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Is Paris the right model for the Sydney of 2050?

By Alan Davies - posted Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, architect Phillip Vivian reckons Sydneysiders should look to the history of Paris – specifically to the wholesale changes wrought by Baron Haussmann – for inspiration on the Sydney of the future (Think London or Paris, not Blade Runner, for your Sydney of the future):

If the Sydney of tomorrow sounds more like cities such as Paris and London than the Blade Runner dystopian vision often touted, that is because infrastructure makes positive evolution possible. I foresee a rapid-transport-led renaissance in the 21st century.

Mr Vivian tells us how he hopes Sydney will turn out in the future. He trusts it will have largely turned its back on the car by 2050 and embraced walkable neighbourhoods connected by rapid public transport.


If planned around infrastructure, 21st century Sydney will be a more humane city in which people – out of cars – live healthier, more connected lives. It will also be a quieter, less polluted city with more space for alternative transport, including walking and cycling, and autonomous and electric vehicles.

The idea that today's Paris might be a model for the Sydney of 2050 is seductive. After all, Paris is one of the world's most beautiful cities with outstanding public transport and very high levels of walking. It's bound to be an appealing aspiration, but by itself it doesn't take us very far.

Mr Vivian only tells us what he wants Sydney to be in the future. He doesn't tell us how realistic this future is, how we might get there, what the downsides are, what it will cost, what the risks are, what we'll have to forego, or who'll win and who'll lose. It's like a 20-year old expecting a comfortable and worry-free retirement, while remaining oblivious to the effort and sacrifices necessary to make it happen.

Is it a sensible way to look at how Sydney should develop over the next 30 years?

Consider the exhibit, which superimposes Paris's Metro on Sydney's rail network. The Metro has some extensions out to 10 km, but the bulk of it services the old area of Paris that tourists find so beguiling. That's the area within the ring road (Boulevard Périphérique), roughly a radius of 6 km.


The Paris Metro has 15 lines and 303 stations within an area where Sydney has around 30 stations. The Paris metropolitan area is also served by the suburban RER system, which is similar to Sydney's rail system. The RER has 257 stations, compared to Sydney's 176.

Funding transport infrastructure on the scale of Paris looks like a monumental task given Sydney's planned Metro West with 10 to 12 stations is expected to cost circa $20 – 25 billion. Coincidentally, the Herald reported on the same day that while the NSW government is ramping up infrastructure spending, it's facing falling stamp duty and GST revenue.

The density of the Paris Metro makes sense because it's in one of the densest cities in the world. There are 2.4 million residents in central Paris. The buildings are uniformly composed of 5 – 7 storey buildings in small blocks, with ground floor businesses.

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This article was first published in Crikey.

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About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

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