor City has centered its globalization on the twin themes of tourism and business, linked by the strategic branding of a Sydneysider lifestyle that is rooted in cosmopolitan, modern, and relatively inexpensive features. In this view, Sydney’s characteristics are supposed to appeal to both the transient visitor in search of the Australian experience, or the corporate (middle-to-high) class looking for a livable but styled settlement. Tourist branding required the development and marketing of icons such as the Opera House and Bondi Beach, the improvement of mobility infrastructures to house greater numbers of transient users as well as an emphasis on special happenings like Mardi Gras, New Year’s celebrations on the Harbour, and mega-events like the Olympics. Along with these, Sydney has proved capable of sustaining the parallel growth of a business-pitched re-organization that has been pinpointed on similar, if not often analogous, developments: efficient mobility hubs to house global flows not just of people but also of capitals, information and goods, feature corporate spaces such as Aurora Place and 126 Phillip Street, and cultural institutions are in fact compatible and often contingent on much of the same complexes that form the visitor-oriented urban substrate. These configurations can coexist in the same Sydneysider lifestyle imagineering, selling an increasingly popular "Harbor City" experience.

Crucial driver in this production is the City of Sydney Council. Formally an equal among 38 LGAs present in the vast metropolitan region, and representing only 26.15 square kilometres stretching from Rosebery to the Rocks, this local government has become the catalyst of the city’s globalization. Under the last two Mayors, Labor Frank Sartor between 1991 and 2003 and independent Clover Moore since 2004, the City of Sydney has acquired a core spot in Sydney politics, especially thanks to the relevance of the CBD in the process of ascent of the city in global urban hierarchies—being recognized today by the state government (New South Wales) as “global Sydney.”

As the livability narrative has arguably been bearing much fruit, the state and central local authorities (City of Sydney Council in primis with its “Sydney 2030” strategy) have slowly integrated an even more markedly environmental theme to their global offer: sustainability. Although some movements towards environmentalism were already present since the 1970s and in alternate phases in the mid-1980s, the increasing centrality of green solutions in Sydney has taken off more extensively only through the 1990s. "Green" is nowadays a key element in the construction of Sydney’s global appeal. If this might equal a paradigm shift for some metropolises, especially in the East (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul to name a few), greening Sydney is instead relatively easy: the city’s identity is already substantiated by an environmentally-prone image of the ‘Harbor City’ that is solidly rooted in its lifestyle branding, be it visitor or business-oriented.

Ever since the 1988 twin development of Darling Harbour and the First Fleet anchorage that now houses Circular Quay and the Opera House, Sydney’s dramatic growth in tourism and corporate activities has been tied tightly to the "café harbor society" stereotype of a green and livable city open to all kinds of guests from the backpacker to the financial elite. This should, however, not downplay that there are some separate areas of urban and architectural development that do not overlap between these two categories. Business-oriented planning, for instance, requires interior space configurations and preferential pathways that have (and in most cases are meant to have) little connection to public areas. Nonetheless, Sydney remains one of the most striking cases of intertwining between the two. This intersection has in fact fueled a demand for more natural attractions and green spaces such as Hyde Park, and greater connectivity with the various areas of Sydney Harbour National Park such as Watsons Bay in the far East end of the city. Arguably, the green theme has progressively acted as a linkage between the vacationer façade of the city, and its corporate core, enhancing the attractiveness of that "leisure dimension" that differentiates Sydney from other globalizing cities in the Asia Pacific region. In turn, the escalating prominence of green solutions to city planning and architecture has slowly modified the patterns of consumption of the city’s major urban spaces, remodeling large central areas such as the CBD, Bondi or Manly, to fit the new dominant lifestyle.

However, there is today an increasingly worrying trend in Sydney that shows social polarization processes with higher and low-income (or lower and higher-deprivation) groups occupying increasingly differentiated areas. For example, it is particularly significant that if Griffith University urbanist Scott Baum was able to dismiss this "dual city" thesis in 1997, his more recent (2008) study now shows how Sydney is more and more reflecting a polarized nature often associated with global cities. This challenging trend is sustained by a bimodal distribution process in immigration patters towards higher-end jobs for skilled migrants and low-income service occupations for others. Likewise, this concerning path is largely complicated by the structural changes underpinning the city’s re-styling, as the Harbor City’s spatial segregation goes beyond a poor-West/rich-East dichotomy and becoming a "splintering" and "quartered" city with a strong internal hierarchical differentiation crowning the City of Sydney at the expense of outer suburbs, and premium networked spaces among the key globalizing areas. As Australian journalist Debra Jopson wrote reporting a National Economics survey in 2002: “Sydney has been described as Australia’s only globalized city, but less than 2 percent of the 12,138 square kilometres in the greater metropolitan area really deserve the title.” Yet, perhaps, this evidence serves as further proof that the Harbor City is fast emerging as a truly "global city" in Saskia Sassen’s original sense of the term: strategic hinge of globalization, yet deeply divided and challenged by socio-economic separation.

