Utzon Lecture Series

(AGSM Building, UNSW)

Thank you, and good evening, everyone. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

The recent NSW election has delivered the new State Government an overwhelming majority in the Parliament and a strong mandate for reform.

I believe that the strongest message from the people of NSW is that we've had enough of short-term decisions to feed the headlines, with long-term planning jettisoned for political convenience.

New South Wales has been in a holding pattern because big policy and leadership has steadily deteriorated. There has been little interest in long-term planning; no vision or investment in our future; and no action that would step on the toes of vested interests, or anger the shock jocks.

Our state is lagging behind in effective action on global warming, there's been a lack of decisiveness on land use planning, and there is a backlog of vital infrastructure needed for Sydney's effective functioning and competiveness.

It is time for leadership, vision and long-term planning in New South Wales.

So tonight I want to talk about vision—but more importantly, action to implement that vision.

'Vision' has become one of those weasel words that Don Watson damns so thoroughly. It's been reduced to the depth and complexity of a cereal packet blurb—"Our vision for your breakfast…"

It has also been detached from implementation — the work to translate the ideas into reality and provide the assurance that promises won't be forgotten once the 24 hour media cycle moves on.

It's time we reclaimed the meaning of 'vision' — as responsiveness, foresight, imagination, courage and most importantly action—and put it to work for our city, our state and our society.

We need State Government leadership that responds to the challenges of growth and climate change; that builds co-operative relationships and that acknowledges that people are the heart and soul of a thriving state.

Last year, we celebrated the bicentenary of one such visionary — Lachlan Macquarie, who found a ramshackle penal colony and envisaged its transformation into a civilised Georgian town.

Macquarie was the most influential of the colonial governors of NSW. A visionary leader, builder, innovator and social reformer, with his wife Elizabeth, Macquarie helped create modern Sydney through ambitious and significant social and community projects.

These include public works, currency development and the creation of Australia's first bank, setting aside land for open space and public use, notably Hyde Park and Sydney Common, Sydney's first permanent public buildings and the development of townships in regional NSW.

Despite his outstanding legacy, it is salutary to remember that his support for convict emancipation in particular brought him into conflict with influential sections of the local society, and his governorship ended under pressure from a commission of inquiry into the state of the colony.

Much nearer our own time, the late George Clarke prepared the 1969 strategic plan for Sydney. It had four objectives: to improve city management, city accessibility, city diversity and the city environment via 16 major policies and over 80 action priorities.

It looked at land use and built form, at community services, finance, tourism, leisure and learning, and pollution control.

One of its early achievements was the creation of Martin Place from a series of city blocks, lined with handsome buildings but acting then chiefly as a traffic funnel.

George wanted to restore some civic dignity, provide a fitting setting for the GPO and its fellows, and provide a sunlit space for pedestrians and people to congregate.

Naturally, he was howled at: this would make traffic and commerce and the business of the City impossible, the critics said.

Happily, he got his way there, as he did in his bid to persuade the then-Council to preserve the Queen Victoria Building.

George was at once planner, activist and visionary, and his legacy to Sydney lives on not only in the city's physical fabric but also in the thinking and the values we bring to planning today.

His belief that people had a right to help shape the future of their city is one that I share, and it informed every stage of the development of our Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan.

In 2006, the City of Sydney began work on our long-term plan for our environmental, economic, social and cultural sustainability.

We wanted a vision that would inspire support — so that long-term work could continue, no matter who is in government in George Street, Macquarie Street or indeed Canberra.

We commissioned extensive research and commenced historically broad consultation with residents, business, government, retail and other sectors — and of course, architects and planners.

There was an extraordinarily high degree of consensus on the major issues facing Sydney. Among them was:

  • climate change and the need to reduce our carbon footprint;
  • traffic congestion and the need for a 21st century public transport system;
  • the lack of connectivity across the City and the need to reconnect the City to the harbour and its surrounding urban villages.

