You have to hand it to the visionaries in the City Of Sydney Council and various architectural firms around town. They seem determined to transform vast areas of the city into huge paved plazas, despite the pain and suffering often associated with this kind of urban renewal and beautification. We have all seen the turmoil that beset the CBD and surrounds during the construction of the light rail – is it really time to start digging up Circular Quay and the area surrounding the Town Hall in George Street again?
Well not for the time being it seems as the city struggles to recover from the pandemic and the legacy of the lockdowns. However these grand (some would say grandiose) multi-million dollar plans continue to surface, with computer drawn images that promise an enticing and idealised new future. What these splendid urban panoramas don’t tell us is the years of disruption and economic pain that these massive projects involve.
There’s long been a movement to tear down the less than attractive Cahill Expressway, spearheaded by politicians like Paul Keating and others. No doubt a wide open space would make for a more pleasing vista for the city’s gateway but are we prepared for a project that might take two or three years to complete and turn a popular tourist precinct into a 24/7 construction zone. Rerouting the railway and the traffic could easily run into billions, not to mention the cost to surrounding businesses.
The proposed plazafication of George and Park Streets, adjacent to the Sydney Town Hall is yet another example of much pain, for questionable gain. The $22 million cloud arch, that was to be the figurehead of the project appears to have been shelved indefinitely – hardly the kind of folly you would want to be promoting as the city struggles to get back on its feet.
Just when the wrecker’s ball takes down the Woolies building and surrounding structures remains to be seen but the new Sydney square appears a fait accompli, transforming the bustling heart of the city into a concrete wasteland. Yes that’s only my opinion but surely there are much greater priorities within the greater council area than this kind of cosmetic monumentalism.
Sydney has always been a planning disaster, right from the days when narrow cattle tracks were converted into major thoroughfares. Reckless and unbridled development has seen heritage buildings destroyed, replaced by a total mish mash of modern architecture that do nothing to create an overall character of the city. Whilst some areas have thrived others like Oxford Street Darlinghurst and the southern end of George Street have fallen into the economic doldrums, despite a number of Council initiatives.
It’s thriving small and large businesses which are the heartbeat of the city – shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants, music venues, theatres and cinemas – to list just a few. The city has never been more moribund, with many office workers still working from home and a lack of tourists and foreign students. The City Council is obviously aware of this and in difficult times have been working towards a revitalisation, albeit not very successfully.
Some radical and highly creative thinking needs to take place, not glossy feel good projects and the revealing of plans how wonderful the city could look in ten years time. Don’t even mention ripping up the street or footpath to lay down imported paving stones. The very thought of it gives many small businesses in the CBD nightmares. Let’s fix what’s already there and leave the fanciful future to the computer artists.