Jason Twill, Urban Apostles in full flight

Well it was rebellious from the start. And even a little ribald. But with a namesake of the old Rum Rebellion, a boat load of 100 or so people heaving off old Sydney Cove and “setting sail” for the new world, west at Parramatta, with a nod to beyond, it was always going to be thus.

This (rum) spirit weaved through the crew and many a challenging question was flung across the lower deck in the direction of the Rebellion leaders who parlayed answers beautifully and issued their own challenges to the crowd.

On everyone’s mind was challenging the old order. Or how to. Could the massive growth headed for Sydney’s west deliver better environmental, social and economic outcomes than we’ve had in the past? Sydney’s west, if some people haven’t yet noticed, is suddenly a hot button item.

Rod Simpson, Greater Sydney Commission

Rod Simpson, environment commissioner for the Greater Sydney Commission, set the tone and kept up the pressure.

If we’re serious about radically reducing emissions now, before we find a way to radically alter our agricultural and food practices systems, transport and regulatory system, he said, “the thing we can do to buy ourselves out of trouble most quickly is through renewable energy”.

“That’s where the fastest impact will be.”

The were limits to what the built environment can achieve. Despite the growth, “this city changes by about two per cent a year.” And part of that is through renewal.

“So it will stay pretty much the same for a while. Ten-star houses are not going to get us to where we need to be.”

Kim Crestani takes the mic

Kim Crestani, City of Parramatta’s city architect, didn’t want to discuss how councils could be made to mandate better outcomes from developers, but we did our best to encourage her anyway. (Councils are as tight lipped as the Feds when it comes to media, or even very large developers. So if you weren’t there you won’t get the full gist of the feisty answers she shared because, well, it was a bit “entre nous”.)

Chels Marshall, a specialist in Indigenous ecology and how this can be applied to urban areas, made some fabulous points on our relationship to the land.

Lorina Nervegna, with a question

Lorina Nervegna, an architect and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal member, visiting from Melbourne, wanted Marshall to say what the single most important thing was for non-Indigenous people to understand about relationship with the land.

It’s about how you view the world,” Marshall said – the difference between an “eco-centric position” and “a human-centric position, where put yourself above everything else that is surrounding you.”

An Indigenous view was about “understanding how you are part of the landscape and the habitat and the place and understanding everything around you and how it functions because you’re part of that.

“A lot of people have not had the opportunity and not let themselves open their minds to a different way of thinking and knowing and it’s being part of that ecological system that people don’t comprehend.”

Jason Twill from Urban Apostles laid the challenge to go “beyond sustainability to regenerative development”. Marshall, he said, was “a mentor helping me understand traditional knowledge about how we grow our cities in the future. That we are part of nature. And how do we invite that into out work.”

One of the Rebellious crew wanted to know how to bring sustainability into our day to day lives.

Simpson loved the question and said it was central to the Commission’s thinking.

The “highest and best use”, he said, was not necessarily covering vast areas with development.

“In the west, it is absolutely about having easy access to a beautiful landscape.”

He said ecology in the west a key point.

A balanced ecology could reduce temperatures and help cool the cities and this was critical when the temperatures were likely to spike. But trees, like people, suffered heat stress so it was important to understand the interrelated elements such as water and trees and how these created integrated systems. How these systems work is a relatively new area of understanding, he said.

Twill, who works on alternative housing models such as Nightingale, talked about the social cleansing view of gentrification, as a decades long problem.

What was needed was for the land speculation element to be removed from housing, to create communities and social value.

“You’re always going to have a a tension between sustainability and profit.”

From the floor came a question about how Parramatta was going to attract people and business to its centre.

Crestani said action was happening in droves. A couple of big government departments were moving there and there were “three, four or five” huge developments and corporates such as NAB “swarming around to put people on the ground”.

A government announcement late last year said about 4000 public service roles would relocating to a WalkerCorp building in the new “River City” as the GSC has dubbed it, including more than 1600 staff from Planning and Environment, the Office of Environment and Heritage and the Environment Protection Authority. Another 1600 Department of Finance, Services and Innovation roles already there.

Minister for Finance, Services and Property Dominic Perrottet said: “Western Sydney’s future is soaring.”

And in the opinion of Western Sydney Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, David Borger, it was pretty obvious that companies in the planning, engineering, and architectural sectors would probably start to think about locating close to these decision makers.

Crestani said it’s taken a few decades but finally it looked like Parramatta’s time had come.

Which would be fantastic because it meant that people could live and work nearby and not have to travel big distances, she said.

Last week’s UNSW talk of spatial inequality heard from deputy GSC Geoff Roberts that western Sydney currently had the longest commutes in the western world.

But talk about slow moving changes in the urban form took its toll for some. The Total Environment Centre’s Ruth Hessey wanted to know how urgent is the situation is.

“Is it five years; is it 10 years?”

“It was 10 years 10 years ago and five years go it was five years,” Simpson said.

On a question about free energy or renewable energy he said there were social equity issues at stake. But he warned we had to be careful “not to live in a ‘wouldn’t-it- be-lovely’ world”.

