SYDNEY - Post-Christmas shoppers in the centre of Sydney were shocked to find semi-trailers and cranes parked across some of the city's busiest streets this week.
The obstacles, along with 60 concrete bollards and about 20 movable road closure signs, were put up as part of security measures against mass-casualty car attacks during Sydney's chaotic annual shopping frenzy on Dec 26, or Boxing Day.
Though the unusual measures prompted a front-page story headlined “Fortress Sydney” in The Daily Telegraph mass-circulation tabloid, they seemed to provide a calming effect on some residents.
"It does feel safer down here this year," Mr Ray Blasioli, 20, told the newspaper. "You don't have to look over your shoulder and think you might get hit by a car or something."
The measures were not the result of any specific threat but of a horrific car attack in Melbourne last week that left 19 people injured. A 32-year-old man faces 18 counts of attempted murder for driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle deliberately into a crowd of pedestrians at one of the city's busiest intersections. Saeed Nori, an Australian citizen, had arrived in this country in 2004 as a refugee from Afghanistan.
The Dec 21 incident outside Flinders Street station came just 11 months after a 27-year-old man drove through a crowd, just metres away in Bourke Street, killing six people and leaving more than 30 others injured. The driver, James Gargasoulas, later claimed he was having a mental breakdown and was under the influence of "the illuminati".
The two incidents shocked the nation and have led to reviews of efforts to prevent such attacks. Other vehicle-based attacks have occurred in cities including New York, London, Nice and Barcelona.
As Sydney was coming to grips with the appearance of trucks and bollards this week, Melbourne was experiencing its own heightened security measures.
Police on Thursday (Dec 28) tested a new loudspeaker emergency system, which will warn the public of vehicle attacks, sieges, riots or armed shooters. The loudspeakers can issue four messages to the public: Leave an area, move to an area, stay inside or seek shelter.
"That signal will go out and will alert the public and say 'listen, pay attention - something is happening'," said Victoria's state police acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton.
More than 60 speakers were installed across the city earlier this month, with plans for 90 by the end of 2018.
The two incidents have raised fresh questions about what, if anything, can be done to prevent such attacks.
Experts have proposed various urban design solutions, such as installing chicanes to slow cars down or erecting bollards, statues, high kerbs, bus shelters, fountains and other barriers. In Sydney's Martin Place, concrete spheres have been erected to block vehicles, while Melbourne has been installing aesthetically pleasing bollards that can hold plants.
Associate Professor Douglas Tomkin, a design expert who has worked with New South Wales police on measures to prevent vehicle attacks in urban areas, said police have been testing larger and stronger barriers. This included experimenting with four-wheel-drives travelling at 80kmh into bollards.
"There are lots of different ways to make cities safer in these situations," Prof Tomkin, from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), told The Conversation website. "It's dependent on the context."
Much of the focus has been on developing barriers and other protective measures that are not only safe but also suit the local urban environment.
Dr Pernille Christensen, also from UTS, has been doing research on how to protect urban spaces. She has consulted architects, landscape designers, property developers and builders to examine features that are safe and can be included in the early stages of new construction projects.
Some of the barriers that have emerged in Sydney and Melbourne following recent attacks have come under heavy criticism for being aesthetically jarring.
Residents who live in the exclusive apartment building alongside Sydney's Opera House have complained that their property prices may be affected by a series of ugly barriers lining the waterfront promenade.
"It looks a mess and the barriers are as ugly as sin," a resident, Mr John Henderson, told The Australian on Thursday.
But such measures are here to stay and only likely to increase.
Sydney authorities have warned that New Year's Eve celebrations this year will have more bollards than ever before. Police said Sydney will need "permanent structures" around roads and footpaths.
"We don't like it," Mr David Elliott, the counter-terrorism minister for New South Wales, told Channel Seven.
"I don't think anybody likes seeing trucks being used as barricades... but what we've seen on Boxing Day is the reality of what we need to be prepared for."