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The Forum > Article Comments > Taking stock > Comments

Taking stock : Comments

By Jenny Stewart, published 30/9/2009

As Sydney and other Australian cities become more built up we lose that precious, Australian, sense of space.

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Yes Jenny we seem destined to make the same mistakes as the apartment-dwelling Europeans and New Yorkers and inherit with it all the associated psychological and social effects.

Immigration fosters a developer's paradise and the pressure from these groups is immense. Governments need to get their head of the proverbial growth cloud and look at more sustainable ways of managing the economy.

But I suspect they won't, instead relying on natural disasters and human conflict arising from depletion of resources to stem rising populations. In other words a horse has already bolted approach.

Open spaces and large yards have become dirty words. Australia has only limited fertile spaces and much of it of late is being developed. It has not only implications for the health of cities but for food security.

I tend to remain pessimistic at this point about government action on this issue, it will take strong community and local action to have any effect on government policy and corruption (particularly at State level).
Posted by pelican, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 8:47:23 AM
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You really cannot blame people for wanting to live in the city, Dr Stewart. I for one wouldn't live anywhere else. And if our cities could be as vibrant and exciting as New York, it would be a distinct improvement.

Peter Carey saw the city at its very best in 2000.

"Peter Carey noticed the contrast when, just after the Olympics in 2000, he returned to Sydney briefly from New York"

Restaurant kitchens actually stayed open after 10p.m., for one thing. But he probably worked out that we'd soon go back to our lazy ways, and did the sensible thing.

But in talking about "urban space", there are two major factors at work.

One is, as you say, the proliferation of apartment blocks.

We lost our architectural virginity on that score with the (apparently) much-revered RIBA gold-medallist Harry Seidler. This particular national treasure started the rot with this monstrosity...

Can you imagine what the place would be like if he'd actually been allowed to complete the project?

"Seidler intended it to be only the first stage of a grand vision for the entire McMahons Point peninsula, with seven or eight towers similar to the existing one occupying the ridgeline along the top of McMahons Point. Below them on the slopes would have been 10 or more medium-rise apartment blocks"

But this is art, apparently.

"Seidler believed that architecture was an art form; art that flows out of simple yet functional design. He was committed to making a better physical world, wherein architecture is modern, socially aware and ecologically sound"

With friends like that, Sydney doesn't need enemies.

The second issue is price.

Without the apartment blocks, a place to live in the city would be the sole prerogative of the insanely rich. That's merely supply and demand operating, and nothing to do with the madness of architectural philistines.
Posted by Pericles, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 9:22:23 AM
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Stop the world, I wanna get off!

Obviously if you live in a city, you're not going to have that feeling of wide-open spaces.

Developers have no power other than what is given to them by the consumers. Your argument is with others people's values, not with 'developers'.

Yes the architectural profession have disgraced themselves, and it is a wonder how people have such poor taste to buy their offerings.

But they do. We are no more justified in using policy to control it in the name of habitat, than we are to stop people from reading trashy detective novels in the name of intellect.

"Much of the land is simply too dry and too infertile for agriculture. As a result, most Australians live in cities on the coast."

That is not why most Australians live in cities: - because they would be farming if only the land were fertile enough. They live in cities because the marginal productivity of what they can do to satisfy their wants is greater in the cities, compared to what it would be if they lived in the country.

Other people, no less than you, take into account the advantages and disadvantages of apartment living.

Politics is not about making choices. The market is. Politics is always about using force to prohibit choices.
Posted by Peter Hume, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 10:02:02 AM
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Why do you want to get off the world Peter?

Your faith in the market and faith that choice exists (in real terms)is admirable Peter but does not take account of factors like shortage of affordable housing. Choice implies there are no other imperatives. There are many people who choose to live in cities only because that is where the jobs are - it is not necessarily a first choice option or a lifestyle choice.

I am not denigrating city living for those that choose it. Cities certainly have many attractions and if the infrastructure is adequate can be fun diverse places, vibrant and interesting. The point is if we grow cities without adequate infrastructure and open spaces the advantages of living in one would seem to be moot.

What is wrong with the idea of decentralisation into areas that can support more people in terms of water supply and create better opportunities for regional areas for those that might wish a non-city lifestyle if there were real opportunities to choose.

Whether you like it or not the market does not provide choice when the consumer is a silent player at the ground level. The consumer can only choose a particular style of apartment if there is a choice of styles in the first place that also meet price and location needs.

Sydney used to be fun but I spent time there recently and the traffic (even with the M5) was not what I would call fun but if others are willing to live with it that is their choice.

As I said we are destined to repeat the mistakes of others. Whoever said we can learn through history was overly optimistic.
Posted by pelican, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 10:24:38 AM
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I admit I only read the first two paragraphs of this. But at that point, I say, the notion that moderate density and green space are incompatible is just plain wrong.

It is possible for a city to be dense enough to support a decent public transport system and yet have plenty of open space.

Eg, Munich. I've stayed there twice, both times in a house, on a bolock of land, divided into 3 or 4 apartments.

The first time, 10 mins by train from the centre, and 20 mins walk to a large park of between 1 and 2 sq km.

The second time, 25 mins by train from the centre - that far out, it's mostly green fields (eg, at _both_ ends of the street I was staying on)

The city itself has an elongated park about 1 km wide, extending from the center pretty much to the outskirts of the build up area.

In terms of green space, the only difference from Sydney is that not everyone feels the need of their own private quarter acre. (The green space is there, just not outside your own back door). In terms of density it's high enough to support the sort of public transport system that we can only dream about.
Posted by jeremy, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 10:44:54 AM
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I'm surprised that you say that the Local Liberal Reps haven't taken up the cudgels over North Shore Development.
Last Mondays papers had stories of O'Farrell et al being abused by Greens at the Sunday march on NSW parliament over this issue for daring to politicise the event.
Barry has been banging on about the over development of Kuringai for years.
However, as another refugee from Sydney, I agree with you that planning in the state is fatally flawed.
Staff at our Local Council on the Monaro are frustrated that the new LEP still hasn't made it through the State Planning Dept.
The Planning Dept changes the goal posts/ guidelines with distressing regularity which means that the Local Council has to use their limited resources to redo the plan each time the State Planning Dept changes its mind.
Even Steve Whan, local Labor member for the Monaro, has complained about the the State Planning Dept. He cant get a response from them over constituants issues.
I would have thought that the development of two new green field Cities, one on the North Coast and one on the South to take up the anticipated growth would be the way to go but they still want to promote Sydney as the "International City" and that means it has to grow.
I listen the 702 local ABC Radio over the web each morning just to remind myself how good it is to not have to go to that slowly strangulating city of Sydney on a daily basis.
Nice place to visit................ for a short time.
Posted by Little Brother, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 11:47:51 AM
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