Design Excellence Forum

(Lower Town Hall)

Good afternoon, 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.

Welcome to our first Design Excellence Forum for 2011, and welcome to our guest speaker, Amanda Burden, who is New York's Planning Commissioner. Her work, and her interests, chime with our own preoccupations here at the City of Sydney: climate change and the environment, achieving high quality planning and development, opening up the waterfront, improving public transport and cycling, fostering a lively street life.

As she has memorably said, "You measure the health of a city by the dance of its streets and plazas and parks."

Design excellence can help get us to that happy state, and so the City, as a patron of design excellence, is launching this new series of talks.

We will be inviting architects, planners, designers, artists and landscape architects to hear from national and international luminaries about excellent projects and processes.

There will be three talks this year, the next on May 24, where the City's Graham Jahn, Michael Harrison and Bridget Smyth will speak on the topic of From Strategy to Design Excellence.

I hope you'll join us then.

Meanwhile, tonight's guest has plenty to tell us. One of her tasks is to oversee the rezoning of one-fifth of New York City - that's 8,400 blocks - and she is renowned for walking those blocks and taking a detailed approach to their planning.

Among her achievements are the elevated park on the once-derelict High Line railway, and the reclamation of the New York waterfront - according to Vanity Fair, now "a glorious free zone with the best view in town".

Like us, she has grappled with the issue of how we protect neighbourhoods and local amenity in the global city, and with the thorny issues of how we develop planning controls that will deliver excellent urban environments.

As part of our City Plan update, we are now developing detailed plans for access and improvements to the public domain.

Transport remains the key issue for Sydney, and we are rolling out our cycleways and shared zones - which are being enthusiastically patronised, as our last count of cyclists showed.

We also continue to advocate for light-rail through the City, with the most obvious and useful route being down George Street, around Walsh Bay to Barangaroo, so that that area evolves as an integral part of the City, and not an isolated enclave like Darling Harbour - one of Sydney's great, lost opportunities.

This route would give us the opportunity to realise our Sustainable Sydney 2030 vision of George Street as a great civic spine, linking the two great arrival points of Central Railway and the Harbour.

Open to cyclists, pedestrians and the light rail, it will relieve congestion in the CBD and spill new life into surrounding streets and laneways.

While we are working to get State Government action on this front, we are forging ahead with our Green Infrastructure plans which will create the opportunity for combined cooling, heating and power from gas-fired generators.

We are already talking to the State and Federal governments about removing existing regulatory barriers that would allow us to supply whole precincts in this way.

And finally, we soon hope to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with 13 leading property owners, responsible for almost 70 per cent of our commercial office space in Sydney.

With other large property owners, including SHFA, Sydney University and UTS, Housing NSW and Frasers' Property, as well as the Property Council of Australia and the Green Building Council of Australia, we have established the Better Buildings Partnership which will help develop the commercial case for building owners to connect to Green Infrastructure.

It will also develop the technical standards and a road-map for the implementation of low-carbon zones across the City.

These are exciting times for our city - indeed, for cities across the world as we all grapple with the challenges of climate change and building sustainable economies, and there is a tremendous exchange of information taking place between cities across the globe.

So it is particularly welcome to hear today from one of the most can-do cities on earth - New York - and from its outstanding Planning Commissioner, Amanda Burden.