If the history of Sydney tells you anything then the grandiose plans for the development of East Darling Harbour, aka Barangaroo, are bound to be racked by controversy, shameless opportunism and eventual disappointment. When it comes to town planning and large scale construction projects, this city has inevitably got it wrong – be it the narrow cattle tracks that have become our choked city thoroughfares or the Opera House which has been in a constant state of reconstruction.
Already plans for the Barangaroo behemoth have sparked endless debate and acrimony and last week we were treated to a sneak peek of plans submitted by “three internationally renowned architects”. If soaring high-rise towers get you horny then the vision for our future would be appealing and maybe you need to book a week’s holiday in Dubai just to satisfy your lust for elevation. If a series of glass and concrete towers, that would house only office workers and well-heeled apartment dwellers plus a high rollers casino, do nothing for you – then join the club.
Sydney has always striven to prove itself an international city, up there with London and New York and there have been endless manifestations of this desire over the years, from the billions spent on the Olympics to the annual NYE fireworks orgy which we are religiously told is the envy of the rest of the world. Maybe this overinflated opinion of ourselves is one of the reasons we now inhabit one of the most expensive cities in the world with soaring rents and house prices squeezing out all but the affluent.
The public tradeoff with Barangaroo is that on top of the massive concrete jungle Sydneysiders will also get a new foreshore walk, acres of lush green parkland and a new retail area. The reality is that we already have an overabundance of parklands and more harbourside walks than you could poke a guide book at. Sure a new green strip would be a welcome addition, yet another vantage point for the NYE pyrotechnics, but at what cost?
With the kind of financial uncertainty that exists in the world today, maybe another GFC just around the corner, is this the time to be embarking on this Dubai-like mega development? Does anybody remember the giant holes that dotted Sydney in the 80s and 90s, the result of failed and delayed construction projects that saw heritage buildings like the old Regent Theatre reduced to rubble?
To balance the glossy architects’ visions of high-rise heaven which appeared in last week’s newspapers, perhaps we should have also seen a ‘photoshop’ of the possible apocalyptic image – more giant holes, abandoned building sites, graffiti daubed hoardings and the ghosts of the old Hungry Mile stalking the harbourside shambles like the Grim Reaper himself as a tumbling tumbleweed rolls through the overgrown parkland. Sydney – here we go again!