What makes a great city?

What makes a great city?

(Green Building Council of Australia boardroom lunch speech, 5 August 2014)

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and pay my respect to Elders past and present. I also acknowledge the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore.

No one in my lifetime has contributed to making the City of Sydney the great place it is more than Clover. Her vision and values continue to steer our city toward a stable and sustainable future, despite the rocky seas created by Federal and State Governments.

Sydney has all the elements of a great city, not just because of our climate, location and communities, but also because of our potential.

I congratulate the Green Building Council  on working to develop a sustainable property industry for Australia by encouraging green building practices. This is a vital task and I hope I can add something to the discussion today about what makes a great city.

While our State Governments don’t have the best history with corruption, we do have checks and balances that mean there are planning rules with significant levels of public support, processes for community engagement that allow for improvements, and separation decision making proponents. The public’s response to the ICAC exposure of dodgy operators and corruption is a sign that the community expects fair treatment and for everyone to abide by the agreed rules.

Unfortunately, most of these rules are under threat and being whittled away over time rather than being strengthened. These check and balances, especially in our planning laws, are part of what makes a great city and therefore something that the Green Building Council should be supporting and promoting. Your credibility and your work is undermined if you are put in the same category as the cowboys who are interested in quick and dirty money making.

All cities need people at all income levels to run properly. This means affordable housing in mixed diverse communities where people from different backgrounds meet and get to understand each other. This has been my experience in the inner city, where we have a diverse community with high levels of tolerance and acceptance that supports creativity and even eccentricity.

The greatest tragedy of the government’s sell-off of all social housing Millers Point will be the destruction of one of our cities oldest and most cohesive and mixed communities.  Millers Point has low crime rates and passionate and active resident groups. It is a beautiful suburb, thanks to the locals, who have looked after it for generations, despite successive governments engaging in eviction by neglect. I will continue to call on the government to retain inner city social housing, including through community housing providers.

Great cities need good public transport because workers need to get to and from their jobs, shops and homes. Poor transport and traffic congestion costs businesses, communities and the environment. The City Centre Access Strategy and CBD Light Rail will provide inner Sydney with an integrated transport system for the first time.

The great majority of my constituents live in strata buildings and this will continue to increase. Yet we have antiquated strata laws, with limited protection against proxy farming, overcrowding and short term lettings in buildings not designed as hotels. Great cities don’t allow unfair arrangements like this with fire risks and hassles for neighbours and owners corporations. Clover worked on strata reform for years, and I’m continuing to push reform despite the government abandoning it yet again. A great city would protect residents from unfair deals for their biggest asset and would make sure their home is safe and had high levels of amenity, and that the builder or developer leaves it to them without major defects. Tomorrow, in Parliament I will be calling on the Premier to adopt a whole of government approach to protect and improve our many vertical communities. 

Great cities are also marked by great parks. Sydney CBD workers, residents and visitors use our beautiful parks for respite from their jobs and the city, to play informal team sports and to exercise. Opportunities to expand green open space in the inner city are dwindling and what remains must be protected and maintained for recreation. A master plan for the Royal Botanic Gardens and The Domain provides a vital opportunity to ensure that the community's long-term vision is achieved and the precinct is protected for future generations, and I will continue to call on the government to priorities passive recreation over commercialisation of our parks.

As you would all appreciate, green buildings need open space beyond a balcony.

Great cities need good schools and childcare. We are a Global City without a comprehensive public high school, despite the growing number of families with children living in the city. Like local parents I would welcome to an innovative solution to this growing need. This could include a school in new residential or commercial tower in the CBD and could be achieved through a voluntary planning agreement within major redevelopment projects at Barangaroo, Darling Harbour, and Central to Eveleigh taking place. If the State Government is going to continue to benefit from stamp duty revenue from families buying into new developments in the inner city, they must also invent in education infrastructure.  

In the short time I’ve been in State Parliament, I’ve learned that governments can be lumbering machines with their own trajectory that are often inward-looking. Residents of great cities make sure that they don’t get off track.

The most rewarding part of my job is working with Sydney’s diverse communities, whether it is immigrants, the LGBTI community, our growing start-up sector or public housing residents, I see an active and engaged community with many people taking a proactive approach to improving their community and their city. Like the Green Building Council, my constituents don’t sit around waiting for Government, but take the initiative and get on with making things happen. 

This is a sign of a great city.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!