Bays Urban Renewal Program
Promotional video released by the NSW government showing the proposed plans for the Bays Urban Renewal Program in Sydney’s inner west.PT2M7S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3c2qn 620 349 July 17, 2014
Call me naive, March Hare, but I dream of a world where words mean what they say. Where governments are not closet corporations devoted to diddling their funders (us) by pretending that ‘'public interest'’ means the same as ‘'private profit'’.
What part of ‘'public'’ do they not understand?
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari.
To see Sydney from a God’s-eye viewpoint is to grasp it as one of the most perverse and enchanting cities on earth. Crammed and crusted around a drowned river that, drilled into the side of big Australia, bisects a mountain-ringed plain, Sydney fills its rills and rococo valleys with a Dickensian enthusiasm. Although browning here and there with industrial disuse, it’s lovely, this baroque shoreline, and it’s ours.
Or is it? Now this shoreline is up for grabs, along with just about everything else we own. Two current government moves – one policy, one program – jeopardise just about every bit of public land in the state.
First, the white paper on Crown Lands Legislation, now closed, rezones millions of hectares of grazing leases, waterways, licenses and reserves (including travelling stock routes) to ease their sale and redevelopment. Somehow ‘'public interest'’ really means council land sales to swell consolidated revenue. Community land? Sell it!
An artist's impression of how the revamped Fish Markets might look.
On the other hand, the Baird government has thrown open to the world our huge public land holdings around Sydney Harbour, welcoming maximum development of minimum quality like bog-ordinary developers. And we’re supposed to go along with this, like it’s all fine and dandy.
It’s not party political. The Labor government betrayed us on Barangaroo; the Liberals on Darling Harbour. Both are currently undergoing almost $10 billion worth of pillage by an unappetising alliance of Lend Lease, AEG Ogden, James Packer and Paul Keating. Oh, and the government. Us.
But even those crimes against Sydney are dwarfed by the announcement last week of the benign-sounding Bays Precinct Urban Renewal Program.
There’s nothing wrong with development. Not even with waterfront development (although most of it is trite). Not even in Sydney. What’s wrong is the attitude behind a process that will in turn generate the kind of dumbed-down, sold-off product of which we should all be ashamed. The product is generic and unintelligent. The process closed. The attitude, in a word, greed.
The area, 80 hectares in all, would – perhaps will – make three Barangaroos. From the Anzac Bridge to White Bay, it includes the fish markets, Blackwattle Bay and Rozelle train yards. It’s the biggest thing since the Olympics.
It’s also prime land in public ownership. This simple fact should constitute an automatic expectation of excellence. It also offers three separate means to that end. These are, in order of strength: the usual planning powers; the much stronger powers of ownership; and the chance of trailblazing leadership. Vision, even.
The new Bays Precincts have both motive and opportunity to be cutting edge, hyper-green and intensely, thrillingly urbane. They should be places of pride, places to take your mates from Vancouver or Lesotho, places that re-interpret Sydney in a way that, once seen, looks obvious. They should excite us all.
Sadly, this is improbable. For a start, the development is led by UrbanGrowth, the government’s regularly rebadged but otherwise changeless home brand developer.
UrbanGrowth is always written that way, absent the word-space, to show how funky it is. Underneath it’s the same old outfit, a sausage machine churning out last-century car-dependency like the Ponds at Blacktown. It’s the mob that rejected the classier bid for Darling Harbour saying we don’t want quality, we want popular. It’s chaired by John Brogden.
Brogden distinguished himself as an urban thinker of subtlety and refinement back in 2004 when, as Opposition Leader, he wanted Australia’s oldest indigenous urban community demolished as a ''slum''. Redfern locals were acting out, you recall, upset about the death of local teenager T.J. Hickey while under investigation by police. Brogden argued repeatedly to ''bring the bulldozers in''.
Never mind that more drugs are probably consumed in Mosman and Palm Beach than ever were on the Block or that, in fact, drugs were not implicated in the unrest. Brogden, Member for Pittwater, advised that demolition would permanently ''fix the problem''. Nice guy. Thoughtful. Now charged with selling our harbourside.
But that’s only the first reason to expect catastrophe. The next is the process. It has barely begun, yet already we-the-landowners are locked out of decision-making, which kicks off in November with an invitation-only ''summit'' of international ''planning experts''.
''Summit'' is one of those March Hare words. It suggests something high-level, right-thinking and fantastically arcane. To reinforce this impression, it is scheduled to coincide with the November G20. But we, the uninvited, don’t even get the guest list. (So far the government will name only three – IMF head Christine Lagarde, former Opera House honcho Michael Lynch and Waterfront Toronto chief executive John W. Campbell; none of them urbanists.)
Later next year, there’ll be more ''workshops'' for Sydneysiders ''to consult on outcomes''. (''Workshop'' is another March Hare word, which used to mean something open and creative but now, as in the Balmain Tigers shemozzle, means ''finesse'' or ''massage''; to ease a dodgy scheme through political resistance.)
Even these workshops are not actually public. In a Stasi-like winnowing method perfected by Planning Minister Frank Sartor, you must officially register before being given meeting details.
This secrecy has become so accepted that, with Darling Harbour, the government actually congratulated itself on maintaining public ignorance until tenders were let. Bloody hell. Do they think we’re children?
So, what should happen? Reverse order. First, government should propose a vision (energy-neutral, local village, high-rise intensity, whatever). Second, full-on public debate, rowdy and robust. Third, wheel in the experts, working to our brief.
As to numbers, I’d ask two. Parisian urbanist Philippe Robert, whose sweeping shoreline promenade turned Walsh Bay from a dog into a dream. And Argent, from London’s brilliant Kings Cross redevelopment, now almost complete (including heritage, canals, arts schools and 40 per cent affordable housing).
If you make something good, you don’t need to MarchHare it. You can tell the truth. Yours, Alice.