Sydney lessons bode badly for Canberra’s future

Share Canberra's trusted news:
Author Elizabeth Farrelly… confronting the damage done and being done to the urban environment she loves.

“Anything in public hands is seen by 21st century governments as land banks for development… locally such dubious practices are now entrenched as building the new normal within the ACT Labor/Greens coalition,” writes “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.

ELIZABETH Farrelly’s new book “Killing Sydney: The Fight For a City’s Soul” is a must-read for anyone with an interest in their local planning issues. 

Paul Costigan.

While her main focus is on inner Sydney, most of the book is about what’s being done in the electorate’s name by NSW politicians, their planning and development bureaucrats, the attached agencies and the out-of-control developers. 

This stuff is truly awful and has been going on unchecked for ever!

Ms Farrelly has lived in Sydney since the late 1980s, has been involved with architecture, planning and the workings of government and has written books and endless articles about inner Sydney. 

She now confronts the damage done and being done to the urban environment she loves. Hers has been a hands-on experience and she tells many tales in great detail. Her experiences and opinions are worth reading as so much of it will be familiar to residents elsewhere – especially those in Canberra.

There’s cronyism that operates around government, there’s the ease with which heritage is ignored (think West Basin locally), multiple agencies with worthy sounding names that hide their true role (development at all costs and maximum profits for developers). Canberrans could name one or two.

Then there is a process that the Planning Directorate and agencies such as the City Renewal Authority now specialise in having learnt well from NSW. 

As with their seasoned NSW counterparts, government agencies are experts in staging consultations that are meaningless and ingenuous. They consult with contracts already signed (think West Basin) and offer to engage on decisions deemed to be not negotiable (think Curtin Horse Paddocks, new hospital extension location and Common Ground being plonked on to Section 72). 

Meanwhile, public places are eroded, trees come down and cherished open spaces and parks are taken over bit by bit. Older suburbs with heritage and abundant biodiversity are under attack. Land and buildings that can be sold are soon on offer to developers. 

Anything in public hands (that’s yours and mine) is seen by 21st century governments as land banks for development. This is happening in Sydney and locally such dubious practices are now entrenched as building the new normal within the ACT Labor/Greens coalition.

“Killing Sydney: The Fight For a City’s Soul”… a must-read for anyone with an interest in their local planning issues.

While it may all sound familiar, and possibly depressing, Farrelly’s story telling is worth the effort – the book is a good read. She writes with a friendly and accessible style, though occasionally spending too much time explaining philosophical points. Given the book is about 350 pages, that can be skimmed through to get back to the intriguing tales and lessons to be learnt (don’t trust any of them).

Having praised the book and its author, one warning for Canberrans: Farrelly regularly looks down at Canberra and its residents (she does not believe that people love the place). 

Possibly she is yet to understand how Canberra is a landscape with a city within. That’s basically the same fault with those who pretend to run the place and, likewise, many architects (not all).

As with Sydney, Canberra needs political candidates selected not by the few that inhabit the three mainstream parties. Whatever needs to happen, it has to result in having politicians representing voters – not their parties or those with links to the parties. 

Likewise, Sydney and Canberra need huge changes of culture and new people within the planning and development bureaucracies and the development agencies. 

The big question for Canberra (and Sydney/NSW) is how to have people-focused, professional directorates – with real planners. Remember them? For Canberra to survive as a city in a landscape, planning decisions should be focused on the humane interests and well-being of residents. It is about having politicians and professional bureaucrats who have an understanding and passion for landscape and good design.


Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Previous articleVillage plan to lead the world in dementia care
Next articleRevealed: 500 years of making masterpieces


  1. Dr Farrelly does share one aspect with Canberra. In 2002, she was awarded the Marion Mahony Griffin Prize by the NSW Chapter of the Institute of Architects, which commented:
    “Just as Marion Mahony Griffin conveyed a sense of delight in architecture through her design and
    drawings, Elizabeth captures the joy and delight of architectural and urban space in words”.

    It’s a worthy prize, though unsurprisingly recognising women in New South Wales:
    “The Marion Mahony Griffin Prize is awarded annually to acknowledge a female in the field of architecture for a distinctive body of work. Established in 1998 by the NSW Chapter, it aims to acknowledge the significant contribution of women to the profession across a number of industry platforms including architectural education, journalism, research, professional practice and theory, as well as for built architectural work. The adoption of the name of Marion Mahony Griffin recognises her invaluable contribution to the combined effort of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony to the architecture of Australia”.

    In this year of the 150th anniversary of Marion’s birth, we need a similar prize for recent female graduates or practitioners in Canberra. Marion deserved more than a View from Mt Ainslie.

Leave a Reply