Sydney’s time is now—and the city knows it. Once down-at-the-heels neighborhoods are being revitalized at a scorching pace: run-down port areas such as the Pyrmont wharves are making way for luxury apartment buildings; the onetime industrial wastelands of Alexandria are being transformed into an urban utopia; and the red-light district of Kings Cross has managed to maintain its delicate balance of seedy and sophisticated. All are undergoing a rebirth and emerging as exciting destinations with galleries, cafés and vibrant street life.
I gave up Sydney life for New York three years ago, and whenever I return, another corner of the city seems to be getting the gentrification treatment. The things I took for granted when I lived there—the spectacular, clear light, which first-time visitors always remark on; the obsession with being out of doors; the sheer grace of the harbor, with its many secret coves and beaches are the very things that strike me anew each time I visit. You can feel it in the attitude of Sydneysiders too. The Aussie penchant for looking overseas for clues on how to dress, eat, shop and play is fast disappearing. Instead, Sydney is busy carving its own identity as the world’s most livable and laid-back international city. The cultural melting pot here is one of the most diverse around. The mass immigration of southern Europeans in the 1950s and ’60s—from Greece, Italy and Turkey—has been enriched over the years by an influx from China, Vietnam and Thailand as well as Israel, South Africa, Lebanon and the Middle East.
Indeed, egalitarianism—epitomized by the uniquely Australian notion of “a fair go for all”—is in Sydney’s DNA. The beaches and parks are for everyone, and you’re as likely to discover yourself sitting next to a CEO as a backpacker when you stop to take in the stunning harbor views from the steps of Sydney Opera House or the Botanic Gardens. Longtime residents still get all misty about their city, like stylist Megan Morton, who describes “driving over the bridge when the Opera House is opening a show and the entire foreshore is abuzz and glowing” as one of her favorite Sydney experiences. Elitism has never taken hold here, which is why so many international visitors find the relaxed friendliness of the locals so striking. Even as Sydney races toward the future, that legendary, down-to-earth Aussie spirit remains. The residents of this city might have robust investment portfolios and increasingly refined tastes, but it’s still de rigueur to duck down to the beach before work for a quick surf or to linger over superb rich coffee on a café terrace during a breakfast meeting. Shelley Barrett, founder and CEO of cosmetics success story ModelCo, sums up the feelings of many Sydneysiders: “I love the Emerald City for many reasons, but most of all for its raw energy, multiculturalism, amazing weather and incredible harbor. It means that so much of a Sydneysider’s life can be spent enjoying the outdoors, and that’s something I never take for granted.” I’m reminded each time I return to Sydney of that classic saying from childhood visits to the ocean: Come on in, the water’s great.
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