For those who haven’t seen it yet, writer and playwright Louis Nowra’s latest essay “Who turned out the lights?” in the Weekend Australian Magazine is a pungent summary of Sydney’s major problems, their causes and the resulting social, cultural and economic impacts.
The beginning paragraphs are available on line from the Weekend Australian website, but to read the full article you will have to purchase the paper. To summarise Nowra, the confidence that Sydney developed in its successful handling of the Olympics has disappeared, to be replaced by apathy, incompetence and above all, a lack of vision. As he notes, however, many of these problems predate the Olympics – and it is hard to disagree with Nowra’s summary:
“Many of the tribulations affecting Sydney are due to the fact that for the past two decades governments have forgotten that a city is more than its CBD and trendy inner suburbs. Outer suburbs are also integral to a city’s energy and sense of itself. But by the end of the millennium these suburbs, especially in the southwest and northwest, were fraying badly.”
Whilst his subsequent depiction of outer Western Sydney as being awash with “drugs, domestic violence and family breakdown” may be too sweeping a generalisation, there is no escaping the fact that parts of the region suffer from these problems and that complacency and policy failures by successive governments have contributed to this situation.
Nowra goes on to list some specific examples and their consequences. These start with under-investment in transport and other infrastructure (here Nowra takes a swipe at the decision to replace the northwest and southwest rail links with the CBD Metro), but also include inattention to a lagging economy, poor urban design, inept licensing laws and the collapse of the health system.
You might not agree with every one of Nowra’s arguments, but overall he builds a strong case for his conviction that Sydney has “outgrown the imagination of its politicians”. He concludes that to succeed Sydney needs to reinvest not only in infrastructure, but also in some less tangible factors such as pride, youthful enthusiasm, cultural exuberance and social diversity in order to create a “melting pot of ideas and a sense of purpose” to overcome the city’s current “malaise of apathy and cynicism”.
It would be very easy to dismiss Nowra’s criticisms as merely another polemic against the current State Government, but his critique is much more far-reaching. It should be compulsory reading for politicians on all sides, in Federal as well as State politics.