What Makes a City Great - Green Building Council

(1pm, Tuesday 5 August 2014, GBCA Boardroom)

Thank you, Romilly [Madew, CEO]. Hello, everyone.

It's also a pleasure to acknowledge Alex Greenwich, MP for Sydney.

You asked me to talk today about what makes a city great - is it vibrant local communities? Strong economies? Sustainable development and renewal? Integrated transport? Or is it all of the above?

I believe a great city has to include all of those qualities.

Sydney starts with some wonderful advantages: a great climate, a peerless setting; a wonderful ring of inner suburbs with a strong sense of community. We have a thriving economy that generated about $100 billion in 2011-12 - that's almost one-quarter of the GDP of the whole state. We have a young, multicultural workforce, fine educational and cultural institutions and, I believe, a great wealth of talent across all fields of endeavour.

But yes, we also face massive problems.

Climate change is the greatest challenge for Sydney, as it is for cities around the world. The scientific consensus is that we've reached a critical decade. With global warming of just two degrees, we risk catastrophic climate change - yet recent projections indicate we are heading for four or even six degree changes.

Yet we have a Prime Minister with head firmly in the sand declaring it's "business as usual". And he was supported only recently by a well-known media magnate declaring the whole issue had been overblown. So all of us who want to prevent climate catastrophe have our work cut out!

Cities which use over two-thirds of the world's energy and emit more than 70 per cent of all emissions give us great opportunities for deep cuts. So our Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy commits us to action on two fronts: retrofitting our own buildings and operations, and working with others to ensure the city as a whole stays sustainable and competitive.

We're completing a three-year roll-out of LED lighting in our streets and parks. This will save us $800,000 in energy bills and reduce greenhouse emissions from the lights by 51 per cent. Our initiative on this has led the NSW Government to begin a state-wide roll-out.

We're also making City-owned properties more sustainable, with solar panels, energy and water-saving devices to reduce their environmental footprint. A retrofit of 45 major buildings will cut energy use by over 6,000 megawatt hours and reduce greenhouse emissions by 23 per cent.

But of course changes have to be made right across the LGA and we're building strategic alliances to deliver a greener city across all sectors.

One of the success stories from that is the Better Buildings Partnership of leading public, private and institutional landlords who together own nearly 60 per cent of central Sydney's office space. The group's collaborative approach has delivered a fantastic 31 per cent reduction in emissions since 2006 and saved them $25 million.

The CitySwitch program for office tenants, co-founded by us in Sydney and now sponsored nationally by the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors, saved almost 33,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions and $8.2 million in energy costs last year. Our Smart Green Business Program has helped 366 businesses, and our Smart Green Apartments program is helping residents.

The best way to ensure Sydney's future sustainability, however, is obviously via tri-generation - a fact recognised by smart property owners like Fraser's and Sekusui, have installed tri-gen at their Broadway site following an Environment Upgrade agreement negotiated with the City and the Eureka Funds Management - for 4,000 residents and 14 buildings .

We will also be installing a tri-generation system at Town Hall, but we're frustrated that out-dated energy market rules and a change to Federal/State government regulations at present prevent us from the precinct-wide roll-out that will deliver big savings in emissions and real economies of scale.

How is it that governments here can't see tri-gen as a more efficient and less polluting system, while China is installing 50,000 megawatt tri-generation systems that will produce more power than the entire electricity market of Australia?

In a recent visit to China, I saw first-hand the energetic and committed approach Chinese leaders are taking towards building a more sustainable environment.

Wuhan, with a population of 10 million, aims to become China's most liveable and sustainable city, with a 290 km metro line in place by 2017, with a station every 800 metres within the city and 60 per cent of the population commuting via the line.

In Shenzhen, Mayor Xu has recently introduced strict green building standards and is constructing a 2000 km greenway for pedestrians and cyclists. The Mayor also told me his city was one of seven cities and provinces piloting emissions trading schemes. Together, these represent around one-fifth of China's energy use, and about 250 million people - more than ten times Australia's population. China plans to introduce a national emissions trading scheme by next year.

Mayor Wang in Beijing outlined his plans to transform the city from an economic hub to a sustainable hub, fuelled by renewable energy to reduce reliance on coal and a main priority of the Chinese Government's current national five-year plan is sustainable growth and going green. Each city in China has been tasked with fulfilling this priority.

They're not alone. Around the world, C40 cities like New York, London, Johannesburg, Portland, Singapore and Sao Paulo are all reducing emissions and sharing what they learn. It's interesting to note that the C40's research has shown that developed cities can learn from developing cities as much as the other way around.

