The Greater Sydney Commission’s plan for the city’s future is a dream come true for developers – and a nightmare for everybody else.
You have to feel for Lucy Turnbull. Every few months, when her butler brings in her Earl Grey tea earlier than usual, a feeling of dread overtakes her. She has to head west, among the unwashed masses, pull a hardhat over her perfectly coiffed hair, and talk about her grand plans for a city she once thought ended at the fish markets.
It must have been a big shock when she learnt the NSW government’s Greater Sydney Commission, which she chairs, is based in Parramatta. This is the self-described “urbanist” so oblivious to suburbs outside her enclave she didn’t know more than 50 Haberfield homes rich with heritage value were bulldozed for a motorway.
Lucy’s vision for Sydney is to turn it into a city of three cities – a western parkland city, a central river city, and an eastern harbour city. Apparently it echoes an indigenous Australian view of the region. “It’s only taken us 230 years to catch up with a vision that our indigenous ancestors always had for this city,” she has said.
Any way you read that, it’s bizarre. At a time when indigenous Australians are being forced out of inner-city Sydney thanks to a government planning policy focused on private gain rather than public good, it’s insulting.
Lucy wants to create a city (or cities) where everyone can be within 30 minutes of where they live, work and play. Surprisingly, it doesn’t involve issuing every Sydneysider with a jet pack.
While this is a noble goal, it exhibits total ignorance as to the way people who aren’t millionaires live and work. If the Turnbulls don’t have servants’ quarters for their cleaners and gardeners (and you can’t rule that out) the help probably isn’t living 30 minutes away – unless they’re in a tent by Central Station.
If Lucy really wants to create a 30-minute city, a key factor is affordable housing. But while she’s spouting her vision, large tracts of public housing are being sold off to the highest bidder and public land is flogged to developers.
Across Sydney, shoddily built high-rise apartment buildings are thrown up as ugly monuments to developers’ greed and political corruption, and more people are jammed into suburbs where infrastructure is already strained.
The fabric of suburbs is altered against the wishes of long-time residents by a government that rules by the maxim: unless you’re rich, you can get fucked. You see it when they change the law so homeless people can be moved out of Martin Place, abolish councils so developers don’t have to worry about public protests, and give free rein to James Packer at Barangaroo. You see it when exclusive suburbs like Point Piper, where the Turnbulls live, are spared from the high-density housing developments foisted on less fortunate communities.
The Greater Sydney Commission wants more than 190,000 new dwellings built in Sydney by 2021. It’s a developer’s wet dream but it won’t end the nightmare for people trying to buy a home without taking on crippling debt. That won’t come without comprehensive tax reform. Now, if only there was someone Lucy could talk to about that.