Hating Cities

I will never understand all the Melbournites who despise Sydney, some of them folks who’ve never even been here. Seriously, I’ve met Melbournites who sneer with disdain at the mere thought of stepping foot in Sydney. The horror they say!

Me, I’m from Sydney. I love it, but I also have a whole lot of time for Melbourne. Melbourne has better licensing laws and thus better bars than Sydney, a better art and live music scene, and (mostly) better clothes shopping. Melbourne has trams. And what is not to love about trams? But Melbourne has little of Sydney’s breath-taking physical beauty, doesn’t have her beaches, or national parks, or fairies, er, I mean ferries, actually I mean both. It doesn’t have the wonderful bike path all the way from Newtown to the beach. Melbourne is, well, kind of dreary looking and its winter is unendurable. Nor does it have many of my favourite restaurants in the world the way Sydney does but, hey, the food is plenty fine in Melbourne too. And, please, do not give me the sacred MCG thing. There’s only one truly beautiful test-hosting cricket oval in Australia and it’s in Adelaide. And anyways my heart belongs to the SCG.

But who am I kidding? I was born here. I’ve spent the majority of my life here. I am completely biased about Sydney.

I’m not asking Melbournites to start loving Sydney. I’m just asking them to be a little reasonable about their over-the-top hatred. There are other cities out there that are actually worth hating (like, you know, um, another Oz city that I will not name because I have friends who live there what will be offended). Sydney ain’t one of them. And while I’m at it, Adelaiders, quit hating Melbourne, okay? You’re just being silly and why hate them when their MCG is ugly and your Adelaide Oval beautimous? You should pity them.

For me to work up a real forth of city hating, it has to be either a) a city I spent a miserable few years of my childhood in, or b) a city where you can’t get around if you don’t drive. Where the public transport and pedestrian access sucks. For this reason I perfectly understand why so many folks in the US of A loathe Los Angeles. Without a car in L.A. you are totally buggered. You have to beg rides from all your friends and are reduced to the status of a helpless child. But you know what? That’s true of almost every city in the USA, which is one of the reason I love NYC and San Francisco so much, they’re perfectly navigable by public transport and in Manhattan you can go wherever you want by shank’s pony. Plus, you know, there are so many places in both cities you’d want to go.

I used to hate London, because every time I’d visited the food was vile and expensive, it was gray, cold and raining (even in “summer”), and the people were obnoxious and rude. On my most recent trip the food was still expensive but it was excellent, the weather was endurable, and I only had one rude encounter, so now London’s in my good books. It certainly passes with flying colours the good public transport and pedestrian getaroundability rule. (Thanks to Niki, Lauren and Andrew for showing me the non-sucky London.)

Cities are who you know. The people who take you in and show you their town. I’ve had wonderful times in Dallas and Austin, Texas neither of them pedestrian friendly. I adore Toronto and it sure ain’t pretty. I’ve enjoyed Brisbane, Rome, Madrid, Bangkok, Jakarta, Dunedin, San Miguel de Allende, Davis and Lisbon—all of them because the people there were amazing and went out of their way to show their town to me. I imagine that even L.A. with the right people in the right light could be kind of okay. And now that my sister‘s moved there I guess I’m going to find out.

Or maybe not. There’s still that bloody car thing.


  1. niki on #

    it’s just the tall poppy syndrone: adelaide hates melbourne – melbourne doesn’t know it exist: melbourne hates sydney – sydney doesn’t know it exists: New zealand hates australia – australia does’t know it exits and so on and so on…

  2. ben peek on #

    the music scene in sydney is pretty strong… sure, it’s not melbourne, btt the melbourne bands come to sydney a lot 🙂

  3. chrisbarnes on #

    Best Sydney-Melbourne comparison I’ve heard:

    When Sydney is mentioned, most Melbournians say they find Sydney too brash, up itself, lacking in culture, but they visit it at least once a year.

    When Melbourne is mentioned, most Sydneysiders say “oh yeah, melbourne…. i should visit there one of these years…”

  4. jennifer (aka literaticat) on #

    While I can well understand the impulse to hate los angeles, i think you’ll find that it charms you once you spend some time there. many neighborhoods are perfectly wonderful and self-contained, so you don’t need to have a car to enjoy them (silverlake and santa monica come to mind first, but there are many similarly pleasant neighborhoods). of course, a car helps for getting from one neighborhood to the next, but there is also a nice light rail system that can take you to the beach or downtown (depending on where your sister lives).

    Los angeles is also home to lots of amazing and inexpensive food (PINKS! TOMMY BURGER! APPLE PAN! EVERY TAQUERIA! mmmmmm…), an extremely diverse population (great ethnic food) and a plethora of cafes that have atmosphere to burn. plus it has a MILLION great movie theatres, killer shopping (from vintage to haute) and extremely pleasant weather (though admittedly freezing ocean.)

    (full disclosure: i was born there, so i am biased …but i still love l.a.!)

  5. veejane on #

    I thought childish city rivalries existed only in professional sports (okay, and college football). Little did I know!

  6. cecil on #

    you and I will have fun when you come to L.A.

    I think L.A. has this rare beauty, like a subtle smudge.

    I hate driving. But I love my L.A.

  7. Dan Goodman on #

    I lived in Los Angeles without a car for most of the 1970s. I usually got around by bus without major problems. However, every time the bus authority’s contract with the drivers came up, they would decide that NOW was the time to show the union how tough they could be. And there’d be a strike.