It is nonetheless important to underscore here that the reader shall not mistake critical inquiry for criticism: some of today’s globalizing metropolises — and I can indeed speak for Sydney — are wonderful and vibrant places to live in. They constitute global gateways for the ordinary men and women who participate in the daily unfolding of worldwide process across their urban essence. Sydney has fast emerged in the ranks of those metropolises capable of setting the global pace of urbanization, and the global image of what livability standards are to be measured against. Along with segregation and exclusion, it also represent a site of opportunity and locus of cosmopolitan civilization and, along with many of the other featured at the Diplomatic Courier, the likely theatre in which social relations — increasingly hybridized beyond local identities and national divides — will play out in the next century.

This article was originally published in the December 2011 Global Cities issue.

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Sydney: the "Global" Harbour City

January 12, 2012

There is some growing global interest for a city that has for long been considered as synonym with "antipodes." If less than a quarter of a century ago Sydney, the capital of Australia’s New South Wales, was deemed as a peripheral node for the Asia-Pacific, and little more than a significant national gateway, then today most urbanists, if not the public at large, would argue in favor of a much more balanced analysis. Sydney has since the 1990s rapidly moved to a centre stage in both popular and academic discourses. It has firmly surpassed Melbourne, its long-standing national rival, to become Australia’s core settlement. It has become the country’s key mobility hub and primary link with the world economy and reached global recognition by hosting the 2000 Summer Olympics.

At present, the city is an increasingly stable presence in the plethora of urban rankings that has sprawled amongst academic and journalistic publications. In the Globalization and World Cities’ 2010 roster, Sydney occupied an "alpha+" position that is second only to the ever-dominant NYLON (New York and London) duo, and its rapid elevation to this status — along with Beijing and Shanghai — is considered to be the key finding of that survey. Yet, if financial records are set aside, there is more to the rise of Sydney as a global city, and this is not simply an Olympic legacy. Symptomatically, this year’s “Cities of Opportunity” roundup edited by PriceWaterhouseCoopers ranks Sydney at the very top of the world’s most globalized cities just after Berlin in terms of sustainability, and just after Stockholm for livability.

Since the urban boom of the mid-1970s, and even more markedly from the mid-1990s with the growing importance of its CBD as financial hub, Sydney has been developed around a two-fold imagineering underpinning the policies of various state and local governments. As Peter Murphy and Sophie Watson underlined, the Harbor City has centered its globalization on the twin themes of tourism and business, linked by the strategic branding of a Sydneysider lifestyle that is rooted in cosmopolitan, modern, and relatively inexpensive features. In this view, Sydney’s characteristics are supposed to appeal to both the transient visitor in search of the Australian experience, or the corporate (middle-to-high) class looking for a livable but styled settlement. Tourist branding required the development and marketing of icons such as the Opera House and Bondi Beach, the improvement of mobility infrastructures to house greater numbers of transient users as well as an emphasis on special happenings like Mardi Gras, New Year’s celebrations on the Harbour, and mega-events like the Olympics. Along with these, Sydney has proved capable of sustaining the parallel growth of a business-pitched re-organization that has been pinpointed on similar, if not often analogous, developments: efficient mobility hubs to house global flows not just of people but also of capitals, information and goods, feature corporate spaces such as Aurora Place and 126 Phillip Street, and cultural institutions are in fact compatible and often contingent on much of the same complexes that form the visitor-oriented urban substrate. These configurations can coexist in the same Sydneysider lifestyle imagineering, selling an increasingly popular "Harbor City" experience.