People told us they value Sydney's social cohesion and diversity and want it strengthened; they want a lively night-life, with a greater choice of venues and activities; they want improved public spaces and a green city; and they want opportunities for artists, writers and start-up businesses to flourish in the global city.

They want Sydney to retain its liveability while continuing to evolve as Australia's global gateway, to be a city which reaches out to Asia while providing a real and inclusive future for our indigenous and immigrant communities.

In people's responses, we saw a local manifestation of the world-wide demise of the modernist ideology of "grand scale" planning. We saw support for traditional city design with its small blocks, fine-grained diversity of uses, and housing and business oriented to the street—because it makes cities safer, more accessible, more sociable, and more sustainable.

We summed up those aspirations in the words Green, Global and Connected.

Green means making the City an environmental leader, promoting new green industries to drive economic growth.

It means reducing greenhouse emissions through demand reduction and through green infrastructure which will reduce our energy, water and waste. It means helping contain the Sydney Region's footprint by integrating new housing with transport and other infrastructure.

Global means maintaining Sydney's position as Australia's global city with premium spaces for business, high quality jobs in the city centre and the range of social, cultural and recreational facilities that will support residents, attract and retain global talent and also appeal to tourists.

It means embracing innovation and new generation technologies to link into global cultural networks and it means taking part in global knowledge exchange.

And thirdly, a Connected city will be easy to get around and have excellent networks for walking and cycling, both in the centre and out to the City villages.

It will also be easy to get to, with an upgraded regional transit network.

The City villages will also be socially connected, with strong residential communities, served by activity hubs which provide food, cultural activities and services within walking distance of most residents.

Relative equality will be improved by an increased share of affordable housing and improved access to existing services.

Of course, in preparing Sustainable Sydney 2030 we didn't just consult. We also sought advice from the best experts we could find.

We engaged SGS Economics and Planning to lead a team of strategic planning, transport, social, cultural, environmental, governance, design and economics experts.

The consortium included respected organisations such as Simpson + Wilson; Hill Thalis; Kenesis; Australia Street Company; Strategic Economics; Geoff Anson; Neil Prosser; Milbur Consulting; anagram Studio; and Griffith University.

We also engaged a team of architects and urban design firms to develop projects, such as Hassell; Bates Smart; McGregor Westlake Architecture; Neeson Murcutt; Russell Olsson Urban Projects; Johnson Pilton Walker; Tony Caro Architecture; Tonkin Zulaikha Greer; Lacoste + Stevenson Architects; Merrima Design and Anton James Design.

We asked them to critically analyse Sydney's strengths and weaknesses.

Sydney undoubtedly remains a growth magnet, attracting residents and jobs, but the inevitable parallel to that is increasing pressure on available land, on infrastructure and services.

While we play a global role in finance, business services and the knowledge industries, we face fierce competition from other cities in the Asia-Pacific, particularly Singapore and Shanghai.

We have world class educational institutions within the City boundaries but an under-developed and under-appreciated culture of knowledge and learning, especially in the new literacies.

We are, on a world scale, a richly diverse and tolerant city but diminishing affordability risks marginalisation and social exclusion.

While we have a high rate of public transport use, we have an outdated and over-congested system. Cars choke city streets and, increasingly, our villages.

Our world-renowned liveability is at risk through our failure to provide clean, efficient transport, and by insensitive renewal and development. The extensive research carried out by Jan Gehl found our streets hostile to pedestrians – especially for the elderly and the very young.

The City centre remains Australia's largest retail centre but offers a lesser range of small business and leisure opportunities than Melbourne. We recognised the need for greater diversity, both day and night, and for more individual offerings – and we're beginning to redress that deficiency.

Finally, Sustainable Sydney 2030 recognised that while we have a high share of residents living and working in the City – almost 60 per cent, in fact – we also face high and increasing rates of energy and water consumption and waste generation.

On present trends, by 2030 the City's annual water consumption would rise by 22 per cent while greenhouse gas emissions would increase by an alarming 41 per cent, and the residential waste stream by 50 per cent.

