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On the surface London seems quite like Australia. Walking about the streets; buying meals; travelling on public transport; staying in hotels; watching TV; going to a play; visiting friends; shopping; going to the movies in London seems mundane compared to travel to most other countries. Signs are in English; most people speak a version of our language, depending on their region of origin. Electricity is the same and we drive on the same side or the street.
But look as you might, nowhere in Australia is really like London.
Like Paris from the Eiffel Tower; it is possible to get a panoramic view of London from the giant Ferris wheel at the south end of Westminster Bridge known as the London Eye.
The London Eye
Designed with tensioned spokes like a push bike wheel it carries viewers to a height of 132m; the equivalent height of a building of around 30 stories. This very modest height works uniquely well in London where the surrounding buildings are low-rise.
Parliament and Westminster Abbey from the London Eye
The engineering is interesting. Opposing main drives, either side, engage with the rim via rubber tyres.
Eye drive arrangement
The viewing capsules are not kept horizontal by gravity, or perhaps by a circumferential cable, as one might expect, but by local electric motors rotating each capsule independently.
Eye Viewing Capsule
I was intrigued to think what would happen if any of these failed. Customers would be walking up the walls; literally.
It is popular to single out the English weather as the major difference. Actually Sydney gets over twice as much rain as London but the London rain is lighter and more frequent. Nor is London particularly cold. It typically pleasantly warm in summer; comparable to spring or autumn in Sydney.
Lunch on The Serpentine
But even in mid summer the sun is more than 17 degrees lower in the sky at midday and, as a consequence is less bright. And as London is further north than anywhere in Australia is south, a summers day is a lot longer than even in Tasmania. Summer shadows are longer and less intense and the days seem very long and mild; while winter days are very short; cold and often wet; and therefore significantly more miserable.
You can get a summer sunburn in London; but only if you really try.
A London Summer's day
This means the built environment in northern cities needs to be quite different to that in say Spain; or Australia.
'Whenever I walk in a London Street I'm ever so careful to watch my feet...'
Although there are many place names in common, climatic and demographic factors, together with the relatively elevated and rugged geography in Sydney, compared to London's flood plane, meant that Paddington; Lewisham; Richmond; Windsor or St Albans around Sydney would never properly mimic the London of fond memory to those who named them. Similarly, Newcastle; Wallsend; and Jesmond on the Hunter in no way mimic their namesakes on the Tyne.
Architecture responds to climate and the natural environment and has had a major ongoing influence on in both countries. In a similar street to the one above in Australia most shops would all have fixed awnings to the curb to protect the shoppers from the sun and the rain.
Greater opportunity to spend time outdoors encouraged the traditional Australian love of the 'quarter acre block' that has meant greater urban sprawl; less 'people friendly' inner urban areas and less efficient mass transit.
Although many of the older buildings in London pre-date European settlement in Australia, much of the London we admire was built or re-built at the 'height of empire' in Victorian times or later.
Today Sydney is bigger, and a lot wealthier, than London was in mid Victorian times but the demographics are dramatically different; particularly in the distribution of wealth.
Even today population densities are much higher in London than anywhere in Australia; and distribution of wealth remains less equitable. Despite some huge houses seen on Kevin McCouds Grand Designs the British, on average, have the smallest dwellings in the developed world; whereas Australians now have the largest.
International House Sizes
|Countries||All Houses (m2)||New Houses||Family size avg.||m2/per capita|
Sources: OECD Family database and Demographia (sources: Japan Statistical Yearbook, European Housing 2002,
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canadian Home Builders Association, Infometrics)
This is immediately apparent when shown to your room in a London hotel.
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