Crucial driver in this production is the City of Sydney Council. Formally an equal among 38 LGAs present in the vast metropolitan region, and representing only 26.15 square kilometres stretching from Rosebery to the Rocks, this local government has become the catalyst of the city’s globalization. Under the last two Mayors, Labor Frank Sartor between 1991 and 2003 and independent Clover Moore since 2004, the City of Sydney has acquired a core spot in Sydney politics, especially thanks to the relevance of the CBD in the process of ascent of the city in global urban hierarchies—being recognized today by the state government (New South Wales) as “global Sydney.”

As the livability narrative has arguably been bearing much fruit, the state and central local authorities (City of Sydney Council in primis with its “Sydney 2030” strategy) have slowly integrated an even more markedly environmental theme to their global offer: sustainability. Although some movements towards environmentalism were already present since the 1970s and in alternate phases in the mid-1980s, the increasing centrality of green solutions in Sydney has taken off more extensively only through the 1990s. "Green" is nowadays a key element in the construction of Sydney’s global appeal. If this might equal a paradigm shift for some metropolises, especially in the East (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul to name a few), greening Sydney is instead relatively easy: the city’s identity is already substantiated by an environmentally-prone image of the ‘Harbor City’ that is solidly rooted in its lifestyle branding, be it visitor or business-oriented.

Ever since the 1988 twin development of Darling Harbour and the First Fleet anchorage that now houses Circular Quay and the Opera House, Sydney’s dramatic growth in tourism and corporate activities has been tied tightly to the "café harbor society" stereotype of a green and livable city open to all kinds of guests from the backpacker to the financial elite. This should, however, not downplay that there are some separate areas of urban and architectural development that do not overlap between these two categories. Business-oriented planning, for instance, requires interior space configurations and preferential pathways that have (and in most cases are meant to have) little connection to public areas. Nonetheless, Sydney remains one of the most striking cases of intertwining between the two. This intersection has in fact fueled a demand for more natural attractions and green spaces such as Hyde Park, and greater connectivity with the various areas of Sydney Harbour National Park such as Watsons Bay in the far East end of the city. Arguably, the green theme has progressively acted as a linkage between the vacationer façade of the city, and its corporate core, enhancing the attractiveness of that "leisure dimension" that differentiates Sydney from other globalizing cities in the Asia Pacific region. In turn, the escalating prominence of green solutions to city planning and architecture has slowly modified the patterns of consumption of the city’s major urban spaces, remodeling large central areas such as the CBD, Bondi or Manly, to fit the new dominant lifestyle.

However, there is today an increasingly worrying trend in Sydney that shows social polarization processes with higher and low-income (or lower and higher-deprivation) groups occupying increasingly differentiated areas. For example, it is particularly significant that if Griffith University urbanist Scott Baum was able to dismiss this "dual city" thesis in 1997, his more recent (2008) study now shows how Sydney is more and more reflecting a polarized nature often associated with global cities. This challenging trend is sustained by a bimodal distribution process in immigration patters towards higher-end jobs for skilled migrants and low-income service occupations for others. Likewise, this concerning path is largely complicated by the structural changes underpinning the city’s re-styling, as the Harbor City’s spatial segregation goes beyond a poor-West/rich-East dichotomy and becoming a "splintering" and "quartered" city with a strong internal hierarchical differentiation crowning the City of Sydney at the expense of outer suburbs, and premium networked spaces among the key globalizing areas. As Australian journalist Debra Jopson wrote reporting a National Economics survey in 2002: “Sydney has been described as Australia’s only globalized city, but less than 2 percent of the 12,138 square kilometres in the greater metropolitan area really deserve the title.” Yet, perhaps, this evidence serves as further proof that the Harbor City is fast emerging as a truly "global city" in Saskia Sassen’s original sense of the term: strategic hinge of globalization, yet deeply divided and challenged by socio-economic separation.

It is nonetheless important to underscore here that the reader shall not mistake critical inquiry for criticism: some of today’s globalizing metropolises — and I can indeed speak for Sydney — are wonderful and vibrant places to live in. They constitute global gateways for the ordinary men and women who participate in the daily unfolding of worldwide process across their urban essence. Sydney has fast emerged in the ranks of those metropolises capable of setting the global pace of urbanization, and the global image of what livability standards are to be measured against. Along with segregation and exclusion, it also represent a site of opportunity and locus of cosmopolitan civilization and, along with many of the other featured at the Diplomatic Courier, the likely theatre in which social relations — increasingly hybridized beyond local identities and national divides — will play out in the next century.

This article was originally published in the December 2011 Global Cities issue.

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.