Clearly, to maintain Sydney's prosperity, its liveability and its social cohesion through the era of climate change, we cannot afford "business as usual".

Ten Strategic Directions and Targets

I was determined that Sustainable Sydney 2030 would be a working plan and not a set of documents sitting on the shelf gathering dust.

We set ourselves ambitious, but achievable targets for reducing greenhouse emissions, reducing energy and water demand, reducing waste, increasing housing — including social and affordable housing. We set targets for jobs, for the use of public transport, for cycling and walking.

We established 10 "Strategic Directions" for Sydney and outlined a number of key projects we believed could revitalise our city.

We are now in the action phase, and I can report significant progress — and invite you to work with us on the major challenges as we move the next steps.

1. Implementation Through Effective Partnerships

The vision and projects in 2030 overlap with the responsibilities of other local councils, and state and federal governments.

Implementation will require high levels of co-operation between the three tiers of government, and between the City and our business and residential communities.

We recognise that people want outcomes, not buck-passing between different authorities—and one of our strategic directions promotes implementation through effective partnerships.

In this context, I am pleased tonight to officially announce and launch a formal Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Sydney and the University of New South Wales.

The agreement aims to align research activities about our City's built environment with the needs of our City. It will coordinate research into city planning, architecture and development, while providing professional development opportunities for our staff and opportunities for under-graduate and post-graduate teaching and research.

The Steering Committee to implement the agreement will include senior City and UNSW staff:

  • Graham Jahn, Director of City Planning and Regulatory
  • Andrew Thomas, Executive Manager City Plan
  • Alan Cadogan (pronounced Car–DO-gan), Strategy Director
  • Prof Alec Tzannes, Dean UNSW Built Environment
  • Prof Bill Randolph, Associate Dean (Research)
  • Dr Nancy Marshall, Associate Dean (Education)

The work toward this agreement has already achieved research funding grants and coordinated projects on issues such as affordable housing and urban renewal, green roofs and strata reform.

I am particularly excited about the possibilities for practical research projects and design studios, some of which are already under way this year for Heffron Hall in Darlinghurst and for Taylor Square.

These projects provide immediate practical benefits for complex City projects—while equipping the next generation professionals to better understand and solve tough urban design and planning issues.

We have taken a cooperative approach with the public sector, briefing the Federal and State Governments and Oppositions—which I hope will provide for greater understanding and engagement with the new State Government.

I have written to the new Premier offering further briefings and discussion. The City of Sydney developed a Memorandum of Understanding with the previous government and I invite the new State Government to consider a similar formal agreement to guide action.

With the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors nationally, I have pursued Federal co-operation and practical action for our cities, where the majority of Australians live.

Sydney's inner city mayors now meet regularly, and we have completed an integrated regional bike plan to guide future work and funding, and our joint submission on affordable rental housing opportunities secured $456,000 in Federal funding.

The work we have done can speed up progress on key challenges for the new State government, including addressing transport and congestion, providing for housing, strengthening the economy, and taking practical action to address global warming.

But the City is not waiting for others to act and we have significant projects under way. We believe that if the City leads, others will follow—and we are seeing an encouraging response, especially from the private sector and the Federal Government.

2 A Leading Environmental Performer

The second 2030 strategic direction reflects our determination that the City of Sydney be a leading environmental performer. To play our part in tackling global warming, the City has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent on 2006 levels by 2030.

Without strong action, our emissions will rise to over six million tonnes per annum by 2030. Our research identified the range of strategies needed to achieve our target—which we have graphically depicted in our waterfall chart.

I'm pleased to say that our work puts us on track to meet that target and overcome the 17 per cent shortfall that we identified in 2008.

The City of Sydney became Australia's first carbon-neutral Council, through a combination of reduced demand, green power and carbon offsets. We've completed extensive building retrofits to reduce energy and water use, installed one of the city's biggest solar panel arrays on the roof of Town Hall, and established a Renewable Energy Fund to continue installing renewable systems on our own buildings.

