Monday, January 31, 2005

Oh, the William St spin

'Ooh la landmark' was the headline over a plug for William St developers in the Herald's Domain on Thursday. A developer trying to sell apartments on the Avenue still reckons it will be Sydney's Champs Elysees once the cars have gone underground and it's all grey granite and plane trees.

Council's landscape architect (the one who believes 'consistent' equals 'attractive') says he expects life to be more civilised once traffic 'disappears'.

That's a no-brainer. No mention, though, of how council staff fought tooth and nail to eliminate or minimise the cycle lanes -- they must not be 'civilised' in his eyes. If the comparison with European cities was continued, council's attitude would show up as more on the barbaric end of the continuum.

And no mention of any idea that 'grand plans' imposed from above are always anti-resident. The avenue is already alienating because of its sheer scale (humans don't feel comfortable if there are no boundaries to the space they are in). This is only made worse by the uniformity of paving, tree species and official banners that will run from Town Hall to the Cross.

This 'consistency' is in fact psychologically disturbing to locals because it makes it virtually impossible for any sense of place to differentiate the micro-precincts we live in. The lack of landmarks is disorienting, and that is one of the most urgent discomforts we can feel -- it's only a few degrees from the panic of being lost. You can never tell someone to 'meet me at the cafe on the corner with the jacarandas,' for instance, because jacarandas are verboten. It all has to work by street number and even they are hard to fnd on the skyscrapers.

No, it's all about paving the way for developers, as the Herald article demonstrates. Yet there is no mention of preserving the many charming, old buildings which might save the avenue from the super-alienating domination of high-rise with its consequent wind-tunnel effect, already acute. Horrible in winter.

The article goes on about 'concerns' about 'the world's oldest profession'. An expert says it won't go away. "It may well be that the gentrification of William Street displaces some of that activity into the back streets, but it's not going to get rid of it. It's got to be somewhere in the Cross." The developer has another 64 apartments to sell out of 91, priced from $400,000 to $2.5m.

Maybe Richard Clapton will feel inspired to write a reprise to 'Girls on the Avenue'. What about 'Coffee on the granite'? Doesn't really have a ring to it, does it.


Anonymous said...

Blah Blah Blah, on you rave about uniformity and consistency not being the meaning of attractive.
You obviously wish that YOU were a developer. What would you have? Jacarandas? Perhaps leave the concrete-slab wharfie-cottages with their shitty plumbing and dangerous electrics?
Face the fact that you live within 2 km of the city centre and it's expanding.
The Cross will be swallowed by the business district, and that's what this fight is all about, isn't it? You moved to the cross recently (twat) and now you want to keep it as it is, or regress the place into more of a dirty, wind-blown slum.
Knock the whole lot down, I reckon, and erect beautiful towers...

Anonymous said...

Dear Editor...
when did you earn your degree in psychology?
You preach scientific-sounding crap without any evidence of proof. Take your opinions and go back to the North Shore, twat.
Perhaps you could approach the producers of "Fear Factor" and have them lay down a challenge for the contestants to negotiate the new William Street, and survive!

The Editor said...

Looks like my greatest fan is back. Thanks for the constructive abuse.

The psychological stuff comes from a huge body of research about the effects of scale on human behaviour.Try reading 'A Pattern Language' by Alexander, Ishikawa et al -- it's the 'bible' of the more enlightened urban renewal consultants. Your assumption that big city must mean towers and cars is completely blown away by even the quickest visit to some of the European citys -- whence I have just come. Care to come and see a few hundred photos of how it's done in more civilised cultures?

I guess not -- the chip on your shoulder would prevent you getting through the door. Meanwhile the tone of your comments only underline their paucity of content. If you had any bottle you would not hide behind anonymity.

Please see the story about Professor Gehl I am about to post.