Why I’m leaving Sydney, the city that actively punishes people for living in it

It was love at first sight when Sydney and I met properly a dozen years ago. I fell hard with the sort of giddy infatuation that makes it easy to overlook the odd flaw or two, and to blithely ignore those flaws even as they crumbled into mighty chasms over the subsequent years.

But now I’m ending things and moving out. And let me be clear: it’s not me, Sydney. It’s you.

But that wasn’t the tipping point – well, not completely.

There’s also the way that the city has been blithely looking to make a quick buck by selling off priceless pieces of its heritage – whether it’s the Sirius Apartments or the Powerhouse Museum – with no plan other than “how swiftly can we convert this public asset into private profit?” It used to horrify me, but that shock has long since curdled from anger to sorrow to deep, unrelenting disgust.

So has the deliberate scuttling of public transport corridors in favour of WestConnex, with the state government essentially imposing a new tax on the western suburbs for the privilege of being able to get to work. That perhaps more than anything shows precisely how little this place cares about the environment, its people or its own future.

There are a lot of little things that have been bugging me for a while. The wholesale destruction of the night time entertainment scene, especially for live music, on exaggerated public safety grounds that just so happened to free up prime real estate at firesale prices to be picked over by the government’s developer mates, was one sign of how little this city cares for the people that live in it.

Even the things that I love about the place aren’t enough any more.

Getting to the beach or the Opera House or the Art Gallery or Taronga has become longer and more difficult with roadworks and the future white elephant light rail. And trying to get about on the overcrowded trains with a toddler usually involves carrying prams up stairs at the station – a massive wheelchair accessibility problem which just about every other Australian city dealt with decades ago – making it comprehensively more hassle than it’s worth. What sort of city penalises its inhabitants for wanting to actively enjoy living there?

The biggest factor, though, was the most predictable. Housing prices – specifically, the spiralling rent increases since buying had long ago ceased to be an option for our two professional income household.

Continue reading on Domain.com.au here.


Architecture was meant to solve the housing crisis, instead it betrayed us.

When Zaha Hadid, architect of Qatar’s major stadium for the 2022 World Cup, was asked about the deaths of hundreds of Indian and Nepalese migrant workers who reportedly died in connection with construction work, she responded:

“I have nothing to do with the workers; it’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.”

The architect’s disavowal of social responsibility seems almost unremarkable today, but once upon a time architecture was driven by a moral imperative, a belief that rational, efficient buildings could provide as many people as possible with a home and even transform the world.

According to architect and theorist Rainier de Graaf, architecture has instead become a story of compromise and banal setbacks, governed by commercial interests at the expense of public good.

The profession has always been fuelled by a collective sense of grandeur; young architects graduate with what de Graaf describes as near-megalomaniacal ambitions, omnipotent fantasies of being able to, quite literally, construct the world. The reality they encounter, however, is far more prosaic.

“It’s often considered an elevated art form, above everything else, when of course the reality is it’s amidst everything else,” says de Graaf, the author of Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession.

“Architecture, like everything else, is very much a product of the circumstances in which it is produced.

“Basically we’re talking about a discipline that isn’t autonomous.”

De Graaf believes most architects still produce stylistically “modern” buildings, but it’s a modern architecture devoid of its original intent, untethered from social responsibility and the dream of a decent standard of living and affordable housing for all.

This architecture remains cheap, efficient and rational, but it’s in the service of profits rather than people.

“The logic of a building no longer primarily reflects its intended use but instead serves mostly to promote a generic desirability in economic terms. Judgement of architecture is deferred to the market,” de Graaf says.

An estimated 1.8 million migrant workers are building Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup structures.

Architecture as an agent of inequality

Reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital, de Graaf was struck by the parallels between Piketty’s economic analysis and the progression of architectural history. The 1970s, he suggests, marked a decisive turning point in the history of architecture and housing.

“In 1972 the Pruitt-Igoe public housing estate in St Louis is demolished, an event that critics generally herald as the end of modern architecture and, on a larger scale, the end of modern utopian visions for the city,” he says.

“Through the general deployment of the term ‘real estate’, the definition of the architect is replaced by that of the economist.

“There may ultimately be no such thing as modern or post-modern architecture, but simply architecture before and after its annexation by capital.”

As a result, architecture has increasingly become a subject of protest.

Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.

Save Our Minds, Bodies and Souls, Not Just Our Town

Ms Robina Crook, Associate at HASSELL joins us at this year’s International Urban Design Conference to discuss  “Save our minds, bodies and souls, not just our town”.

A tale of how a small rural community taught their urban cousin a thing or two about “Building an Age Friendly Community”

When Ian McCabe, CEO of the Shire of Wyalkatchem, requested the Western Australian Planning Institute of Australia assist them to address the complex challenge of an ageing community, we jumped at the opportunity to help (1).

When you are the CEO of a local rural shire you are not just advocating for the citizens of a community, often you will have a personal connection. The Shire of Wyalkatchem is 194km north east of Perth. It is a community of only 516 souls in 314 private dwellings; with a handful of those dwellings forming the town centre. More than 46% of the “Wylie-ites” are aged 55 years or more, with a median age of 53 years. Ageing infrastructure combined with catering for an aged population is a major issue for the Shire.

