News from the Front Desk issue 426: The thing about the Allianz Stadium in Sydney is that tearing it down is a massive waste of resources. In an era when the “buy nothing new” campaign threatens (or promises) to morph into a “build nothing new”, that’s a serious thing.
The stadium exists – use it and make it work. Where is the sense in ripping it out a great big piece of infrastructure that’s just 30 years old at a cost everyone knows will blow out by vast amounts? Current estimates are $730 million but we know the true cost will dribble out through leaks to favoured journalists in return for a soft line here and there.
And now that the once mighty Fairfax stable on notice to be polite and nice to our political leaders, the current premier Gladys Berijiklian is clearly willing to take a chance she will be forgiven.
And what’s the rush? It’s less than three weeks before an election and the Opposition has promised to stop the rebuild if it wins what’s expected to be a close election. Is Berijiklian laying a “sovereign risk” booby trap for Opposition Leader Michael Daley? It’s more than a little reminiscent of the Liberal government in Victoria in 2014 rushing to sign contracts for the $8 billion East West Link, at a time when the Opposition promised to ditch the deal and when the polls said the Opposition would win.
Former PM Paul Keating neatly skewered the plans to “build an outsize Roman style arena” in an area far from Sydney’s geographic centre despite only attracting “modest” crowds.
“Yet, Titus-like, the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, drunk with its gladiator complex, is determined to build the monolith whether the public supports it or not,” Keating said.
But the best bit was Daley’s full throttle attack on 2GB bully Alan Jones, telling him he and the rest of the SCG trust would be sacked if he was elected.
Berejiklian hit back at Daley and said he was hot headed, not fit to be premier.
But Keating’s jab hit was probably closest to the mark.
We know that every big leader – every important city – needs its showy piece of real estate, where the populace can gather, make decisions, feel important.
In fact that’s how someone many years ago helped justify replacing a bedraggled and inadequate kitchen: “it will make you feel more important,” she said.
There is something visceral about that comment. Something that goes to the heart of our love affair with the built environment.
Our edifice complex is deep and probably dates back to “my cave is better than your cave” times. Today we’ve made a religion of it. Property, we believe can be the most powerful wealth multiplier and bestows identity and status at the same time.
The fundamental problem with this obsession with the built environment is our desire that it becomes bigger and better regardless of the pressure it places on the planet. It goes to the heart of that other obsession we have, with growth.
In the furious debate that’s risen up over population, our topic in last week’s column, the theme that runs right alongside population, is growth.
For some reason the assumption is that everyone will want and have the same indulgent life style of recent decades in the west.
It’s the way we have structured our economy and sense of self and well being – to have physical, showy pieces, all of which consume precious resources.
But growth and a sense of development and betterment is fundamental to human nature and nature itself. Left unchecked by balancing forces, anything alive in nature will try to reproduce itself to such a point that it will consume the very things that gave it sustenance.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What makes sense is if we don’t try to fight our inclinations towards a sense of growth and purpose – possibly hard wired into our DNA – and instead work on changing the paradigms of what that growth looks like and feels like.
Maybe our GDP can be based on our intelligence, social interactions, creativity, imagination and our sense of community. Maybe we can find joy in alternatives to consuming the earth’s resources and build our economic growth on happiness. And on positive physical interventions such as recycling, clean energy, replacing all our tired earth destroying habits with cleaner ones.
A few years ago there was a taxi driver (yes back in the day) who said he came from the eastern block of USSR. He said when he told customers there was only boring state television in his country then – not popular American shows beloved in the west people – people would tell him how sorry they felt for him.
Nonsense, he said, it was a massive blessing. No television. Imagine! “Instead we met all our neighbours and friends every night of the week and created our own entertainment. We danced, we put on plays, we sang, we wrote poetry and shared it. We laughed and laughed. We had a ball.”
On the other side of the spectrum in the flamboyant Court of Versailles where the members of the aristocracy were so wealthy they could think of nothing else to strive for, the court turned to a similar solution – how brilliantly its members could entertain each other with sophisticated conversation, witticisms and yes, wicked game playing.
Not saying anything about east versus west here, nor about the morality of the Court of Versailles which was built on the misery of others, but that there are many different ways to satisfy our sense of status without consuming physical resources.
We already know our creative skills have value – we pay to be entertained now, others receive our pay as income. All fodder for a growth economy that doesn’t consume the earth. We might even be able to satisfy our inner gladiator.