Sydney 'Sydney is very close to my heart. My lungs are full of it.' Everyone knows the old gag about Sydney. Once called the Emerald City, the El Dorado of the Antipodes, Sydney is edging its way towards gridlock as it tries to cope with a growing army of cars, trucks and buses - 160,000 cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge every day. Sydney's sparkling harbour, beaches and foreshore parks cannot disguise the fact that the warren of colonial streets known as the central business district is slowly being strangled by the car. After years of government inaction, Sydney's firebrand feminist mayor, Clover Moore, has appointed an eminent Danish town planner, Jan Gehl, to create what she calls 'a city with a soul'. This week, Professor Gehl unveiled his master plan for Australia's largest city. Entitled 'Public Spaces, Public Life', his report is a bold attempt to return the city business district to pedestrians and cyclists by creating three large parks along George Street, the city's major thoroughfare. 'Sydney has great edges: its magnificent harbour, the green spread of the Domain, the Royal Botanic Gardens. But where is its heart?' asks Professor Gehl. 'Its heart is congested, choking on the noise and fumes of the internal combustion engine.' The bold new master plan, if adopted, would effectively rid George Street of traffic, creating an iconic boulevard to match the Champs-Elysee in Paris or the Ramblas in Barcelona. Saved from the perfidious car, the city business district would be a magnet for walkers, artists, the elderly, even children. At Circular Quay, Sydney's main ferry port and a popular tourist destination, Professor Gehl would like to demolish an elevated 1970s freeway - the Cahill Expressway - and create an Italian-style piazza that would link the downtown area with its photogenic harbour, opera house and bridge. 'The city centre will breathe again,' he says. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Professor Gehl's urban fantasy is that it has been met with a chorus of approval from the public, the business sector and - astonishingly - those who own commercial property in the centre of Sydney. But not everyone is impressed. A few stalwarts are resisting Professor Gehl's brave new world, arguing that such blueprints cannot simply be imposed on a great city such as Sydney, which should treasure its architectural heritage, warts and all. 'We need to look at the value and charm of our run-down spaces,' says Fiona Allon, a cultural researcher at the University of Western Sydney. 'A static city is a dead city, and if you don't have spontaneity, you don't have life.' Others point out that the hallmark of Sydney's development over the past two centuries has been randomness, not planning. 'Sydney just developed pretty randomly in the first few decades,' says city historian Shirley Fitzgerald. 'Nobody thought it was going anywhere. It was just a convict dump, really.' Ironically, it is not the motoring lobby which is likely to derail Professor Gehl's noble plans, but public cynicism. While Sydneysiders would like a cleaner, more efficient and less congested city they are not yet convinced that creating more public spaces is the answer. As one Bondi resident told his local newspaper, in Sydney public space is synonymous with urban wasteland populated by skateboarders and confused tourists. 'Can we make them more useful than a half-acre of baking marble in the midst of some nasty contemporary architecture. It's not as though they'll be constructed around the Trevi fountain.'