Monday, February 19, 2007

A new Mr Sydney?

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald has created a bit of debate on the Sydney critical mass list. Professor Jan Gehl has been commissioned to undertake a study of the city that will focus on the needs of both pedestrians and cyclists. The study will cost $210,000 and take 10-months to complete. Several cyclists expressed a concern that the new study would just delay time and money from the existing bike plan policy which has already been lagging over the last year. Put another way, the perpetual attempt to solve problems by coming up with new plans stops any plans from ever being implemented. This is true, but I don't think we should dismiss Professor Gehl too qucikly. He could do some really exciting things in the city, but one wonders how he could ever make logger-heads of the complex web of intrigue that is Sydney’s planning culture. Even the smallest road change is likely to require the cooperation of city council, the RTA and the Department of Planning. However, as we saw in the fiasco over the removal of bike lanes in William Street, there are some very powerful and competing agendas within the city and so the possibility making even minor urban policy changes is likely to run into trouble. Professor Gehl’s appointment represents an exciting opportunity for the city to tackle many of its urban woes, however, his appointment could be seen as a symptom of the city’s problems in that we repeatedly hope that international experts will give us 'the cure' rather than confront the real issue of just how the city can be governed in a coordinated and democratic way. If Professor Gehl is not to go the way of his Danish predecessor he will need to focus on the complex political ‘life between buildings’.

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