We have trialled energy-efficient LED street lights and will install the proven products on all 8500 of the City's public lights. The trial indicates energy use can be halved, and we hope that Energy Australia will join us to replace its 12,000-plus street lights in our area, followed by a metropolitan-wide program.

Our most significant progress is being achieved with the help of Allan Jones, previously adviser to the former London Mayor Ken Livingstone. He took the Borough of Woking off the electricity grid and, with his expertise and experience, we are completing ambitious plans for integrated tri-generation, renewable energy, water recycling, and alternative waste treatment.

Our goal is to produce 100 per cent of Sydney's energy needs locally by 2030 – which isn't really so new, since cities as diverse as Copenhagen in Denmark, Seoul in Korea and New York in the US have extensive district energy, heating and cooling systems.

We envisage seventy per cent of our local government area's energy coming from tri-generation systems, with the remainder from renewable energy sources.

Local tri-generation systems are three times more energy-efficient than coal-fired plants because the energy doesn't have to be transmitted over long distance and the plants capture waste heat from low-carbon heating and cooling for buildings, instead of high-carbon grid electricity.

Many buildings in Sydney already have local energy systems and our master planning will provide the opportunity to expand and network such systems. Just this week, Council endorsed further work with the private sector to turn our City-owned properties into the basis for low carbon precincts.

Over the next three years, electricity prices in NSW will rise by up to 42 per cent, with much of the increase related to the proposed $18 billion network upgrade – just to shift dirty electrons from the Hunter Valley and elsewhere to Sydney.

Local tri-generation will make much of this work unnecessary and will eliminate the need for any new coal-fired power stations which would cost anything between another $3 and $4 billion dollars.

The tri-generation network will also provide us with the pathway for the decentralised water and automated waste collection systems, piggy-backing on the trigeneration routes and stations.

Private commercial building tenants – who are responsible for almost half the emissions in our commercial buildings – have embraced the green agenda. Our CitySwitch program, co-ordinated through the Council of Capital Cities' Lord Mayors, is attracting ever more signatories who understand the benefits to their business of a sustainable environment.

The City of Sydney acts as the national administrator for the program and by June next year, we aim to have over 1.3 million square metres of office space in the program – that's equal to one-fifth of the total net lettable area of Sydney, North Sydney, Parramatta and Willoughby.

3 Intergrated Transport for a Connected City

Linked to our environmental goals, and also contributing to liveability and economic outcomes, is our strategic direction to secure integrated transport for a connected city.

A sustainable transport network will deliver more and healthier choices: walking, cycling, buses, light rail, train, ferries, taxi and car share—not just growing congestion.

"Business as usual" is not an option—for either our economy or our environment. There are almost 15 million trips by vehicles in Sydney each day and the NSW government forecasts a 42 per cent growth over the next 10 years.

In Sydney's CBD, there are nearly 100,000 car trips and 6,000 bus movements each weekday. It makes our city unpleasant and unhealthy for the million visitors, shoppers, workers and residents who walk around it each day. We simply don't have the space to accommodate the predicted vehicle growth.

In 2009, congestion cost Sydney $4.6 billion. That's forecast to rise to $8 billion by 2020. The costs include travel time, unreliability, higher fuel costs and air pollution. And road transport produces about nine per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Sydney.

To stop Sydney grinding to a halt, we need investment in light rail, heavy rail, cycling and walking.

Cheap, reliable public transport frees up limited road space for people who need to drive, particularly commercial and delivery vehicles, or people with disabilities.

Across metropolitan Sydney, an immediate priority is north-west heavy rail and I support the new Premier's commitment to delivering this project. Other priorities include south-west rail and doubling the Sydney Harbour crossing capacity.

In central Sydney, the urgent priority is light rail to move workers, shoppers and visitors around the City centre. One light rail vehicle can replace three crowded buses or 150 cars and it's quieter, faster, more reliable and more accessible.

