Killing Sydney

An architect and architecture writer, Farrelly has penned a well written, well informed manifesto against the careless and profit-driven destruction of Sydney’s neighbourhoods, heritage and ‘livability’.

Killing SydneyWhat’s most surprising is how good the prose is, and on more arcane topics than you expect. Farrelly writes like a poet on philosophies like beauty and aesthetic, connecting them seamlessly to the more practical world of city architecture.

All that makes it hard to give this book a negative review, because while there’s a lot to like there’s just as much to disagree staunchly with.

Farrelly can’t help but display inner city dweller prejudice, grumbling about changes necessary to service areas she obviously hates (the suburbs), wanting the world between Pyrmont, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and the Harbour Bridge to remain an untouched museum/playground.

Having immigrated straight to the inner city in the 1980s she (understandably) loves the charm and history, but there her worldview stops, her complaints all about how that privileged enclave is being eroded with nary a concern for the millions beyond it.

In fact her most cutting digs are at the ‘sea of suburbs’ with traffic servicing it ‘faster, louder and filthier’, as if the people in them are uncultured plebians who don’t know any better.

She’s seemingly unaware many people would love to live in Redfern or Ultimo enjoying public art, street puppetry and theatre (her words), but who can afford it – unless they got into Sydney’s ridiculous property market back in the 80s? Farrelly at times complains about how all that heritage and soul is inaccessible to all except those who can pay, apparently not seeing the irony.

What she misses is that it’s all about cause and effect. Farrelly has kids (like most of us), and as a society we need to house them increasingly further away from commercial centres, which means increasingly rapacious infrastructure to move more people around. Railing against that is a bit rich.

Few of us can argue successive NSW governments have made a hash out of transport, but when Farrelly calls the WestConnex freeway system ‘needless’ she doesn’t offer much alternative, claiming that democracy and capitalism are incapable of delivering cities we like. Really? No Sydneysider likes their city? Or is it just her and her latte sipping neighbours?

Farrelly even admits to having a personal stake, and it comes into focus when she rails against aircraft noise in the inner West – from an airport that’s been there since 1924 servicing a population that’s exploded since then (in other words, what did we expect?).

But despite the dubious standpoint, Killing Sydney is still enlightening. Farrelly shines plenty of light on the economic politics involved, and in talking about how money grubbing the last few state governments have been, you’ll be genuinely shocked how many public assets have been put up for sale (Jenolan Caves?!?).

But above all, she couldn’t be more correct that the buildings, parks and natural treasures governments are falling over themselves to flog don’t belong to them for profit potential, they belong to us. As she says at one point ‘it’s all about money. It always is.’