Arts & Entertainment

Naked City: High on high-rise – low on pep!


The inferno in an illegal backpackers’ caravan ‘gulag’ in Alexandria two weeks ago demonstrated how desperate some people are to find cheap accommodation in Sydney, living as they were in a kind of third world slum. As Sydney’s skyline soars it appears there is little room for low-budget tenants in the gleaming new residential towers.

Take the forthcoming 67-storey residential tower that has just been given the green light for the corner of Bathurst and Pitt streets. Funded by the Shanghai-based Chinese state-owned developer Greenland, the project will also include the conversion of the adjoining heritage-listed art deco former Water Board building into a boutique 180-bed, five-star hotel. Whilst the City Of Sydney has extracted a number of concessions out of the developer, including a $25 million arts hub as part of the building, the prices of the apartments in what will be Sydney’s largest ever residential tower, tell the story.

About 400 of the apartments have already been sold with the average-sized apartment bringing between $1.5 and $2 million and with half the sales going to overseas investors. It’s a story that’s been repeated over and over during the last decade or so in Sydney, especially in the CBD and immediate precincts.

Whilst the new Central Park development at Broadway promises a large number of rental apartments for students, elsewhere in the city, the rising residential blocks cater only for the top end of the market. Prior to the Sydney Olympics the residential population of the Sydney CBD numbered only a few thousand and the council welcomed new apartment blocks as a means of injecting new life into a burgeoning ‘international’ city.

These days the residential population of the Sydney CBD is booming, the city no longer shuts down after 6pm, and there’s a vitality approaching some of the truly international cities like New York and London. However the cost of renting or buying in the CBD is now exorbitant and increasingly restricted to only high and very high income earners.

What these million dollar apartment owners bring to the CBD in terms of cultural and social ‘pep’ remains to be seen, secreted as they are in their high-security towers, glued to massive flat screen TVs. It could be argued that these well-heeled folks bring nothing to the cultural and social environment of the city, especially when it comes to the more street level activities.

The Sydney Council have a great opportunity to build hundreds of rent subsidised apartments, means tested for low income earners, on the great slab of land they now own directly opposite the Town Hall. Earmarked for some horrendous neo-brutalist civic square complete with gratuitous water features, it could easily be developed as a low-budget accommodation hub with literally thousands of small and compact apartments. Who needs a massive oversized pad when all the CBD action is out on the streets, in the cafes, the parks and the numerous cultural attractions?

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