The Clover leaf a.k.a. the Cloud Arch – City of Sydney’s planned public artwork in front of the Town Hall – looks much plainer and less “cloudy” than the original proposal

In this week’s Tw3, The Urbanist comments on:

  • New Cloud Arch: bigger and triple the price
  • NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to make Badgerys Creek an ‘aerotropolis’
  • Start planning now for high-speed rail
  • It’s not just the buildings, high-density neighbourhoods make life worse for the poor
  • This is why apartment living is different for the poor
  • Appliances are getting smarter but humans are still lazy
  • Rise of electric cars has us speeding to the end of internal combustion engine
  • Congestion pricing, alone, will not solve congestion in New York. Just like it hasn’t in London

New Cloud Arch: bigger and triple the price

Describing it as “bold and heroic”, lord mayor Clover Moore said the cloud arch would be “the most significant artwork built in Australia in decades”. “It will become an icon synonymous with Sydney and help raise our city’s profile on the world stage.” Cr Moore defended the cost increase on the grounds the investment would be “paid many times over” through “hundreds of thousands of visitors who will visit Sydney to view the artwork”.

It was always a ridiculous conceit, but the redesign captures even less of the pretentious “cloud” artibabble of the original; now it looks like…a leaf. As expected, the cost has ballooned; it’s now an estimated $11.3 million, three times the original $3.5 million price tag (see Is Sydney’s Cloud Arch sculpture just a giant logo?).

Why does Sydney need to spend $11.3 million on the Clover leaf when: (a) it’s already lucked way more icons that most cities i.e. harbour, opera house, bridge, Bondi; (b) the probability of deliberately creating another world “icon” is vanishingly small; (c) the public space will look fine and function perfectly well without it; (d) it conveys nothing about its immediate context, or Sydney, or Australia; (e) it’s in a public space that belongs to all of metro Sydney, yet it’s unpopular outside of a select group; (f) the opportunity cost of $11 million is high; (g) the tourism angle is hype; sounds like the fantastical promises of the Olympics and the Grand Prix; (h) the final, buildable version is markedly less interesting than the original proposal.

What’s the motivation for the Clover leaf? Is it (a) another demonstration of Sydney’s historical cultural cringe?; (b) a memorial to longstanding Lord Mayor, Clover Moore?; (c) a win for the art industry who see any colonisation of public places as a good thing? This version is a let-down. But at least the execrable milk crate proposed for Belmore Park will be taken off the table to fund the cost blowout.

NSW premier Gladys Berejijlian to make Badgerys Creek an ‘aerotropolis’

NSW will host an Aerotropolis 2026 summit in the middle of next year, calling for international investment proposals and ideas on how to build Badgerys Creek airport as an integrated new city that will boost the economy of western Sydney. “This will change lives,” she said, of the expected jobs boost from the aerotropolis.

Great! That’s western Sydney taken care of, right? Actually, no. It should be understood that “aerotropolis” is essentially a fashionable name for a cluster of airport-related businesses (see Is this the way we’ll live next?). Consider that like all major airports, Melbourne’s Tullamarine has such a cluster; it’s the second largest suburban job concentration in the Melbourne metro area. But despite that, it’s only got 2% of all metro jobs, not all of which are airport-related (see Where are the suburban jobs?). Unlike Tullamarine, Badgerys Creek has the disadvantage of a really big competitor who dominates the market; it’ll be many decades before it produces even as many jobs as Tullamarine.

It’s time for a cold shower. Badgerys Creek is a boon for western Sydney but it’s not even close to “the answer” so many politicians like to suggest it is. Ms Berejiklian tosses in the idea of an economic zone to offer businesses tax breaks, but that’s primarily a federal decision. It’s not clear why the Commonwealth should provide tax breaks for investment when we’re clearly not happy with the likes of Google not paying their fair share of tax. Nor is it obvious that firms will choose to locate in western Sydney to be near the new airport in preference to locating near Kingsford Smith where they get proximity to the huge concentration of firms in the CBD and inner city, as well as harbourside and ocean living.

And why can’t the Herald spell the Premier’s name correctly?

