On the 5th of November 2014 architects, politicians and the public gathered at Sydney’s Town Hall to discuss the future of what could amount to be the biggest urban development project in the city’s history and certainly the biggest since the 2000 Olympics.  

The Festival of Urbanism (FoU), staged by the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, saw international architects and urban planning experts meet for a panel discussion on what should be the considerations and parameters for development in the Bays Precinct.

So far all we know is that the Bays Precinct proposal, which covers Glebe Island, White Bay, Rozelle Bay, Blackwattle Bay and the Sydney Fish Markets, will be guided by a new NSW Government committee that is currently planning a ‘strategic vision’ in time for a November 20 international summit that will further discuss the idea.

The summit briefing is available here:. The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA)  and the Green Building Council Australia have been invited to the Summit. Click for enlarged image:

A general theme from the FoU, one that can be read in the transcripts from the various speakers on the night, is that the city does not want a development with vested privatised interest and care must be taken in every stage of its proposal so as to not let these interests materialise into a failed public space for the city – like Barangaroo.

University of Sydney’s Director of Urbanism, Roderick Simpson emphasised that one stage that mustn’t be overlooked is governance. Simpson believes that if correctly administered the Bays Precinct development offers the community an appropriate place to reinstate their democratic right in determining the shape and quality of the city.

He also warned, quite pessimistically, of what an unbalanced governing structure, which didn’t include consultation from non-government and non-private sector entities, might amount to:

“How you ‘design’ the governance, will fundamentally affect how you design ’the deal’, and how you design and structure the deal is like designing the DNA of a project. And having genetically engineered the project embryo, you stand back and watch it grow in to … Barangaroo,” he explained.

“…Designing the governance, working out how citizens can be actively engaged and empowered in decision making, the potential of entities that sit somewhere between government and the private sector, has not been given nearly enough thought, and there is no amount ‘design excellence’ or ‘starchitecture’ that can overcome a badly structured deal.”

Simpson also called for appropriate infrastructure to coincide with any development and the consideration of affordable housing without any carparks and a metro subway station were two options he vocalised.

City of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore was also a keynote speaker on the night and, like Simpson, highlighted Barangaroo as a development that was best never to be emulated.

“The community welcomed with optimism the [Barangaroo] concept plan, developed after an international design competition, but fast forward to 2014 and numerous incremental changes will have increased floor space in the development by 70 per cent, if the latest proposals are approved,” she said.

“While a casino, which has not gone out to tender, is proposed for harbour foreshore land set aside for public parkland.”

Moore appealed to the NSW state government to involve “all levels of government” in the Bays Precinct development and used a Copenhagen City project called NORDHAVN as an example of collaborative development that could be imitated here.

“In contrast to the approach by our state and federal governments, a development in Copenhagen called Nordhavn (Northern Harbour), which I have visited, shows how urban development should be managed with involvement by all levels of government,” she said.

“Essential new infrastructure and sustainability are key components. A new metro system is being developed, linked to the broader metro system, and the intention is to provide a maximum five minutes walk to every part of the district.”

Nordhavn is a large 200 hectare urban development that is transforming an industrial harbour site into a sustainable residential and employment centre.

It’s being undertaken by the Danish Government in collaboration with the City of Copenhagen, which is the planning authority. The project is managed by a company run on a commercial basis and owned by the City of Copenhagen (55 per cent) and the State (45 per cent). (Images: By&HAVN)

White Bay resident, Professor Jane Marceau represented the community on the evening and her speech emphasised the role of the public in setting the design principles for the project. She pledged to run a ‘People’s Campaign’ jointly with the City of Sydney and Leichhardt Council, to ensure that the voices of the Sydney community are not only heard but engaged with in an egalitarian and convincing manner in the BP renewal.

Her campaign is centred on six “non-negotiable” planning principles that she believes will include the public in both the content and process of development decisions.

“I begin with the proposition that we need excellence in design for all Development Proposals and that this can best or only be achieved by following the Principles. Using the Principles we can both assess proposals and negotiate particularities,” she said.

“‘Excellence’ here is a concept which has many aspects. Most important is the aspect of overall social value which is manifest in both content and process of decisions. I am not sure that there is anything wrong with the Benthamite principle of the greatest good of the greatest number.”

“Expressed as Planning Principles for the Bays Precinct, excellence means:

  1. that precedence must be given to the public good as the overarching principle governing renewal of the BP;
  2. as part of this, there must be no alienation of the foreshore from public ownership by sale or longterm lease;
  3. there must be continuous public access to the foreshore as a core criterion for acceptance of all proposed development;
  4. a significant proportion of all the BP lands must be retained for public use;
  5. the community of Sydney must be able to fully engage in all stages of the planning process, including, in my view, both discussion of and decision about proposed major developments. ‘Consultation’ is clearly not enough.
  6. ensuring the precedence of the public good also means that all unsolicited development proposals must be open to competitive tender and proper public scrutiny. Transparency is critical.”

The precinct proposal will now come under discussion at the November 20 International Summit which has been previously welcomed by NSW AIA president Joe Agius.