OPINION: The debate about industrial and urban services land continues with the head of property development industry organisation Urban Taskforce Chris Johnson challenging the Greater Sydney Commission “troika” and arguing for a “new Sydney” that embraces mixed-used precincts.
The spirited corporate response from the Greater Sydney Commission troika of Turnbull, Roberts and Hill is a single issue support for industrial jobs at a time when the nature of work is changing dramatically around the world. The GSC support for their document “A Metropolis that Works” that freezes industrial land across metropolitan Sydney cites global examples that they say support their position.
But I Googled the same cities they quoted to find examples that demonstrated the opposite position. My research found that the nature of work is changing fast and that cities around the world are now promoting mixed-use precincts where work, living, eating and shopping are all integrated. A new urban lifestyle is taking off in global cities where younger people seamlessly integrate their multiple activities. The GSC seems to be locked into old fashioned zoning that divides uses into their own precincts. There is a work only precinct, and a live only precinct, a retail precinct and maybe a restaurant precinct.
We are not talking about concrete batching plants here. Clearly some very noisy uses need special zoning but the NSW government’s own definition of Light Industrial is only about a use “that does not interfere with the amenity of the neighbourhood by reason of noise, vibration, smell…” Only a few years ago cafes and restaurants were seen as incompatible with residential but now planners require these active uses to be included. The rest of the world is moving to mixed-use precincts.
Portland, New York, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Vancouver are championing a new type of urban environment where uses are mixed and in Australia, Melbourne with its new Commercial 3 zone and its mixed-use zoning at Fishermans Bend, is joining the new directions. Even the normally staid city of Adelaide has put out a guide to “mixed use development” where jobs and residential uses are mixed. So why would the Greater Sydney Commission go back to the era before Jane Jacobs attacked single use zoning as the “death” of great American cities.
My reading of what the GSC is doing is supporting the pre election “over development” hype that has evolved in the lead up to the recent state election. It appears that the GSC thinks residential development in Greater Sydney is out of control and must be slowed down. Just look at the GSC comments in their Assurance Review of planning in Ryde where they were shocked by the amount of housing development at 1500 new homes a year being built, but this is exactly what the same GSC has targeted for Ryde. I think the GSC has become anti-housing in the belief that the housing industry will look after itself and therefore the GSC has defaulted to protecting jobs.
Planning of cities is a complex series of trade offs to balance where people want to live (generally inner ring suburbs) and where jobs are and how to get infrastructure on board. More recently the NSW government and the GSC have become focused on trees, parks and local character but my reading of all the promotional documents is that this is an endorsement of the suburbs. The discussion paper on local character does at least confront the issue of building height but it proposes nothing over three storeys.
It seems that the GSC troika supports a low rise suburban Sydney with separated zones for different uses. This is old Sydney and they are missing the energy of the night time economy, about Millennials living in dynamic mixed use precincts and the bustling character of a London or a New York. The GSC should also support the new Sydney where already a third of homes are apartments and high rise living is a positive and more people walk to work, shared amenities and public transport. The GSC should be about the future.
An example of the future is the Strathcona Village project in Vancouver. Here is a dynamic complex that has 5574 square metres of light industrial uses with 280 market apartments above this and 70 social housing units. The East Village project at Victoria Park in Zetland has 32,000 square metres of industrial and commercial space with a sky park surrounded by 206 new apartments above the work areas. Unfortunately, there is little chance of projects like this happening under the GSC’s ideology.
Chris Johnson is the chief executive officer of Urban Taskforce.
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