On community getting what it wants, maybe, and why the rest is a mystery

How do you get a major development with 1200 apartments and 3000 people designed, up and running with barely a resident grumble?

Whatever it was the magic happened at Mirvac’s Harold Park project, which on Thursday morning launched its final stage.

John Carfi, Mirvac head of residential

You could read the relief on John Carfi’s face. He’s the head of residential for Mirvac and the relief is understandable when he said that once you get the green light on a project speed is of the essence. It’s all about “velocity” he said. And while you’re doing the early part of the project, you need to have a very good idea of where it will end up so you can bring the customers and the community with you.

But why the big rush? Well there’s the cost of money – the ticking clock on the bankers’ dashboards – there’s the designers, contractors, consultants, all hired and needing to have maximum value extracted. There’s a myriad reason (quite apart from the tendency for most people to respond best to deadlines, with the possible exception of poets and anyone else who relies on the appearance of a muse.)

But the biggest daddy of them all for the rush game is the market. You need to get in and out before the market comes tumbling down, as every developer and builder knows will inevitably happen and fears.

So will the market come crashing down soon? we asked Carfi after a delightful breakfast served by no less than chef Jared Ingersoll, who previously ran the Dank Street Depot, and after a rather insightful panel session.

Left to right: John Carfi, Mirvac; Kate Luckraft, Aspect Studio; Matt Pullinger, Hassell; Graham Jahn, City of Sydney; Rob Graham, Mirvac Design

No. Carfi was quick to respond and scuttle any doubts. Unless of course the banks decide to pump up the cost of money by a full two percentage points or some such over night, he said.

Maybe a defining moment in the story of Harold Park was a few years ago when we chatted to a Glebe woman who had been part of the resident action group fighting the proposal.

The upshot was she’d attended one of the developer’s open days. You know the ones: big beautiful display suite, glossy posters of the converted tram sheds, at water’s edge, farmer’s markets, shoppers with French shopping baskets brimming with greens and fresh bread. It looked so lovely, she said, she bought an apartment.

Another journalist at the breakfast said she met with similar responses when probing for community reaction. Objections? Fierce resistance at the barricade? Nope. “Mirvac engaged and engaged” was the feedback.

Graham Jahn the City of Sydney’s director of planning, development and transport said the city had managed to retain control of the site (instead of control assumed by the state government) partly by luck and partly by sheer hard work, in large part by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who personally negotiated outcomes.

Graham Jahn

The result was the greenest, healthiest most sustainable development possible with an affordable housing dividend to boot, he said.

Kate Luckraft, a director at Aspect Studio, which handled the landscape said the public domain of the project was critical in a project where it would function as a kind of communal backyard. The inspirations were places where people typically socialised in the streets or in pocket parks where you could “take a coffee and a newspaper”.

The streets, Luckraft said, were also the “environmental machines” for the project, with planting of grasses and reeds in the centres of roadways that would collect stormwater and filter pollutants before the water found its way to the harbour.

The public domain and vegetation would also cool the precinct and produce a significantly reduced heat island effect.

Matthew Pullinger, from Hassell, which did the master plan said key parameters were established right at the outset – the open space, the height, the character of the two- storey terraces of the existing neighbourhood and the typography of the cliff so that buildings were capped at eight stories.

Kate Luckraft

So that explains the bulky feel (a lingering criticism from residents) felt mostly at the perimeter of the precinct rather than within – the tradeoff between height and bulk.

Jahn said the scale was in the same mode as London and successful European cities such as Berlin.

Sydney’s early densification in the 40s and 50s, Jahn said, created blocks of flats. Here instead was a neighbourhood with complexity and connections to the existing roads and footpaths and parklands.

But key too was the way the buildings address the street.

“There are eyes in the street, there are neighbours in the street, you can talk to people. It’s not about coming to a multi unit car park.”

To see what he means, you only have to wander around parts of Jacksons Landing in nearby Pyrmont towards dusk on your own, surrounded by thousands of people above you in towers, but not a soul to speak to or see you.

Bit by bit by bit. We could be learning.