But as she observed at a Christmas drinks function last week, the government’s job can’t just be about building stuff and making the trains, whether light or heavy rail, run on time.
“The challenge I’ve given to my team is not only to build things and to build them well, on time and on budget, but it’s also about making sure we take a close look at the aesthetics,” Ms Berejiklian told the Committee for Sydney’s end-of-year gathering at the Opera House.
“Because imagine if they built a box here instead of this beautiful building. It’s a bit difficult when you’re building a rail line or a hospital, but generally speaking.”
Asked later by The Sun-Herald to name something in the city she considered beautiful, the Premier said she “can’t go past the Opera House as a place of design inspiration”. But she also nominated the Barangaroo foreshore walk as “a modern example of good design which restores public access”.
Ms Berejilian indicated she wanted her legacy as premier to encompass aesthetics as well as the “nuts and bolts” of better services.
“In 50 years’ time, when we look back at this time in our state’s history it will be viewed as an incredible period of infrastructure delivery,” she said. “But at the same time we want people look back and see a time where we left a legacy of good design and creation of public space.”
The Academic – Libby Gallagher
When it comes to improving Sydney’s environment and health, there’s one simple thing we can do, says landscape architect Libby Gallagher. “It’s all about the greening.”
Libby Gallagher advocates for large mature trees within our urban environments. Credit:Dean Sewell
Gallagher, who completed her doctorate in climate mitigation through street design at the University of Sydney, says we need to plant a lot more trees. And not just any trees in any place, but in a planned and sustained fashion.
“Get big trees in the ground,” she says. “Trees are the number one thing to do if you’re trying to reduce temperatures and reduce electricity consumption – particularly reduce the need to switch on the air conditioning unit on the wall.”
Trees reduce urban heat, not only because they directly shade buildings but because they emit moisture into the atmosphere to reduce surrounding temperatures.
Gallagher says her research has shown careful selection of trees can reduce airconditioning bills at an adjoining property by as much as $400 a year once the trees are at maturity.
“They’re the natural airconditioning engines of our cities,” she says. But they are threatened by poor urban design and incremental infill development “which is often unsympathetic to retaining trees”.
While tree planting is partly a council issue, Gallagher says it requires state government planning to do properly because of the complexity of co-ordinating underground utilities such as water mains, electricity and telecommunications.
Gallagher says the next best thing Sydney can do is work out how to decentralise water and energy production into local areas, rather than relying so heavily on major infrastructure.
Dee Madigan, the creative director of Campaign Edge and a Gruen panellist, says the repeal of the lockout laws creates an opportunity to reinvent the city’s image.
The Marketer – Dee Madigan
It’s one of the most easily recognised places in the world, instantly identified by the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach. But when it comes to telling Sydney’s story to the nation and the world, marketer Dee Madigan says we’re selling ourselves short.
Madigan, the creative director of Campaign Edge and a Gruen panellist, says the repeal of the lockout laws creates an opportunity to reinvent the city’s image.
“You make a campaign out of that … ‘Sydney has found its fun’ is probably the brief I would use,” she says. “Sydney’s always felt a bit brash, a bit naughty, a bit fun – compared to Melbourne, which is too cool for school. And we’ve lost that.”
Ms Madigan says such a campaign would work both nationally and internationally, and the domestic ads could even acknowledge the mistakes made by governments in the past.
“There’s a pay-off from consumers on that kind of honesty,” she says “People don’t mind when governments f–k up, it’s when they pretend they haven’t that people have a real issue.”
While Melbourne has embarked on lauded marketing efforts, such as Tourism Victoria’s “It’s Easy to Lose Yourself in Melbourne” campaign by Publicis Mojo featuring a red ball of string, Sydney has often relied on its famous icons to attract visitors.
But Ms Madigan says that needs to change because Sydney is no longer the clear “market leader” when it comes to domestic tourism.
“Brisbane has come leaps and bounds. It has a really cool vibe about it,” she said.
“Sydney can’t sit back and be complacent any more. They’ll still get their overseas visitors … but I reckon they’re losing their internal visitors to other places.”
The Culturalist – Leo Schofield
Critic and arts patron Leo Schofield was once branded “Mr Sydney”, and true to form has a wealth of ideas for how the city needs to change. First and foremost, he says, it needs bigger and better stages.
“Every other mainland state capital has better theatres that Sydney and yet the audiences are here,” he says.
“The ballet will tell you that it could not survive without its Sydney audience, which is about double the size of the Melbourne audience.
“The Opera House is woefully inadequate for the Australian Ballet and the Opera. We need a big performing arts complex with a big stage on the scale of the Arts Centre in Melbourne and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane, both of which can house major musicals and international as well as local opera and ballet companies.”
Critic and arts patron Leo Schofield has a wealth of ideas for how Sydney needs to change.
Finding a location for such a stage will be difficult. Sydney missed an opportunity to create a world-class theatre at Barangaroo, Schofield says, which would have been its natural home.
Schofield’s other idea, much less likely to come to fruition, is to keep the Powerhouse Museum where it is at Ultimo. But if that’s not to happen, he says it should be broken up.
That could be achieved by moving the museum’s science and technology exhibits to Parramatta and using one of the government’s old heritage-listed CBD buildings as a decorative arts museum, Schofield suggests.
Christopher Brown advocates for the sections of the city that don’t always feature on postcards but constitute Sydney’s multicultural heartland and its growth engine.
The Strategist – Christopher Brown
As chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Christopher Brown’s job is to advocate for the sections of the city that don’t always feature on postcards but constitute Sydney’s multicultural heartland and its growth engine.
The Greater Sydney Commission has divided the city into three parts: Western Parkland, Eastern Harbour and Central River. It is this latter city, running from Hornsby through to Hurstville via Parramatta and Olympic Park, which forms Brown’s focus for what Sydney needs next.
Specifically, he says it needs a “city deal” between federal, state and local governments, of the kind already made with Western Sydney, Geelong, Hobart and other cities nationwide.
“It needs the same sort of dedicated approach that the western city has got if we’re going to unblock it,” Brown says. “This is the part of the city where most of us live. It’s the part of the city that’s going to soak up most of the new population.”
Brown says the area has been besieged by “some pretty average governance” over the years, leading to overdevelopment and bad design – which have bred scepticism about growth.
The region’s waterways, mainly the Parramatta, Georges and Cooks rivers, fall well short of the harbour’s sparkle. The arterial roads, Parramatta and Victoria, are known nightmares – and unsightly to boot.
“And it’s had almost no vertical transport connection,” says Brown. “It’s pretty tough to get from the Hills to Hurstville.”
Brown says a city deal for the Central River would provide proper planning, metrics, job targets and, of course, funding. It would also help attract public-private partnerships.
“It’s one of these moments in time – Sydney can do it right for once,” he says. “Too much planning gets you Olympic Park, not enough planning gets you Parramatta Road.”
Michael Koziol is deputy editor of The Sun-Herald, based in Sydney.