Sydney has the opportunity of a lifetime to make a remarkable new part of the City on the CUB site on Broadway, on the edge of Chippendale. And now that the stoush is over between the City and the State on who will run the site, there’s the chance to actually start thinking about the social and built quality of what happens here. But the omens are not good: for fifteen years I have watched humble but pretty Chippendale being destroyed street by street with crass new apartment buildings which offer very ordinary amenity to residents and absolutely none to neighbours. That is no way to make a new place.
This land is adjacent to University of Technology Sydney and the City, a highly successful shopping complex and Central Station. It’s a dream site for any government and developer interested in making excellent new communities, places and spaces. The central issue in development has to be civility - the making of a public environment which enables, enhances and encourages a civil society.
So let’s start talking about how to do that.
A mix of people in communities
One of the core needs of a civil society is a mix of people in communities - younger, older, richer and poorer - because it’s this mix which makes authentic places. One of the constants in the debate over the CUB land so far has been the requirement for a developer levy to pay for affordable housing in Redfern. But by affordable, are we talking about public housing for rental or are we talking about assisting lower income people into ownership?
It’s important to understand what we really want here because the options to achieve both do exist, but the processes are quite different. So the aim has to be clarified, and as soon as possible so that it becomes part of the thinking about this project.
The next query is why would this affordable housing not be within the future development of the CUB land? Why would this site be seen as a precinct only for those able to buy at $500,000 upwards when it could include, amongst the proposed 3,000 residents, about 300 people who either rent as public tenants or have been assisted by imaginative loan programs into ownership?
Along with a mix of ages and incomes in the housing, this land should incorporate a mix of different uses. The Broadway frontages at least should be seen as a vibrant strip of shops, cafes and facilities to serve locals and the students over the road, and there could be serviced apartments, some office accommodation and some student housing within the total development. These varied activities will bring the streets alive and therefore safe around the clock.
This is a 5.7 hectare site edged by three main roads, with Carlton and Balfour Streets eating into the southern edge and O’Connor cutting across. It is essential that the site not be seen as some vast ‘new Brazilia’, but be made permeable by being broken into walkable blocks which link to the surrounding roads. These new blocks must each deliver high quality, well landscaped urban streets lined with architecturally impressive buildings. “Architecturally impressive buildings” and “high quality urban streets” must not just remain as words, they must become driving determinants for development of the land.
Pedestrians are the priority
Traffic planning will require both intelligence and an acknowledgement that pedestrians are the priority: freeways are not civilized environments, while streets must be. Broadway is clogged at most times of the day and Abercrombie and Kensington Streets are busy, so getting cars into and out of the various new areas - while enhancing and not diminishing the quality of all the pedestrian environments on surrounding streets - is a challenge to be addressed.
All parking for these blocks must be completely below ground. It may be cheaper to have cars parked at and above footpath level, but it delivers terrible footpaths and unsafe streets.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported, on June 10, that “Enough rain was dumped over Sydney last week to quench its thirst for three months”. But it all washed away and that is really tragic. This need not happen and it is time to recognise that every time we build, we can contribute to the collection, storage and recycling of water so that sites can contribute to their own sustainability. Every building on these future city blocks should store enough water at roof level to at least flush all toilets and water all landscape.
Along with the collection of water, all walkable areas, including footpaths and driveways should have absorbent surfaces so that rain is not lost to runoff. It’s not difficult, it simply requires good thinking and good planning up front.
This land offers Sydney an opportunity to make a new part of the city which expresses the best values that our society aspires to; a public realm which is a joy to use and which gives the community a sense that they and their histories are valued. Along with that, some new housing for people of different ages, incomes and abilities which recognises the environmental imperatives that confront us.
Is money all that matters in Sin City? Or could it be possible to make a new part of town well? It is all possible. What is needed is the will to do it very well.
Also in UDFQ 75: September 2006:
- The Suburban Backyard - its meaning and use in the contemporary suburb
- Interculturalism and the built environment
- ‘Meeting Again’ - Melbourne’s new Sandridge Bridge precinct
- What value is urban design?
- ‘Petrol hits $5 a litre’
- Urban Design Fast Track WA
- Sustainable cities need strong local government
- Prestigious design competition for Antarctic Gateway
- New King George Square goes sub-tropical