Australia is hard to put a finger on – or even, understand. Sydney felt a bit like New York, a bit like London, and a bit like San Francisco. It is expensive, peninsular, and teeming with various cultures. The blocks in the central business district, and general center run north-south into a few fingers of land with the historic Rocks/Circular Quay area, the Opera House, and a fantastic botanical garden reaching out or yielding to the bay.
Alleys here are on the rise to catch up to Melbourne’s advanced laneway culture. I met with architect/planner Craig Allchin, of Six Degrees, and now a consultant to the city of Sydney. He explained to me the formal history of the city, its latent problems, and how the mayor has recently taken a liking to laneways and begun catalyzing their habitation through various financial stiumuls programs, specifically one for the encouragement of small bars, which Craig refers to as “the cafes of the night”. These types of spaces are seriously lacking in many of the American cities I have looked at, especially Seattle. Craig began his alley affair with the opening of one of the first laneway bars in Melbourne (check the link above and find Meyer’s Place Bar) with five other recent architecture graduates a number of years ago. After the success of this, along with a few other factors, Melbourne has transformed into the most amazing collection of revitalized service lanes out of any other Western cities I have seen. It looks to set the bar high for a competitor.
An amazing alley art series is curated annually, with the most recent just debuting a couple months back, there are some fantastic pieces that transform the mundane Sydney laneway into a unique urban encounter. Due to no phone, or upload access, these blog entries will for th most part be textual until my return on the 16th,
Last night, I paid a visit to small business of the year, Grasshopper, a fantastic two-level bar and restaurant off the tiny and sketchy looking Temperance Lane off George Street. This space used to be a printing press area and due to the new bar stimulating program, has taken off into a fantastic little place. I also visited Via Abercrombie in Abercrombie Lane, which was essentially what looked like a garbage room transformed by lining the walls with cabinets and placing a table in the middle into a very popular lunch-time sandwich spot. Both of these places were fantastic to sit in and see the engagement with the laneway, and the city fabric itself. These places were very uncharacteristic of the otherwise service-oriented lanes throughout the city.
I see a parallel in Sydney to the Seattle alley cause, as they are trying to transform something that has been utilitarian into something that aspires to be more. The city’s acceptance of Craig’s ideas and the successes of Melbourne is very encouraging to the Seattle future. These types of spaces really begin to add an entirely new layer to the perception and attractiveness of a downtown. We have endless potential – off to Melbourne!