The important point is that by communicating and co-operating, cities are showing they can get results where nations can't or haven't.

Another significant challenge for us in Sydney is to match infrastructure with new developments and the changing needs of city residents and businesses.

The State Government has set us a target of 61,000 new homes in the city ando we have focused new developments in former industrial areas like the former CUB site at Broadway, Harold Park in Glebe and the Ashmore Estate in Erskineville, thus protecting our heritage villages.

The biggest of them all is the 278 ha, $8 billion Green Square redevelopment which will include homes for 53,000 new residents and jobs for 22,000 new workers, poised between the CBD of the global city centre and Australia's busiest airport.

In order to ensure that Green Square has the infrastructure in place as the new residents and workers move in, we are commissioning the new parks, cultural and community spaces, child-care, a stunning library and aquatic centre which will not only provide physical but also social infrastructure, the foundations of a local community.

We have allocated $440 million over the next ten years, but the State Government is yet to articulate how it will provide services and infrastructure such as education, public transport and health care.

Higher densities can and do work, but only when they are accompanied by real benefits.

The obvious benefits include access to a wider job market, access to education and other essential services, and avoiding a long commute to work or services.

But equally vital is a high-quality urban environment, one that is easy - and pleasant - to get to and get around.

It needs open spaces that range from major urban parks to local green pockets; it needs walkable, tree-lined streets with engaging public art; it requires attention to the fine-grain and outstanding, and sustainable, built form.

It needs to maintain its heritage and its unique cultural identity and - very importantly - it must work actively to maintain socio-economic diversity and not become a vast gated community for a mono-culture.

The successful 21st century city houses a fantastically diverse "gene pool" of cultures, talents, ideas and energies, and it nurtures and draws on them all.

Great cities provide a foothold for every culture, every income and every age.

In global terms, Australia is still a relatively fortunate and equitable place, but there is a growing divide and the City has one of the highest levels of income inequality in greater Sydney. Affordable housing is therefore one of our biggest challenges.

New developments at Green Square and Harold Park will provide some affordable housing but we need Federal and State governments to do more than just tinker around the edges of this significant social need.

There are new models to consider - for example in the UK, housing estates have been successfully redeveloped with a mix of social, affordable and private housing, with the private housing providing cross-subsidies for the social and affordable housing.

The question of affordability is also crucial for new and emerging industries, especially in the creative and digital sectors.

These industries, along with tourism, education and the service sectors, are key to the inner-city's financial success - which now is up there with the mining industry as an income earner.

But these emerging sectors need affordable spaces, they need advice, encouragement and financial support. The City is supporting many with affordable working and living spaces, on Oxford Street and William Street, helping build a creative arc across the eastern rim of the City, matched by another cluster of start-ups on the western side, in Ultimo.

A great city is also culturally vibrant, with a critical mass of both formal and informal activity, from the big, set-piece events like New Years Eve, Chinese New Year and Festivals to the small-scale and spontaneous ones like pop-up events. It needs formal venues and ad hoc spaces, and to provide opportunities for participation, as well as for spectators.

The City can play its part in fostering these opportunities and I am excited about our recent Voluntary Planning Agreement which we negotiated with Greenland Australia to deliver a $25 million state-of-the-art creative hub to the City for dance, music, theatre, film and visual arts for the next 99 years for a peppercorn rent.

The hub will span 2,000 square metres over five storeys, set in what will be Sydney's tallest residential tower, a $440 million, 67 storey development, giving affordable learning and work spaces to a community of artists, artisans, curators and entrepreneurs. It will also give a wonderful fillip to Sydney's creative scene.

Finally, a great city also fosters excellence in design, which is why we have appointed a high-level Design Advisory Panel of leading practitioners and instituted a design excellence program that requires all proposed major buildings - whether private or public - to be subject of a competitive design process.

You can see the results around you: the redevelopment of the CUB site with its massive internal park and sensitive connections through to Chippendale; Number 1 Bligh Street renowned for its inspiring architecture as well as its green credentials; or the City's own award-winning projects like Surry Hills Library, Paddington Reservoir Gardens and the Prince Alfred Park and Pool.

In fact, our own public infrastructure projects commissioned over the past decade have won 50 national and international awards - a track record that is building the City's reputation and international profile as "a great city".

Great cities don't come by accident, they emerge through the choices we make and the commitment we bring to ensuring they are sustainable, equitable, inclusive, stimulating and beautiful.