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Giving outer-Sydney a facelift: some opportunities for urban development

By Russ Grayson - posted Wednesday, 12 May 2004

If the cliché of "bursting at the seams" can be applied to a city, then Sydney would surely qualify. With resistance to high-rise apartment development in the inner urban and middle-ring suburbs growing and the supply of old industrial sites for redevelopment as residential apartments diminishing, the state government is about to release a vast tract of land to the south-west of the metropolitan area to accommodate a population growing at an average rate of 1000 a week. Bringelly will occupy rural land between the metropolitan area and Campbelltown.

Urban consolidation policy was introduced in the 1990s to slow the spread of urban development over the rural agricultural lands to Sydney's west, north west and south west. At the same time, a number of old industrial sites in the inner urban area became available for redevelopment as the industries closed or moved on. Developers were not slow to seize these new opportunities. Now, large tracts have been rebuilt to house people rather than industry and suburbs once categorised as low-income are being demographically upgraded. The city is transforming itself.

Transformation - The Inner Urban Area

Drive down Parramatta Road between the University of Technology and Glebe Point Road and you notice the rebuilding of the extensive Carlton brewery site and the new cluster of apartments near the old Grace Brothers complex, itself converted into a shopping centre and apartments some years ago. Diverge into Chippendale and see old warehouses converted into apartment blocks and newer developments scaled to match the 19th-century streetscape.


Something similar has been going on for a number of years in Redfern, one of the city's less salubrious addresses. That sign of demographic change - the coffee shop - has started to appear in a shopping strip previously notable for its steel roller doors after trading hours.

The signs of urban rejuvenation await the visitor in the old industrial suburb of Alexandria where cafés and small business are now moving in to service the one-time working class area's new population of mainly so-called "new economy employees". Low-rise apartment development has substantially transformed part of Alexandria and it is now a "respectable" address.

Ultimo and parts of Darlinghurst were redeveloped some years ago, at the start of the inner-urban transformation.

Transformation - The Middle Ring

It is not only Sydney's older, inner ring of suburbs that is being transformed. Suburbs in the city's middle ring such as Hurstville, Chatswood, Strathfield and Parramatta and, to a less intense extent, places like Kogarah and Rockdale have seen an intensification of apartment development. Some of this has been the high-rise development which - with the spread of medium density into areas previously the province of low density single-family dwellings - has stimulated the public opposition that was a factor in the recent council elections in which independents and The Greens polled well.

Medium density in the middle suburban ring, complying with government plans, has clustered around railway stations where it has swollen population numbers and, to the annoyance of established locals, traffic congestion.

Transformation - The Centre

A further focus of apartment development has been Sydney CBD - the commercial heart of the metropolis that is now home to around 25 000.


The World Square development, which is reconstructing an entire city block, epitomises the mixed commercial/ residential development going on throughout the CBD. This has stimulated similar development on the CBD fringe in places such as Wooloomooloo, Darlinghurst, Chippendale and the Parramatta Road strip between Glebe Point Road and the University of Technology. There, established office blocks and old warehouses have been converted to apartments, with the old IBM building on the southern approach to the harbour bridge being perhaps the most conspicuous.

Westward Growth

Medium density development on the middle and inner urban rings has the capacity to absorb only so many. Now, the state government has found it necessary to release land at Bringelly and other outer urban locales to accommodate growing numbers. But, unlike the westward urban expansion of the 1950s to 1980s period, the proposed new developments may include design features to minimise water and energy consumption.

Living so far from the city and from facilities in these outer, car-dependent suburbs is anathema to those who thrive in the vital environments of the densely-packed inner suburbs. They criticise the large houses haphazardly sited on small blocks with no regard for climatic factors such as solar access; houses packed close together in defiance of the earlier ethic of suburban privacy. No community spirit, they say.

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About the Author

Russ Grayson has a background in journalism and in aid work in the South Pacific. He has been editor of an environmental industry journal, a freelance writer and photographer for magazines and a writer and editor of training manuals for field staff involved in aid and development work with villagers in the Solomon Islands.

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