Developers took advantage of light-weight regulation with generous floor space regulations and little sense of extensive remodeling with the exception of Australia Square. But brooding mega-renewal projects run by the state government were imagined on the outskirts of the city in The Rocks and Woolloomooloo to the dismay of society.
A withdrawal in May 1967 from the Planning Institute was very much aware that planning had attracted a negative perception as “conservative, cautious and limited” rather than “liberal, imaginative and persistent”.
Things took a turn for the better when the Civic Reform Association gained a majority in the Council to replace a gung-ho triumvirate of development-friendly state-appointed commissioners in late 1969. Anti-Labor, but progressive, they had already commissioned Jim Colman to report on a new plan that encapsulated Sydney’s problems in JK Galbraith’s words: “private prosperity and public misery”.
Councilors Andrew Briger and Leo Port pushed the idea of a strategy forward. In March 1970, the new council had more than 20 contributions to conduct the $ 100,000 survey, a considerable sum for an urban planning project. The successful consortium led by Urban Systems Corporation (USC) was led by George Clarke.
Clarke (1932-2005) had positioned himself wisely to take on the task. Hugh Stretton described him as one of the archetypal architect-planners who “thought of planning as, above all, a form of social reform”.
Charismatic, articulate, and a self-proclaimed “urbanist,” as his Paddington record proclaims, Clarke had worked and studied in the United States with mentors such as Lewis Mumford and Kevin Lynch. He returned to Sydney with a great understanding of urban renewal, conservation, community planning and Lynch’s emphasis on the “image of the city”. USC was not only the first significant planning consulting firm formed in post-war Sydney, but the first integrated firm spanning planning, design, architecture, transportation and research.
Clarke assembled a large cast to prepare the plan along with architects McConnel Smith and Johnson and management consultants WD Scott. A total of 39 additional specialists that make up the team, including overseas specialists, created a formidable line-up of interdisciplinary expertise. Many would later make their individual mark on Sydney into the 21st century.
In connection with the collection of information, hundreds of stakeholders, including unions, churches, charities, businesses and government departments were invited to make contributions. Many were reportedly “surprised” to be approached, but people “bubbled over with ideas”. This experiment in community counseling, however rudimentary it may be, was a new method at the time.
Under each of its four indicative ambitions were four thematic policy areas, which in turn generated more than 80 action priorities. The city was divided into five separate districts (Central Spine, Eastern, Southeastern, Pyrmont and University), creating more than 30 planning areas. This was Clarke’s response to addressing the city’s complexity as an urban system.
Five key management handles were identified: re-employment of the city as the domain of the council; cut back on developers’ rights to floor space to encourage taller buildings to provide civic facilities; predict a series of detailed “action plans” for key areas and projects; looking at a three-year audit cycle; and modernization of the city’s planning management.
The main overarching goals were to limit large-scale commercial development to a central core, discourage vehicle traffic, increase pedestrian-only spaces, promote bypasses, improve the quality of urban design, preserve historic buildings, ensure more cultural diversity, and preserve inner-city villages. .
They do not sound revolutionary now, but it was an innovative package half a century ago. Major proposals included closing Martin Place to traffic and rehabilitating the endangered Queen Victoria Building.
Other proposals betray the high modernism of the period: a World Trade Center; an airport in the center of new technology aircraft at Central Station; a planetarium for Ultimo; a study of monorails; thousands of peripheral parking spaces; and “traffic-separated pedestrian environments” with a penchant for tunnels, bridges, arcades and moving footpaths as opposed to the modern paradigm of street walkability.
Architect Robin Boyd wisely recognized a scheme that sought to balance ingenuity and practicality without tattering feathers. This was largely achieved backed by an energetic PR campaign. The most outspoken critic was Harry Seidler, who identified a “toothless tiger” who highlighted the problem with an idea strategy rather than a control plan.
Conversely, the Askin state government late published the city’s statutory plan under development since the 1940s, just days before the CSSP was unveiled. Developers preferred its more forgiving rules, which were expanded, creating a stream of development applications. The error correction was not completely corrected before the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act of 1979, which folded into many of the planning tools that CSSP envisioned.
By that time, the plan had already been reviewed twice, green bans had come and gone, a state heritage law was in operation, and the Ministry of Urban and Regional Development had added Commonwealth interest in the city. The planning wagon went on. Even George Clarke, who had exported his formula to the City of Adelaide Planning Study in 1973-74 to strengthen his national profile, had had enough: moving to Bali and a peripatetic life as an international design guru.
CSSP remained “far and away his crowning achievement” according to Elizabeth Farrelly, and it drifts in and out of her latest book Kill Sydney as an enlightened bell ringer as Sydney’s “first foray into human-friendly, tree-planting, street-conscious, pedestrian-oriented planning strategy”.
The plan was a bestseller, educated the community about planning, drew on consultation and evidence-based research, introduced an official registry of cultural heritage sites in local authorities, pioneered site-based planning and planning review mechanisms, alien design review procedures that have since been elevated to high science, and helped launch a government revolution that supports the city’s current leadership in planning and design guided by its own Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy, which is proving equally sustainable and influential.
Fantastic architecture produces tangible icons judged by their physical presence and functionality. Planning works through a different modus operandi of coordinating protocols and processes devised in the public interest. CSSP 1971 defined a form of planning expertise long before it was awarded prizes. But a plaque pigeons.
Robert Freestone is Professor of Planning at the University of NSW.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to today’s most important and interesting stories, analyzes and insights. sign up here.