On 20 October the University of Sydney Planning Research Centre held a forum to discuss the plan for the Bays. I substituted for Lesley Lynch, who is overseas, as the Community Representative on the panel. The event was held in the main auditorium of the New Law School, and attracted about the same number of people as the previous meeting on this subject in Glebe Town Hall (200+).
David Pitchford, CEO of UrbanGrowth, which has been given carriage of the project by the State Government, was very keen to try to counter the scepticism that surrounds the project as a result of the Barangaroo fiasco. He recognises the need for a strategic plan, and the possibility that such a large project would need to be divided into areas and staged over perhaps fifteen years. He also claims to be very keen to gather as many ideas, from as many different sources – both local and overseas – as possible.
My task was made easier by the fact that all the land involved is owned by the State Government. It is difficult not to conclude that proposals for public land should reflect the public interest and public good, and that the public should be involved in the generation of a strategic plan. Naturally I pushed this line of argument as hard as possible, and the audience was clearly supportive.
I also received a lot of support from the views of the academics on the panel, Assoc Prof Kurt Iveson of Sydney and Dr Kate Shaw, Future Fellow from Melbourne University. They clearly believe the more resident involvement the better, largely because the Dubai-style monumental extravaganzas so beloved of Australian architects, typified by the Packer casino, have proved unsustainable and a social and financial disaster. The weight of opinion is strongly against the type of project so comprehensively ridiculed in the ABC’s satirical series, Utopia. Kate Shaw cited several instances where small scale, mixed, development with plenty of open space and public access had proved more successful, and Kurt Iveson cited many opportunities for public benefits and improved infrastructure.
From this experience I conclude that our efforts are definitely worthwhile, but also that we will need a sustained effort. There are further forums for public involvement listed on our website, and the so-called International Experts’ Summit needs to be monitored closely.