This quote from Shirley Fitzgerald and Hilary Golder’s Pyrmont and Ultimo Under Siege (Hale & Iremonger, 1994) puts more recent developments in perspective. We love the wise but irreverent tone of this book, and the suspicious comments in the captions, which say things like “One of the latest visions for Pyrmont, optimistically combining children and lobsters”. Anyway, here’s that quote we wanted to share:
“By 1990, Sydney was discovering Pyrmont, Ultimo and the band of foreshore land beyond, which were all to become ‘City West’. The City West Urban Strategy was a grand plan to co-ordinate a major housing and commercial development of 300 hectares of derelict, de-industrialised inner-city land ‘to promote urban consolidation in the Sydney Region and consequently contribute to Sydney’s status as a financial, commercial, residential and tourist city of world standing’. Or that’s what the official documents said. Pyrmont-Ultimo was to be the first area developed in a massive 30-year plan, and in its initial formation the plan foreshadowed a residential population of 17,00, mostly in Pyrmont, and a working population of 54,000, mostly in Ultimo.
“In part, this balance reflects contemporary reality because Ultimo is beginning to find a place in the post-industrial ‘information revolution’. Since the 1950s John Fairfax Ltd has published its newspapers from Jones Street, from what many consider to be the ugliest building in Sydney. Another longstanding Ultimo function, technical education, has rapidly spread its tentacles through the precinct, taking over surplus market buildings and empty stores which once serviced a residential population. Then in 1991, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation opened its new headquarters on Harris Street on the site once occupied by Dairy Farmers Co-operative Ltd. Around these giants a number of small firms dealing in information technology have started to cluster.” (pp. 124-35)
The quote Fitzgerald and Golder use is very interesting, and they are sensible to be suspicious of it. It’s all based on this idea that urban consolidation is somehow magically linked to urban improvement & “progress” through development … and the emphasis on “status” is telling. Sydney’s 1990s obsession with status is quite cringeworthy when you read it all now (but does such an anxiety still grip the City of Sydney? Or have we “made it” and no longer have urban inferiority complexes?)
All this is not to say that urban consolidation doesn’t, or can’t, produce quality urban areas — it is merely to remind us that the two concepts are regularly conflated without actually having a logical connection.