The new State Government's commitment to extend light rail is encouraging and the City of Sydney is ready to contribute through planning support and essential public domain works.

But we can't have light rail without serious bus reform – the city centre has too many buses, and the more the Government crams in, the more unreliable they become. The endless line of buses choking our city centre is proof of a failed bus system.

4 A Lively, Engaging City Centre

Light rail and bus reform are prerequisites for achieving our 2030 vision for George Street transformed into an inviting boulevard, with new opportunities for cafés and retail that benefit the whole of our city.

This project is the centrepiece of our strategic direction for a lively and engaging city centre.

Our vision is to re-create George Street as the north-south spine of the City, with three new public squares at Circular Quay, Town Hall and Central Railway, and giving priority to public transport and pedestrians.

This is one of the proposals that came out of work by internationally respected urbanist and planner, Jan Gehl. It has received strong public endorsement and could be – like the Opera House – the single project which will most influence the City's character for decades to come.

A pedestrian and light-rail thoroughfare along George Street would provide additional benefits by bringing more pedestrians to the network of laneways and the streets on either side.

We have used events such as the annual Art & About to promote our laneways through commissioned art works and we are working to attract other small, quirky, one-off businesses to the laneways.

Persistence in our campaign for small bars eventually paid off and we now have dozens scattered in laneways across the City, and we are working to attract a wider range of people to enjoy the city centre at night, looking at everything from better transport, late night shopping and cultural activities, to safer streets, pubs and clubs.

5 A City for Pedestrians and Cyclists

Jan Gehl's advice has also guided our work in creating a city for walking and cycling.

Our liveable green network will be a safe and attractive walking and cycling network, linking the City's streets, parks and open spaces, and our villages and main streets to the City Centre, and to each other.

We're working to improve pedestrian amenity, reducing the speed limit to 40 km/ in the centre and improving peak hour bus reliability.

We are introducing shared zones in places like Barrack Street and some streets in Chinatown—where our work will preserve its unique character, while ushering in more attractive streets for pedestrians—with striking new public spaces, increased opportunities for events, markets and outdoor dining, more trees and plantings and deck chairs in Sydney Square.

Many things that seem relatively simply turn out to be excruciatingly slow and hard to do in Sydney—for example, providing more signalised crossings, greater priority for pedestrians at crossing, bike connections beyond the city boundaries, or implementing integrated fares.

Please take note new Premier, 75 per cent of people come to the city centre by public transport; with a further 10 per cent walking or riding and up till now priority has been given to 15 per cent vehicles.

It is important to give people who live close to the city options for shorter trips and that's why the City is building a 200 kilometres cycleway network. We know cycling is not for everyone but more people are getting on a bike, and we need to make it safe and viable for those who do want the option.

Although the network is not finished yet, the moment we finish a bike link, people start using it. Over the past year the number of bike trips has doubled and tripled on some cycleway links we've built so far.

We continue to press the Federal Government for funds to create an inner-city regional cycle network, covering 15 inner local government areas. Independent research commissioned by the City shows that such a network would deliver at least $506 million in net economic benefits over a 30-year span—a $4 return on every dollar spent (compared with just $2 for motorway projects).

If we achieve our ten percent cycling target (currently just one per cent of trips are by bike), the regional network could reduce Sydney's traffic by 4.3 million car trips a year – and that's a significant saving in congestion costs, noise and air pollution, and greenhouse emissions.

Our 2030 strategy involves major cultural shifts if we are to be a leading green and global city. The anti-cycling campaign highlights that change is difficult and attracts a backlash from those fearful of change, not to mention the vested interests and reactionary shock jocks!

I believe that our greatest challenge is not the cycling infrastructure, but the cultural change needed to embed cycling as a healthy and legitimate form of transport. Frustratingly, many cyclists currently ride recklessly and illegally, entrenching pedestrian fears and increasing resentment from drivers.

6 Sustainable Development, Renewal and Design

One strategic direction where we have made significant progress and received local, national and international acclaim is our work on sustainable development, renewal and design.

