Ku-ring-gai. Photo © 2011 Alan Miller.

Developers’ Rule: A New Plan for Planning in New South Wales

A true story: one day at the New South Wales Department of Planning two planners are talking about different theories of urban planning. ‘Neoliberal planning,’ the first says, “that’s what we do.” “No kidding,” the other replies.

“No kidding” might be replaced by “yer darn tootin” after the release of the NSW Government’s A New Planning System for New South Wales – Green Paper. If the title doesn’t quite grab you, a new planning system, however boring, will have a far greater impact on people’s lives than more juicy topics like a new Museum of Contemporary Art or a new pavilion for the Venice Biennale. Planning is the most visible juncture at which architecture meets politics, and what the Government is proposing is interesting for the way that it reveals urban planning as the point where conservatism begins to conflict with itself, where a libertarian sensibility runs counter to pro-business economic rationalist conservatism. The development industry is not quite a friend of the invisible hand; it does best when certain freedoms are curtailed. This was shown most clearly in the US by the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which expanded the Constitution’s “Takings Clause” (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) to allow governments to claim eminent domain for purposes of private redevelopment.

Why I am a NiMBY*

Three times in the past month, The Sydney Morning Herald, the city’s broadsheet of record by default, has published a particularly irritating kind of article on urban density. To paraphrase Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), this is not just a matter of chance. These articles, by the paper’s two resident economists and sole architecture critic, represent a disturbing and powerful tendency to treat cities as economic entities, blobs on a map rather than physical spaces. They don’t realize that you can’t extrude spreadsheets into skyscrapers. Help! The Borg economists are eating Sydney.

The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra Plays at Sydney’s Newest Concert Hall

The Willoughby Symphony, founded in 1965 and based in Sydney’s northern suburbs, played the first concert in their new hall. It is an exciting occasion to christen a new concert hall and I marvel at it all the more that it was built in Sydney’s North Shore where new building is almost exclusively in the form of hideous apartment blocks which have destroyed many of the area’s old gardens and once contiguous tree canopy. The 1000-seat hall is part of a whole culture house called The Concourse, which also has a 500-seat theatre, some impressive-sounding rehearsal space and the new home of the area’s borrowing library. Willoughby Council deserves credit for pulling this off when the New South Wales state government one level up cannot manage anything like it for Barangaroo, right next to Sydney’s downtown, let alone the second, Frank Gehry-designed opera house that’s begging to be built there. But I mustn’t be negative; this isn’t the occasion.

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