The Null Device

Sydney says: here's your $7,000, now piss off

Sydney's status as one of the world's most liveable cities has recently been threatened by spiralling rents and property prices. In an attempt to turn this about, the New South Wales government has announced that it will pay Sydneysiders to leave, with eligible residents standing to get AU$7,000 to move to the countryside:
The one-off grants to move to country areas will be payable to individuals or families provided they sell their Sydney home and buy one in the country. The country home must be worth less than $600,000 (£390,000), something that won't be hard in most rural areas. It will cost the taxpayer up to $47m (£30m) a year.
As much as boosting regional areas, the scheme is also about making Sydney more liveable. The city's population is 4.5m and predicted to grow by 40% over the next 30 years, putting unprecedented pressure on infrastructure and housing.
The government reportedly considered increasing the building density in Sydney to something approaching European levels for almost five minutes, before it was pointed out that doing so would be fundamentally un-Australian, and would violate Australians' rights to a house on a quarter-acre block with a two-car garage, which, much like Americans' right to bear arms, is sacrosanct and not negotiable.

It's not clear whether Melbourne (which is about as expensive as Sydney these days, making up for its lack of a spectacular harbour with a thousand funky laneway bars) will follow this lead and offer people money to move to Geelong or Moe or somewhere.

There are 8 comments on "Sydney says: here's your $7,000, now piss off":

Posted by: Greg Fri Jul 1 11:17:48 2011

Big cities certainly have a different "feature set" to regional towns. For example they tend to have more cultural and economic facilities, but less space and clean air. But I wonder how much Australians' desire to live in the big cities is due to the belief that living in a city confers higher social status?

If you live in Sydney or Melbourne you are better than residents of Adelaide or Hobart, who are in turn better than residents of Geelong or Moe. Villages are respected in Britain - in Australia they are hillbilly crap. Of course, Australians living in Sydney and Melbourne are not quite as good as those who have moved to New York or Tokyo.

This view is openly held within the culture-creation industries (writers, musicians, academics etc). But from my limited experience it also held within other trades. Moving to a bigger city is equivalent to moving up in the world, and conversely for those going the other way.

You'd have to fix this before trying to effect a movement away from the cities.

Posted by: acb Fri Jul 1 13:47:51 2011

Perhaps the key is to develop regional centres, well connected to though distinct from major cities, which are mroe prestigious than shabby provinciality. University towns (like Oxford/Cambridge in Britain or Uppsala in Sweden), or places with a creative/arty vibe (like Brighton in England). Australia has coastal towns which are sea-change communities for semiretired middle-aged white-collar professionals and a few recreational areas like Byron Bay, but the rest of its towns are more like, say, Bedford or Coventry or somewhere than anything else.

Posted by: acb Fri Jul 1 13:56:07 2011

Then again, maybe faster transport links will help. The proposed high-speed rail links from Sydney to Melbourne and Newcastle (which I'd say probably will never happen, though given the inevitability of rising oil prices, and the economic boost of the resources boom, they make excellent sense) in particular could have a trransformative effect on the provincial towns it cuts through. If, say, Goulburn is within under an hour of Sydney, it starts to look a lot less like a hardship posting to those who value connectedness, cultural engagement and/or social status, and a new cohort of people will buy (by then undervalued) property there. Similar things happened to French provincial towns when the TGV lines were built.

Posted by: Greg Fri Jul 1 23:45:22 2011

I like the idea of establishing university towns in Australia. UK and USA have some that are great places to live. (You mentioned Oxford, which I love. I'm thinking also Santa Barbara.)

We don't really have country campuses that aren't outposts of big-city universities. (There's Wollongong, New England etc but they're not world class.) I bet if a genuinely good uni could be got up you'd a get a critical mass of academics and students willing to move there. Most uni people don't have much money and city housing is expensive. A resort-town atmosphere would be attractive to students, short-term contracts such as post-docs, and visiting academics. (I'm reminded of Bond Uni on the Gold Coast but that's an odd uni that didn't really take off.)

I wonder what the best Australian regional town would be for establishing a new world-class university? (Jokes about ANU would be inappropriate here.)

I'd vote for Bendigo, or somewhere on Victoria's Great Ocean Road.

Posted by: datakid Sat Jul 2 08:40:14 2011

Is Fremantle urban/suburban/outer enough? With its beaches et al, I'm sure it would make a good space. There already is a Uni in Ballarat - not too far from Bendigo in the scheme of things, and the people there like it...and I think we talked previously about moving to Dandenong for the next exodus - giving up on the inner city and taking space in places that actually have space...Oxford is helped by its bike accessibility, something that I wouldn't necessarily accused Dandenong or Ballarat of, I guess. But I've not spent enough time in those places recently...

Posted by: acb Sat Jul 2 13:27:05 2011

The Great Ocean Road sounds good. Perhaps Lorne or Apollo Bay could establish itself as a creative hub. Transport links remain the problem, with a slow coach from Geelong being the way to get there. (These scenic routes aren't particularly efficient from a pure connectivity point of view.) Or possibly somewhere closer to Geelong, where once a modern fast electric rail line is run through to Geelong, it could be easily extended, working like the London-Brighton line. Perhaps Torquay?

Posted by: acb Sat Jul 2 13:28:23 2011

Also, was Bond University ever anything more than a vanity project with little serious academic credibility behind it? It sounded to me like a larger-scale version of those degree mills, providing the service of getting some letters to one's name with all the Bacardi and coke one can drink.

Posted by: Greg Sun Jul 3 21:55:21 2011

Any of these suggestions could be workable. Fremantle and Torquay are easy to get to from nearby big cities with international airports. I would add the Gold and Sunshine coasts in south-east Queensland. All of these are already beach resorts - very "brand Aussie".

Key features of Oxford, both Cambridges, Palo Alto and Santa Barbara are that they are close to big cities, but sufficiently far away to not suffer from big-city real-estate and transport congestion problems. Uni towns are places you go to primarily to do your uni business - study or research or whatever. You don't expect uni-town to have too much more in it than the uni. When you want more, on weekends or holidays, you head off for the city, which shouldn't be more than an hour or two away.

This is an appealing arrangement for students and their parents, researchers etc who want to get serious work done, without distractions and high rents.

I wonder if Melbourne - city and uni - would be willing to give up all those international students?