  8. Sir Tessa on #

    I don’t hate Sydney. I just hate the fact that it’s sub-tropical. Me and humidity, we aren’t friends.

    Otherwise, Sydney’s just fine. Good comic shops.

  9. Corey on #

    “municipalcentricity” is rampant everywhere. Here in Arizona, USA–alone– it’s widepsread. It’s made even dumber in that cities cannot be more than, say, 300 miles apart (480km?). It’s a misguided form of pride I guess *shrug*

  10. Cheryl on #

    Actually I quite like Sydney. It is, after all, in Australia, which is more than can be said for most cities in the world. The only really obnoxious thing about Sydney is all of the Sydney people who keep going on and on about how much they hate Melbourne.

    You can do the comparison thing very easily though. Dame Edna comes from Melbourne and Sir Les Paterson comes from Sydney. Nuff said.

  11. niki on #

    cheryl – are you sure sydney people hate melbourne – I don’t know anyone that does. Mind you when I first went to melbourne all I saw was neighbours country where an old boyfriend was living at the time – and that kinda suxed but then after I wasn’t with him I saw fitzroy and the city and st kilda and though what the hell- why didn’t he show me all these cool places ?!?!

  12. Cheryl on #

    niki dear, I lived in melbourne for two years, and several of the people i worked with were from sydney. i know of which I speak. of course they were homesick sydney people, which may excuse them, but even so…

  13. niki on #

    ah yes well if you were living there you’d know – most of my friends living down there moved there to escape horrible sydney childhoods – but in any case I was thinking more about those folk that only visit for holidays. Living in a place is altogether diffferent 🙂

  14. lili on #

    i promise you cured me of my sydney-phobia, justine! i now realise that i only hate BITS of sydney, and there are BITS of melbourne i hate just as much.

    but it goes down to such a micro level… in melbourne, north-of-the-river people hate south-of-the-river people. in the city, east-of-elizabeth-street people feel sneered at by west-of-elizabeth-street people. i’m not too crazy about the other people in my apartment block… and the spider living in my bathroom is SOOOO much cooler than the spider living in the kitchen.

  15. Perry Middlemiss on #

    i don’t hate sydney, i just don’t want to live there. i spent my teens in adelaide, and adelaide people hate melbourne for sporting reasons: football and the grand prix being the two major ones. however, most adelaide people i know who left ended up in melbourne. few went to sydney. maybe because the climate is so much different and house prices are ridiculous.

  16. lili on #

    we didn’t want the grand prix! you can have it back! i didn’t vote for him!!!

  17. John Scalzi on #

    LA! LA! LA! LA!

    Oh, yes. LA.

  18. Meghan on #

    I was talking to this guy from chicago at a party yesterday and he was talking about how much LA sucked because he just spent a week working on a crappy low budget movie shooting in the valley and I was like, um, yeah, that would suck and I told him LA takes a little effort but there’s great stuff to be found. Then he kind of accused me of being brainwashed and I wanted to punch him in the mouth. LA has much much much to recommend it. The only time the driving sucks is when you have to get to your job.

  19. Rachel Brown on #

    don’t worry about the car! when you come to La, I will drive you around in my car.

  20. Justine on #

    Lili: You are genius funny. I shall love you forever. Plus you are so right! Bathroom spiders = so much better than kitchen spiders!

    Scalzi: Did you not read the FAQ? Singing is forbidden on this blog!

    Rachel: That is very kind of you, but does not change the fact that in L.A. and cities like L.A. cars are necessary. I am against cars. They are erky perky. Prefer me the shank’s pony, I do.

    Thanks to everyone for your lively responses.

  21. Cyril N. Alberga on #

    late to the game, but i just discovered this great site — actually pointed her from rec.arts.sf.written.

    a couple of points. first, to orient the view, we live an hour north of manhatten (by car, sorry) and get into the city several times a month, and (being ancient) use the mta at half fare. you really should —

    (i’m beginning to feel like a reincarnation of e e cummings!)

    — add boston to your lists of citys with reasonable public transportation.

    as to the sydney melbourne thingy, on our two (maybe another next year) trips to oz we spent a bit of time in each city — as well as a number of others.

    confesion time — how can you do anything in australia without a car? I can’t count the miles we put on our poor little rentals. sidney to canbarra to wagga wagga to melbourne via omeo and the prom then west to eucla and cockalbiddy (sp?) and on to perth and exmouth and back the first time (didn’t notice the fine print in the rental agreement). up the middle and out to broome, then back across to cairns via back roads (i should say backer road up there) and down to brisbaine.

    i don’t think anyone bad-mouthed other cities to us, and we talk to lots of locals. REL suppers were great, and everyone chats.

    so, i liked all the cities — in fact i’m not sure i can think of a city i really dislike anywhere in the world. — a few small towns now —

    anyway, keep up the wonderful blog, and i’m going to have to look at your books — b&n at lincoln center didn’t have any when i checked yesterday, but i’ll check around here in the burbs. can a 70+ guy read ya? better, cause i will.

  22. Justine on #

    I believe anyone with functioning eyeballs can read YA. Go for it! So pleased you like the blog.

    It’s hard to explain to car people just how much I don’t like cars. If I have to go in a car to get somewhere it better be a pretty darn special place or I’m not going.

    Where I live in Sydney not only do I not need a car, I barely need public transport. Shank’s pony wherever I go. The pleasure of a city for me is the pleasure of being able to walk wherever I go. With public transport and taxis as back up only.

Comments are closed.