We have invested a great deal of energy into creating or renovating some outstanding public spaces and facilities for Sydney.

These include award winners such as the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre, Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Redfern Park & Oval, and Pirrama Park at Pyrmont.

We've established a number of advisory committees to help us achieve high standards in architecture, urban design and public art, and we expect our own City projects to exemplify the highest standards.

We've actively sought industry-respected professionals, including strategic and planning staff such as Michael Harrison and Graham Jahn. Their leadership and expertise help us achieve sensitive, innovative and viable development solutions on complex development sites, such as the heritage "Money Box" building at Martin Place and the Goldfields House site at Circular Quay.

The Metropolitan Strategy released by the NSW Government in 2005 anticipated a growth of 1.1 million people in the Sydney Region, meaning a population of 5.3 million by 2030. Much of this will be concentrated in the Sydney LGA, with an expectation of 462,000 jobs and 132,000 dwellings.

While concentrated residential development will help reduce our ecological footprint greenhouse gas emissions — it is tremendously challenging.

Our completely revised Local Environment Plan, which is on public exhibition, provides more than 80 per cent of the housing and jobs targets set by the State Government and incorporated in Sustainable Sydney 2030.

It has been developed through detailed study of every lot for appropriate height, density and public domain — with new sustainability principles. Our underlying approach is to protect the character of existing residential and heritage areas (our city villages), and focus balanced and responsible levels of development in renewal areas such as Green Square, Barangaroo, CUB and Harold Park.

We are optimistic that years of work on redeveloping the Green Square Town Centre, in conjunction with our trigeneration planning, will soon bear fruit to transform this former industrial area into one of Australia's first and most significant low carbon communities.

By increasing densities in a considered and responsible way, we work to bring our communities along with us as we help reduce the urban sprawl that drives growth in vehicle use and destroys the prime agricultural land that supplies much of Sydney's food.

7 Housing for a Diverse Population

We also want to ensure that Sydney has sufficient housing for a diverse population, recognising the importance of this challenge by making it a separate strategic direction.

A mix of housing is needed to ensure people from all walks of life can afford to live and work in the city. There is an significant shortage of housing for low income workers and supported accommodation for homeless people.

City of Sydney research for 2030 identified a need to maintain our social housing, while housing for low to moderate income households must increase from less than one per cent now to 7.5 per cent of all dwellings.

Two recent affordable housing projects at Glebe and Green Square will provide more than 500 affordable housing units, but this just a fraction of the housing needed. Low income workers are vital not only for the services they provide, but for the social and economic vitality and diversity of the inner City.

8 Vibrant Local Communities and Economies

In central Sydney, we have an important sustainability advantage, with existing high density living and historic village centres that are walkable, diverse and thriving. These local villages have their own distinctive character and support a mix of local jobs and services.

Over the coming year we will go back to talk with our local communities to renew and deepen our village planning, using the 2030 framework for creating vibrant local communities and economies.

Our vision is for a network of distinct but overlapping local centres where most of the facilities, services and open space that residents need for daily living are within walking or riding distance, with convenient public transport for longer trips.

In 2006 and 2007, prior to the preparation of 2030, we did extensive local consultation to develop a series of local action plans. Hundreds of projects identified in those plans have now been completed.

We have expanded our renewed foreshore space at Glebe, Pyrmont, Rushcutters Bay and Beare Park at Elizabeth Bay. We've created new parks such as Harmony Park in Surry Hills and Pirrama Park at Pyrmont. And we've improved other major parks such as Hyde Park, Victoria Park, Prince Alfred Park and Sydney Park.

We've renewed numerous pocket parks across the City (76 in total), greened our streets with new trees and gardens, and supported new community gardens (we now have 16), with plans for a City Farm.

We've enlivened our village centres through major streetscape improvements for Glebe Point Road, Harris Street Pyrmont, Redfern Street and Oxford Street—with footpath widening, tree planting, smart poles to reduce street clutter, and stylish new street furniture.

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