Start planning now for high-speed rail

Ms Berejiklian, having inspected that technology first hand, has become more of a supporter. Although her words (“It’s getting closer to the time we can start thinking about it … “) leave her plenty of room for manoeuvre, she is right that any such project should be an interstate link from the start.

There’s an argument for looking seriously at faster rail links between nearby locations like Sydney and Newcastle, but Ms Berejiklian’s insistence on conceiving HSR as an interstate link is dubious and smacks of politicking.

The case for providing a massive public subsidy (over $100 Billion) to build east coast HSR so that it can compete with, or replace, the existing market-provided public transport system (i.e. planes) has not been made. This issue continues to bubble along because it serves the interests of politicians (visionary!) and rent-seekers (money!). There are much more compelling uses for public funds e.g. intra-urban transport (see Is High Speed Rail our National Boondoggle? and Will business really pay for High Speed Rail?).

It’s not just the buildings, high-density neighbourhoods make life worse for the poor

There are aspects of neighbourhoods with lots of high-density development that compound the challenges lower-income and vulnerable residents face… This gentrification hurts lower-income residents in two main ways: it changes neighbourhoods for the residents who remain; and it pushes people out of these neighbourhoods to more disadvantaged areas. Anyone who’s observed the changes in suburbs like Redfern, Richmond, Northbridge and St Kilda will be familiar with gentrification.

The key problem isn’t high density; it’s gentrification. Lower income and vulnerable residents were largely displaced from inner city suburbs by households with more money (including singles who could share rent) well before the current post-2000 apartment boom. Gentrification of suburbs like Carlton and Paddington was complete in the 1980s.

This is why apartment living is different for the poor

Apartment living is the new norm in Australia. As the nursery rhyme says, when it’s good it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad it’s horrid. If these homes are poorly designed, poorly built, poorly maintained or poorly managed, they are poor places to live. The market-led housing model that underpins Australia’s compact city policies has meant that people with less money get a poorer product. Few planners or politicians have adequately acknowledged these inequities.

Notwithstanding the title of this piece, the authors argue that apartment living isn’t just different for the poor, it’s harder. It’s a relevant point. We should bear in mind, though, that almost everything is harder for the poor. The authors emphasise the failings of the “market-led housing model”, but I think lower income and vulnerable residents are also at a disadvantage when housing is provided in other ways e.g. by government. The history of public housing in Australia isn’t exemplary.

Appliances are getting smarter but humans are still lazy

Only a quarter of households in the study installed and used the devices successfully. 26 per cent didn’t try the devices at all, and a further 24 per cent attempted to install at least one but were unsuccessful. The remaining 24 per cent managed the installation but abandoned using the devices because they found them inconvenient or not useful.

There’s a big issue implicit in this story that’s almost always skirted around; we don’t all have equal cognitive ability. As technology gets more complex, there’s a portion of the population who will struggle to master it. It’s not just tech; in the previous section on apartment living, the authors note that strata title dispute resolution mechanisms are complex, putting those without the resources to negotiate at a disadvantage. This is a growing cause of inequality.

Rise of electric cars has us speeding to the end of internal combustion engine

The government might do well to plug into policies driving the demise of the fossil-fuelled car… Key among such strategies is committing to a date after which all cars sold must be electric. France and Britain, for example, have nominated 2040.

Is 2040 a reasonable target date for Australia? We’d have to convert a large proportion of electricity generation to renewables, expand capacity to meet the new demand from electric vehicles, and account for the 42% of transport that’s used by trucks. Another issue is the increase in driving that would inevitably occur if electricity for transport isn’t taxed like petrol/diesel. That would be hard and indicates we need to be thinking much harder right now about how road space is priced. See also Are electric vehicles a game changer?

Congestion pricing, alone, will not solve congestion in New York. Just like it hasn’t in London

This is a timely warning. It’s not enough to have a congestion pricing system; it must be designed and implemented well. A key problem in London is the charge doesn’t vary by time of day. Another is there’re too many exempt vehicles e.g. taxis. One reason congestion hasn’t been beaten in London is road space was reduced e.g. given over to pedestrians, cyclists, public transport; but that’s a hugely important benefit (see Revealed: how average speed of London traffic has plummeted to just 7.8mph and A History of Downtown Road Pricing).