Robina Crook

With issues associated with an ageing population becoming a daily reality the Shire of Wyalkatchem took the lead. They invited local government community development officers and chief executives from around the Western Australian Wheatbelt to address a common issue “Building for an Age Friendly Community”

The people of Wyalkatchem are predominately farmers and a few town’s folk, with no particular interest in urban design but a passion for community. They are however a very pro-active community. When the only butcher closed in town, the community came together (2). In drought stricken times, the farmers still managed to diversify and learn new skills becoming master chefs in all things meat. It was this determination to keep their community alive that has driven the decision to “Build for an Age Friendly Community”.

In a workshop environment, local government community development officers and chief executives embraced urban design philosophies to identify age friendly strategies for this passionate, be it small country town:

  • Guidelines for the Development of Dementia Friendly Communities (3)
  • Healthy Active by Design (4)
  • Healthy Built Food Environments (5)
  • Curtin University Universal Design Guidelines (6)

    This is the tale of David and Goliath, unperturbed by the massive challenge ahead a small town has started the journey to create the type of community they want to grow old in.

The 10th International Urban Design Conference will be held at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa, Gold Coast, Queensland from Monday 13 – Tuesday 14 November 2017. 

Secure your seat and register today!

Translating Policy to Place: Planning High Quality Precincts in the World’s Most Liveable City

The 10th International Urban Design Conference will be held at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa, Gold Coast, Queensland from Monday 13 – Tuesday 14 November 2017.

Emily Mottram, Director of Urban Renewal at Victorian Planning Authority is a keynote speaker at this year’s Conference, presenting “Translating policy to place – planning high quality precincts in the world’s most liveable city”.

Emily Mottram

Melbourne trades on its legacy of good planning by the Victorians and its title of the world’s most liveable city. It is also experiencing record breaking population growth, economic restructuring and climate change. Infrastructure investment is reshaping and reframing the city as we know it.

There is a strong policy basis set out through Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 to focus 70% of residential growth into established areas. The Victorian Planning Authority is working in precincts across Melbourne to translate this policy intent into high quality place based outcomes. A key challenge is to achieve exemplary contextual design to ensure we have a social licence to act.

This presentation will use a series of case studies from inner and middle Melbourne to reflect upon the opportunities and evolving tools for precinct renewal.

This year the International Urban Design Conference offers optional tours available on Wednesday 15 November. These will include visiting two of the precincts that have been designed and built for the 2018 Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast in April 2018.

Find out more here.

Tropical Urbanism – Supporting a City in a Rainforest

Study awarded highest honour at National Planning Awards

In Cairns, the relationship between built form, city planning and landscaping is expressed as Tropical Urbanism and is a defining characteristic of the region’s identity.

The Tropical Urbanism: Cairns City Image Study was a combined effort of Cairns Regional Council and a consultancy team comprising Tract Consultants, Follent, Peddle Thorp and local firms CA Architects and Total Project Group Architects.

3D of the Abbot Street Hotel by CA Architects

Tropical Urbanism was incorporated into the CairnsPlan 2016, which was adopted in March 2016 with the inclusion of assessment criteria for development in a number of codes and a supporting Planning Scheme Policy (The Policy) to provide additional guidance.

The Policy includes requirements for development to achieve 15% vertical landscaping and 50% shading on each façade, as well as separation and promotion narrow buildings for ventilation, increased heights and a generous street canopy to provide ventilation and shading and allow for pedestrian movement in response to tropical climatic considerations.

The policy has been well accepted by industry, winning the 2017 National PIA Award for Planning Excellence – the highest accolade for planning in Australia. This followed success in two Queensland PIA awards, including the Best Overall Award for Planning Excellence across all categories. Judges commented that “the study represents a significant contribution of tropical expertise that can be offered, transferred and adapted to suit the needs of other tropical cities, with Cairns defining itself as a leader worldwide in the area of Tropical Urbanism”.

Local Architects have embraced the policy, with several planning applications having been made under the CairnsPlan 2016 that will result in improved urban place and tropical design outcomes. This will result in enhanced aesthetics, shading, sustainability, increased landscaping in the horizontal and vertical planes and improved amenity, leaving a great legacy for planning in the City

The policy encourages designs that better reflect the sense of place and Biophilia, or connection with nature, which can energise residents and the experience of tourists visiting Cairns’ unique tropical environment.

One example is the Abbott Street hotel and apartment building by CA Architects which has been designed to explicitly embrace the principles of tropical urbanism whilst capturing the flavour of Cairns. An architecture of high canopies, filtered shadows, water play and large volumes capture the essence of the rainforest and reef, blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors. The activated street fronts, covered public spaces and landscaped edges provide a uniquely Cairns experience.

To support the implementation of the policy, particularly the provision for 15% vertical landscaping, Council intends to engage further with the building and construction industry to explore how to the policy may be further refined through guidance on species selection, vertical gardens, podium planting, and shading devices.

Cairns is currently developing a new City Centre Master Plan, which will further integrate Tropical Urbanism principles into the urban domain through a series of identified urban design projects.

The Tropical Urbanism Policy provides a framework to express the unique tropical environment on two levels; firstly by providing a physical representation of the brand of Cairns as a City in the Rainforest (where rainforest meets the reef); and secondly by ensuring that the urban domain remains climatically responsive and is a place that people want to live and visit in generations to come.

This article was kindly provided by Sophie Barrett, Coordinator Strategic Planning, Economic Development & Sustainability, Cairns Regional Council