Urban Australia; generating cultural capital or breeding cultural impoverishment?

Urban Australia; generating cultural capital or breeding cultural impoverishment?

We tend to think of rapid urbanisation as something that happens somewhere else, like China. But it’s happening here too, right in front of our eyes.

In a speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia in February, former Treasury secretary Ken Henry estimated that Australia will need a brand new city for two million people every five years.

The Argument for Better Development Process

The Argument for Better Development Process

The most recognizable characteristic of Australian urban development is the adversarial nature of its process.

Every day brings highly publicized media stories of infrastructure projects and developments mired in conflict; bogged down in disputes between competing interest groups.

In Sydney alone examples best known for the controversies that surround them include; Wesconnex, the Lightrail Program, Crown Barangaroo, the Balmain Tigers site, the Waterloo Eveleigh project and residential developments across the city. For media consumers these controversies make interesting stories but for the people involved they’re disastrous. 

A cultural high for NYC

A cultural high for NYC

At New York’s High Line a handful of vendors operate from trailers clustered between its southern entrance and the new Whitney Museum of Art next-door. I strike up a conversation with Dana, originally from Albania and now a New Yorker selling photographic prints of street art from all over the city. The prints capture moments in time; the street art which provides the source material often doesn’t last for long, supplanted by the perpetual redevelopment of this city. Dana tells me that her husband takes the pictures, which I initially believe but later come to question when I see other vendors with the same images. 

undesign

undesign

Lately I’ve been thinking about Undesign. I know that’s a strange word and perhaps someone has a better one.

One way or another, I’ve spent most of my working life in design. There are a handful of early years that don’t qualify; a couple in the military and a few working as a rural contractor building fences. But mostly it’s been about design. I built a multi-disciplinary design group that reached the top of its game in Australia, took it into Asia and then partnered it with one of the world’s largest experience design companies.

The Authority of the street

The Authority of the street

The Australia I inhabit has become a place where order and conformity are admired while deviation from the norm is generally unwelcome.

Quite how we became so cautious, particularly given the devil-may-care image we like to both hold of ourselves and promote is beyond the scope of this piece. What is within its domain and what may not be my most popular viewpoint is: “we need some disruptive thinking in our cultural and political mix”. I’m not talking revolution here; I am talking about a loosening of restrictions and constraints that shifts power from authorities to the street.

A beacon for residential development in Sydney

A beacon for residential development in Sydney

As a pretty regular traveler over Sydney’s Anzac Bridge I’ve watched the Edwin Davey Flour Mill site with interest over many years. Although abandoned since the late 90’s it’s remained an eye-catching building; a handsome Georgian facade with the perfect intervention of a corrugated iron shed penetrating and rising above the brickwork in its top right hand corner. I often wondered what was to become of this piece of Sydney with its century long history of flour milling, particularly given its difficult location between a freeway ramp and the Fish Market. And in recent times, that question has been partially answered as, whizzing by, I’ve seen its conversion into apartments.

Of Memory (Sculpture by the Sea 2010)

Of Memory (Sculpture by the Sea 2010)

Exhibited in Sculpture by the Sea Sydney in 2009 and chosen as a finalist in the UWS Art Priize and Exhibition in 2010. Of memory is trying to connect two points in the landscape. The work is straining against its material limitations, reaching out from one fixed point in an unsupported, cantilevered span. It responds to an idea of landscape and our individual capacities for risk and commitment.