On the bus

Twill mentioned solar had reached grid parity and the opportunity now was to decorporatise the energy users and owners. “The share economy will change everything,” he said.

Towards the end of our trip the conversation took an almost anarchic turn (never mind the rebellion) when the topic of home ownership erupted.

Was it worth ditching the notion of home ownership altogether when droopy exhausted couples sat on long commuter trips paying $50 plus each a week each so they could afford their dream home oat $700,000 or more?

No, said some. Yes, said others. Passionately, both.

From left: Tim Horton, Deborah Dearing, Barney Glover

From there it was time to disembark into new territory, jump on buses, drive past row after row of East Berlin style walls of apartments to join the rest of the festival launch guests on the elegant level 9 terrace of the Western Sydney University’s new Peter Shergold Building and hear from vice chancellor Barney Glover that WSU would start a new architecture course next year.

We had landed on solid ground.

A huge thanks to Tim Horton Registrar NSW Architects Registration Board and to the board for sponsoring this memorable event that has kicked off a huge curiosity and appetite for much bigger engagement in Sydney’s west.

Also to our supporting sponsor UrbanGrowth NSW without which this event would not have been possible.

And last but not least to our Rebellious crew and the fabulous leaders for the night Rod Simpson, Chels Marshall, Kim Crestani and Jason Twill.

Who knows where the Green Rebellion will go next?

About to set sail

Competition questions

Following are some of the questions that our readers sent in for our competition to win event tickets.

Our Rebellion Leaders didn’t have time to deal with all of these but if you would like to answer these questions and have them published please send these through by COB Wednesday 11 October.

Andrea Spencer-Cooke, One Stone Advisors:

The struggle for sustainability will be lost or won in cities, so what do we need to do today to raise Sydney’s game on Sustainable Development Goal 11—Sustainable Cities and Communities and the New Urban Agenda to ensure real progress by 2030?

Rebecca Pierce:

With the rapid growth, expansion and sprawl of our towns and cities, do you feel that the process of Compulsory Acquisition, by many state and federal bodies in their efforts to link growth areas by major transport routes, should be made a transparent calculable formula for residential and commercial landholdings and businesses that will be acquired and affected?

Francine Pavkovic, Waste Management Association of Australia:

How do you create spaces for community and accessible housing with the vertical intensity of the recent public power partnerships, particularly as social housing providers and councils are at the wrong end of the power imbalance with developers?

Alex Paton, Jacobs:

It seems that with most of the developments on the horizon in Sydney, they quickly become a political football. The decisions that will be made over the coming years will truly reshape the way in which Sydney evolves. And we need to get it right. How can we possibly elevate discussions so they become truly bipartisan?

Marg Black, Silenceair:

What are the roadblocks to using Passivhaus design principles to build low cost housing in Australia to provide comfortable living and reduce the need to use energy to cool and heat these homes?

How can the architecture profession convince building companies to prioritise low cost building stock that is environmentally sustainable to assist with reducing the cost of building houses in lower income communities?

We know the architecture profession can provide more and better designs for low cost housing. How can we assist these architects in prominent positions in state or local government to facilitate these projects?

Zoe Neill, Cundall:

Allowing for a sustainable, better designed and more equitable growth towards the West of Sydney is a critical issue. This is even more relevant with immigration and tourism rising; and tourism becoming a more crucial part of Australian economy as carbon becomes riskier and riskier. With this in mind, I wonder what role events play in moving people towards the West. If the main attractions were no longer Bondi Beach and the Opera House, could we move the newcomers and even current residents to Parramatta? I also ask this question about events and what’s on, based on the drastic shift from Kings Cross to Newtown after the lock out laws were introduced. This had a huge shift in where people go out, encouraging them to discover new suburbs. In doing so this may take away from some unfounded and unfair stigma associated with these areas and open up more ideas for people to move to these places.

Greater interest, greater population in Parramatta might naturally lead to a holistic development of its businesses, lifestyle and infrastructure.

Finally, to what extent have successful cases like Bondi and Santa Monica been looked at to understand the root of their success? Some of the drivers for moving the population to these spots included:

  • the move of a specific migrant or type of person, creating a distinct culture
  • the opening of theme parks, theatres, etc.
  • hosting events, such as tournaments and fund raisers.

Amira Hashemi, Frasers:

To what degree do you see cultural influences coming through in the design and architecture of buildings to reflect the diversity of people in Western Sydney?

Catherine Byrne, Explorer of the built environment:

Can hot-desking in suburban hubs solve the problem of reduced socialisation and ideas exchange which too often arises among work-from-home employees?

Joshua Zoeller, CHROFI:

What is Sydney’s upper population limit if planned effectively?

Greg Campbell, DesignOz:

What are the best ways to lower carbon emission footprints and redesign ideas for existing buildings that are by far the largest proportion of all buildings?

Jennifer Crawford:

How do we address a “bigger is better” culture in housing to a “small is beautiful and sustainable” mentality for the majority of people building new homes.

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