We might as well get more Barangaroo for our buck
Walking around Sydney’s big, gaudy bicentennial showpiece Darling Harbour recently, the place just seemed so sad. The word dowdy doesn’t do it justice. Imagine stepping out in the suit or dress you wore to your Year 12 formal. Now imagine you’d been wearing it every day since.
Just down the way, and soon to be linked by a waterfront walkway, lies the former port area of Barangaroo. All manner of shiny plans for the site have been drawn up, rejected, put forward again, and debated to death – mostly by those who consider any building without a picket fence a monument of brutalist architecture and an affront to humanity.
The latest from Barangaroo is that James Packer wants to build an even bigger tower and casino than originally planned. The plans are bound to bounce back and forth between various planning bodies and perhaps even the courts. But former PM Paul Keating gave it the thumbs up today, and that’s good enough for us.
Mr Keating has lived just up the hill by the way, so he’s not just weighing in on the issue as a man with a longstanding interest in urban development and this site in particular, but as a former local.
Not that you’d necessarily defer to locals on an issue like this because it’s actually a national issue. This might all seem like a bit of a Sydney thing, but no. This is about when and where it is appropriate to build things that suit tourists as much as (and possibly a bit more than) they suit us.
For those who don’t know Sydney well, Barangaroo is a site on the north west fringe of the CBD which comprises 22 hectares of disused container wharves. Make no mistake. This is not The Rocks or Woolloomooloo – the urban villages with their priceless sandstone terraces which were saved by the union-led Green Bans movement in the ’70s. Barangaroo, as it sits now, is pretty much a wasteland.
Now, no one is saying it should all be turned over to commercial interests, and there’s no chance that will happen. Extensive harbourfront access for walkers and “restored naturalistic headland features” are all part of the plan.
But that doesn’t mean the site can’t cop some you beaut architectural whizzbangery to really make it sizzle. In fact, it’s crying out for it.
Sydney has loads of urban bushland areas, including two bushy headlands across the harbour from Barangaroo. It also has more than 200 harbour and ocean beaches. These things mostly appeal to locals and visitors at the backpacker end of the market. Wealthy tourists, not so much.
The new wave of monied, Asian tourists will be wooed by the sort of things they can get back home in Shanghai or Guangzhou or Macau. That might seem ironic and counter-intuitive, but that’s how it is. They will come here if they see brochures with big, flashy hotel/casinos. All the better if those hotels are a short walk or ferry hop from Darling Harbour Wildlife World so they don’t have to sully their Gucci shoes in the actual bush.
Like or loathe James Packer, he understands all this. And at the risk of parroting the classic trickle-down economic baloney, his self interest could be in our best interest. Here’s hoping, anyway. Hey, it can’t hurt chucking on another 20 storeys, to find out, can it?
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