It used to be that you ran away to Sydney. Now people run away from it.
They run from insane, impossible real estate prices. They flee the wasted hours of sitting in traffic jams of neutron star densities. They escape the crushing expense of everything from a cup of coffee to their children’s education.
Sydney has always been the point at which global capital enters and leaves Australia. Because of that, the competition for scarce goods and services has always been fiercer and more punishing there and eventually it wears you down.
It’s a city for the young and the free. Free of debts. Free of commitments. Free of the weight and encumbrances of adult life. But even they are starting to feel it.
The same way that all of the old, ramshackle Queenslanders that once housed generations of students in and around the inner core of Brisbane eventually disappeared from the rental market as they were renovated by young families, so too have thousands of terrace houses become impossibly expensive for renters in Sydney.
Or, just as often, they have disappeared beneath the foundations of massive redevelopments, huge re-engineered suburbs, plowing under the old, narrow streets and cottages of the colonial era city.
But Conal Hanna’s interactive story yesterday, which was mostly about how awful Sydney has become while turning itself into one of the world’s most fabulous global cities, also contains a warning for Brisbane.
When a city becomes a playground for the super rich, they make it an impossible place for everyone else; not just for the poor and disadvantaged, but for everyone who can’t afford to chopper onto the rooftop helipad of their penthouse apartment.
Despite the depredations of the 1980s, when a pack of hillbilly fascists turned the city over to their patrons in the development industry, Brisbane — especially the residential inner suburbs — retained much of its old colonial charm. It remained a place where you could live well without great wealth.
There is no reason to imagine Brisbane will stay that way without a sustained effort of civic will. Everything that makes the city better, makes it a more attractive place to live, and as Sydney becomes increasingly untenable for everybody but the super wealthy, it will throw off increasing numbers of the merely wealthy looking for an alternative.
Unless Brisbane wants to be a capital where most inhabitants are forced out to the very fringes of settlement, it will need to manage its inevitable growth with great care.
You can already see the pressure building in places like South Brisbane and West End, and bursting out at the far away edge of the city in vast tract developments, with zero local amenity, sprawling out along the freeways and agglomerating around gigantic shopping malls.
First published in the Sydney Morning Herald – 1 March 2018. https://www.smh.com.au/national/queensland/we-must-not-allow-brisbane-to-lose-its-soul-like-sydney-20180226-p4z1ur.html