Robert Hammond High Line Forum

(12pm, Thursday 24 October 2013, Lord Mayor's Reception Room)

Hello, everyone, welcome to this forum. It's a great pleasure to welcome Robert Hammond to Sydney and to have him tell us about the High Line project and its effect on New York. As we get to work on re-making George Street, it's especially timely to hear of the transformative effect projects like the High Line can have.


A little bit of background first: In 1999, New York City planned to demolish an "eyesore" - a disused elevated rail line, nine metres in the air, that ran along Manhattan's lower west side.

Robert and his friend Joshua David had a better idea. They set up a community-based non-profit group, Friends of the High Line, with a vision to keep the "eyesore" and turn it into an asset for the whole community.

The result is a wonderful aerial park running for 1.6 km through the city, with abundant greenery, places to sit, public art and cafes. It's been widely praised by architects, planners and designers and more importantly, it's loved and well-used by New Yorkers and by tourists.

It's actually maintained by volunteers who work with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and 90 per cent of its annual operating budget is provided by the Friends of the High Line.

It has spurred real estate development in its locality and the once run-down Meatpacking District is now very cool.

So it provides us with an inspiring model of what can be achieved when government, the business community and residents work together.

As cities become ever more dense, green "breathing spaces" are ever more important, for the environment and for people's well-being.

We've already transformed a number of derelict, quasi-industrial sites.

Like the High Line, Paddington Reservoir was an eyesore, but with the skills of our architects, the reservoir has been retained and transformed into a unique, international-award winning community asset.

At Pyrmont, we transformed the former Water Police site into an expansive, north-facing harbour-front park giving residents and visitors access to a previously closed-off area. In densely populated Surry Hills, Harmony Park has become a precious green space, a small oasis in the sun, and Bourke Street now has a cycleway and generous plantings to calm the busy thoroughfare.

Places like the Glebe Foreshore and Alexandra Canal are being incorporated into the City's Liveable Green Network, providing better connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians and additional recreational spaces for locals.

George Street gives us similar opportunities, only on a grander scale. With the State Government finally agreeing to introduce light rail from Central to the Quay, the City has dedicated $220 million for improvements including wider footpaths, more trees, public art and "break-out" spaces along the street.

We will also be making improvements to a number of laneways off George Street.

This gives Sydney for the first time a grand thoroughfare between its two great arrival points of Central Station and Circular Quay.

If we all get behind it, we can make a once-in-a-lifetime difference, just as the High Line has transformed that part of New York.

So it's a great pleasure once again to welcome Robert Hammond and to hear of his experiences in making a difference.