What did we think about Tyler Brûlé?
This “iconic” magazine editor who founded Wallpaper and then Monocle has made a motza from understanding that the cities fetish is the next big thing of the 21st century. His magazines are packed with the cool places on the planet to discover and he urges anyone who is involved in cities planning to visit and absorb these wonderful places for themselves. It’s not just a cities fetish then, it’s a travel fetish. It’s to be expected that all successful modern people travel.
At his presentation on Monday night at the Lend Lease/NSW government/Vivid festival event to talk about cities, Brûlé urged a look-see around the world, but with an individual interpretation. Of course. (Otherwise, there would be no need to travel – we’d all look the same.)
Monocle is confusing to some, a cross between a modern day Lonely Planet and a shopping guide, as one guest quipped.
But with Sydney undergoing some of the biggest urban renewal projects in the world (that’s true, we’re assured) you really needed to turn up to hear what Brûlé would say.
Five hundred people did. Most of them we were told, Lend Lease stakeholders – clients, consultants, architects, engineering and planning consultants, but also members of the public.
To our mind it was reminiscent of the Bays Precinct extravaganza in November when more than 50 international urban luminaries were flown in to talk about what happens in the best urban renewal zones on the world. So we can all learn and get the vision right.
Certainly there is a massive appetite for news from the cities front, as Brûlé’s personal fortune no doubt attests. Certainly his personal cachet.
Brûlé’s presentation concept was a good one – he outlined a number of neat ideas that he thinks contribute to an interesting city, some more provocative than others, with the panel members left to critique the offering, before adding a few ideas of their own.
One of the panel members was managing director of urban regeneration for Lend Lease Jonathan Emery; and we’re a fan after his feisty contribution to debate at our Sustainable Precincts salon last year (read the book).
Others included executive director, Sydney Business Chamber Patricia Forsythe, Committee for Sydney chair Lucy Turnbull and Tourism & Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond.
NSW Tourism Minister, Stuart Ayres opened the talk with a message about the value of a polycentric city, echoing the City of Sydney’s City of Villages take.
It’s a nice idea.
The panel picked up the theme later saying the build up of other centres, such as Parramatta, Penrith and Liverpool was good for all. A good public transport system was central and would help people from across the metropolitan area access those centres and people from those centres access the CBD so that it would feel like “everyone’s CBD”.
Brûlé had some gems, like reminding Sydney why it features so strongly in his mags.
“Why we spend so long in Sydney in general partly its quality of life,” he said.
Things like the long lunch you can take (sometimes) with services at your finger tips.
There was a number of “extraordinary projects coming on stream” such as the urban renewal around Darling Harbour, Green Square, the Bays Precinct, the Central to Eveleigh corridor and the development of light rail in George Street.
But in addition to the glamour and excitement some hard thinking was also needed. For instance it’s great that traffic will be taken off George Street, but what happens when the trams stop running at midnight?
“It’s wonderful to look at how things have worked in other parts of the world,” Brûlé said, “but how do you build on that?”
On retail leasing, the temptation was to take the easy route. (We think he meant endless retail chains of duplicated product so you can’t tell whether you’re in Sydney, or Shanghai). Instead he showed an image of a small kiosk such as Lisbon and Vienna have been using to revitalise their cities, adding interesting start up retailers.
For developers he had a strong message. We need apartments that actually cater for human life instead of a marketing brochure, he said (Melbourne developers beware). Many might look grand with three bedrooms and four ensuites but the bedrooms are poky and the ensuite virtually unusable, he said.
“And it’s not just a Sydney problem, it’s a Vancouver problem, it’s a New York problem.”
He cautioned against building materials that only looked the part, but in places such as the UK in particular made easy access for burglars. Having “proper doors and windows” could well cut down crime, he said.
It was also important to have quality materials that enabled heating and cooling, he said.
“You would think Switzerland was on the moon” with its triple glazed windows to keep the warmth in and the heat out in summer, said Brûlé, clearly frustrated that the same was far from typical in London (or Australia he might have added).
What about noise?
What’s wrong with noise? You live in a city, noise is part of the excitement of a city, Brûlé said.
“Ladies and gentlemen if you want to have silence Australia has lots of places you can go.”
In a warning note he said Australia was getting a reputation for being rather “health and safety whacked out.” Too much safety was definitely not cool in a Monocle kind of way.
Tree canopy was another topic (at last something green and sustainable, after the triple glazing) that made an appearance on Brûlé shopping list of cool.
Cities with tree canopies were where people actually want to live, he said. (Anyone noticed? Certainly real estate agents have noticed. Wherever was a poor downtrodden suburb ever referred to as “leafy”?)
“You need to look at the cost of not having trees”, he said.
On public transport, if you want people to leave their cars at home, make the buses beautiful and aspirational. Guarantee they will arrive at the destination in 45 minutes and make them fully wired.
Bicycles. Enough said on bikes. They’re good and there should be more of them Brûlé said, before rushing out to his next destination and letting the panel to pick up the themes.
The bit about too much safety had resonated.
Executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber Patricia Forsythe opened the panel session with a hearty agreement that there was too much red tape.
“Here we are in the city of ideas and so often we get caught with red tape.”
She thought the kiosk concept great but said she’d recently watched a café owner go through an agony of long bureaucratic delays, so she feared what the rules and regs would do.
“It’s not for the fainthearted,” she said.
Lucy Turnbull said Machu Picchu in Sydney would not exist as the experience it is in Peru. It would be surrounded by guard-rails (and wall to wall rubber matting?)
Margy Osmond said it was often the small things that were best in a city.
Something as basic as free wi-fi chipped in Forsythe.
Jonathan Emery “violently” agreed with this idea about the fine grain as the basis of transformation, but as well as the bureaucracy he also saw Sydney had a strong spirit of entrepreneurialism.
Forsythe said her instinct was for Sydney to play to its strength. “My view is it’s one of those cities that has a temperate climate, blue sky and clear water.”
This speaks volumes to tourist groups. “The first thing they do is to “walk around and look at the blue sky.”
Market the fresh food, the quality of the produce, the livability, she said. And don’t forget the multi-cultural community and rich diversity of languages.
Turnbull was strong on public transport and mentioned the ideal city for her was a place (like Sydney) where you go to the beach and be in the city in 10 minutes.
There was a lot of endorsement of public transport, how critical it was for the city. (No-one mentioned the $15 billion WestConnex or endorsed the value of roads to create a great city. No-one even mentioned roads. Nor did anyone mention Committee for Sydney’s CEO Tim William’s recent brilliant annihilation of the business case for the “WasteConnex” or his and Turnbull’s subsequent distancing of the committee from his comments, making it clear his views were personal. To hear the case for roads you needed to attend a recent NRMA and Sydney Business chamber event.)