Peter Walker City Conversation

(6pm February 21 2012, Lower Sydney Town Hall)

Podcast available HERE.

Thank you, Jenny Brockie, MC and good evening, everyone. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the 200 nationalities who make up our City.

I'd like to welcome our keynote speaker, the distinguished landscape architect, Peter Walker, who is designing the major new headland park at Barangaroo.

I also welcome our panellists:

  • Terry Moran, AC, chair of the Barangaroo Delivery Authority
  • Graham Jahn, AM, our City of Sydney Director of Planning, Development & Transport
  • Catherin Bull, AM, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Melbourne.

What happens on the eastern shores of Darling Harbour will have a significant impact on Sydney. The site presents an opportunity to reclaim the City's western edge, to provide necessary new office and residential space, new cultural venues, new parklands and more public open space in an increasingly dense city.

Above all, it needs to be handled with sensitivity and care, so Barangaroo can re-establish long-lost connections between the city and our harbour that have been obliterated by roads and flyovers and badly sited buildings.

There is the potential for a first-rate commercial and retail precinct, outstanding residential and cultural activities, and magnificent harbour-front parkland, and Barangaroo could become a destination of national significance.

As Australia's only global city, Sydney is at the heart of the Australian economy. Economic activity within our local government area comprises 25% of the State's GDP and one-twelfth of Australia's GDP - about $100 billion a year, up there with the mining sector in terms of economic importance to our nation.

On any one day, one million people, equivalent to a quarter of the Sydney metropolitan population, are in the City's local government area - either because they live here, work here, or they're at school or university. Or they've come to shop, to visit a cultural centre, to transact business, to entertain visitors or simply to enjoy the city's attractions.

Unlike the mining sector, our city economy is centred around the activities of people. It leads the way in real long-term job-creation and the potential for a sustainable future.

Over the next two decades, the share of world economic activity in the Asia Pacific region will grow from 30 to almost 50 per cent. Our region and time-zone are emerging as the centre of global economics.

For much of the 20th century, the Hungry Mile was Australia's maritime gateway to the world. In this century, Barangaroo can become the gateway for Australia's financial and other business services to the growing Asian economies.

But 21st century cities have to be about more than the economy. Economic success is underpinned by broader factors of liveability for residents, workers and visitors.

Sydney is consistently at, or near, the top of global liveability indices. Just last month, a City Reputation survey of 35,000 people in 15 countries ranked Sydney as the "best city to live in", and the second most beautiful city after Rome. It was also ranked in the top five cities for safety.

Good transport, pedestrian and cycling connections are imperative. Without them, economic growth and liveability are constrained and threatened by congestion.

Outstanding design, parklands and public domain are vital. The spaces around buildings must connect visually and physically to provide inviting places for people to gather and enjoy.

And the character of our villages provide vitality and interest—reflecting the villages of cities such as New York and London. They are equally important for the culture, economy and liveability of our city.

Our new planning controls, in their final stages of preparation, have been developed with these issues in mind. Our underlying approach is to protect the character of existing residential and heritage areas, and focus balanced and responsible development in renewal areas such as Green Square, Barangaroo, CUB, Harold Park and the Ashmore Estate.

These urban renewal areas can provide 86 per cent of the gross floor area that is required to meet our 2030 targets - that is, 48,000 new dwellings and 97,000 extra jobs.

The City is now starting a review of planning controls for central Sydney, looking at how these might accommodate growth while improving liveability for business and residents. It is a broad-based review and we will be talking with the State government and other bodies concerned about the future of our CBD.

A key consideration for the review will be how Barangaroo will affect Sydney's future character - and especially, its office market. It will look at how Sydney might derive wider benefits from this renewal of its harbour-edge.

The introduction of light rail along George Street through Walsh Bay to Barangaroo is a once in a generation opportunity to shape the future of our city.

George Street will flourish if we remove the congestion and open up a network of vibrant lanes and small plazas that encourage shops, bars and other small businesses to thrive.

For the first time, there would be easy access to the Walsh Bay cultural precinct, and the City is working closely with the State government to ensure a system that serves the needs of the city as a whole.

Other State projects underway can also drive this transformation. They include:

  • the reconfiguration of Margaret Street and a new pedestrian tunnel from Wynyard to Barangaroo
  • the Arts NSW vision for the Walsh Bay area
  • work at Circular Quay and First Fleet Park and the revitalised MCA
  • work by NSW Roads and Maritime Services to remove toll gates and realign lanes on the Bradfield Highway, allowing for a dedicated cycle path to Observatory Hill and Kent Street.

For the new public parks and spaces at Barangaroo to work for the whole city, they must be readily accessible for residents and visitors - which means clear walking, cycling and public transport connections to the western edge.

The design of the Headland Park - and its connections to the important heritage area of Millers Point, and to the cultural precinct at Walsh Bay - is crucial.

The mistakes made at Darling Harbour in the 1980s - mistakes that have blighted the city's edge and stymied opportunities ever since - must not be repeated at Barangaroo.

Earlier last year, the City began a Public Domain study to help us plan for the changes coming to this area, and to ensure that the new parkland, the Barangaroo development itself, and any new facilities are all connected to, and integrated with, the City.

We've been working with the local communities, as well as with government and other interest groups, on our Harbour Village North Public Domain Study.

We exhibited a first draft last July, and have hosted community workshops to further refine the study. We engaged specialists to prepare a "Key Streets" study to improve pedestrian routes through the area. We're looking at opportunities for the Observatory Hill precinct, and our heritage consultants are ensuring the high heritage values of the area are maintained.

Last night, Council endorsed re-exhibition of the study, which recommends projects such as streetscape improvements to improve pedestrian and cycle connections, including the dedicated cycleway off the Harbour Bridge to connect with the through-city cycleway.

Walsh Bay is an important part of our proposed harbourside Cultural Ribbon, linking key cultural institutions and icons along the harbour from Barangaroo through to the Opera House and beyond. Our study will guide reinforcing the Ribbon through signage, heritage interpretation and public art.

Our Eora Journey project is a walking trail linking significant Aboriginal sites, celebrating this ancient and living culture for locals and tourists. It will include a series of public art works that interpret our unique Aboriginal culture and a Harbour walk, with an audio tour of the historical precinct.

These projects underscore this area's unique heritage, while helping to weave the Barangaroo development into an outstanding urban edge for Sydney.

And now I invite Peter Walker to outline for us, his vision for the new Headland Park and its relationship to our city.