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Well, this makes it all worth it

So much information is thrown around during a major project, though when it comes to social infrastructure we owe it to ourselves to ensure people understand what’s going on.

Brian ten Brinke Project Leader and Advisor

by Brian ten Brinke

Senior Associate, Sydney

31 July 2017
Barangaroo

While the project team is normally eating and breathing a project’s detail, the general public is forced to wait until information is released from the office’s communication team. This is where things get tricky. Knowledge gaps start to appear, conjecture grows, and suddenly the project is expertly woven into a news-hungry confronting headline. Then the loud voices take over.

During the course of the Barangaroo Reserve development it was rare when a day went by without a response required to a misunderstood query. Tensions can get high on the inside of project offices and sometimes rash decisions are made to make problems go away. Luckily this didn’t happen for us and Sydney now has an award-winning harbour-side parkland to enjoy.

The journey was challenging at times. Below are a couple of community-relations happenings that helped make a difference:

Archaeological origin

During the course of our excavation within the ‘industrial vandalism’1 of the former container port we came across a few seafaring foundations from Sydney’s past; James Munn’s slipway (1831) and Cuthbert’s wharf (1861).

The finds were not entirely unexpected as we had targeted the dig specifically in these areas. Though the relics were substantial enough for us to question what this means to our parkland and million dollar foreshore.

Ideas were tossed around within the team from recording and demolishing to museum enclosures. But it wasn’t until a chance meeting with a neighbour from Millers Point – who was well-versed in the heritage of the area - that the interpretation crystallised. From a quiet discussion in our office in 2013, the importance of these archaeological finds was eloquently interpreted to me as an origin of the very development we were undertaking. She described the importance of maritime in an age where it was the only form of communication, and how business interests pushed Munn to the opposite side of the natural ridge running through Sydney (now the Bradfield Highway). 30 years later Cuthbert acquired the land, built over Munn’s slipway, and formed a shipyard which was replaced by Dibbs Wharf.

And so on and so on… Following our successful Archaeological Open Day - in which 300 Sydney-siders visited the archaeological dig - we pursued an integrated design approach, subtly marrying together a chapter from the past into the foreshore which is what you see today along the northern edge of Nawi Cove.

The team delivered an excellent result but the credit can be taken by a local resident.

Community open day

Sometimes things just happen because the stars align. In the case of the community open days - where over 7,000 Sydney-siders visited the construction site - this was the case. The benefit to the project would be difficult to quantitatively value, but the information conveyed and the relationships made were invaluable.

Starting with an idea part way through the construction contract to down tools and allow the public to climb all over the site, blossomed into full day events with several participants from the client, builder and consultants two years in a row leading up to the grand opening of the park in August 2015.

The stars that happened to align in this case were not driven by gravity but the laws of pride in the significance of the project being built. I can recall walking the site with the builder a couple days before the open day, talking about walkways and safety for the public and making several unrealistic suggestions of what should be done. On the morning of the event I was shocked by the absolute care and attention made towards presenting the best construction site possible. The builder’s team had even parked all their large machinery - earthmovers, diggers, 3m wide sandstone saw blades - along the public pathways for all the visiting kids to be in awe of. The day was an absolute success as I observed the worker’s families getting a look into what mum or dad was building, and seeing the story that lies underneath the lush green landscape.

An extra effort had been exercised by everyone because of their love for the job. 

Barangaroo

Not every social infrastructure project is appreciated, but a majority of them improve the society we live in. That’s the reward for working in this sector.

For six hours we guided tours, answered questions along the foreshore and shared the truth before us - and the truth is what it was. Some accept it and others do not. By and large the public were interested in the story being told, but there is always opposition because… well, we’re all individuals.

On this occasion the vocal opposition from members of the public was actually closed down by others because they were more interested in hearing and questioning than voicing opinions. There is a difference between blogs, editorials, articles or internet comments and face-to-face discussions. The former is one way communication, the latter allows real-time conversation.

Social Infrastructure

Unfortunately, social infrastructure does not generate direct returns on investment like many other property improvements (e.g. toll roads, office buildings and unit blocks) but they make our lives better. Understanding how we can progress more of them is important to making better cities.

We are now quantifying these project impacts to capture the value created and unlock higher levels of funding for more projects. For Barangaroo Reserve, the Government elected to fund its creation from the property development agreement for Barangaroo South. This is a traditional means of delivering public open space that comes with conflicting emotions around urban density.

However, I can relay to you a positive view expressed by one onlooker during our public boat tours of the site. After travelling north from the King Street Wharf end of Barangaroo, and answering several questions on height, density and casinos, we were rounding the headland when someone said, “well, this makes it all worth it.”

References

  1. “act of industrial vandalism”, quote by Paul Keating. Sydney Morning Herald article, 19 September 2009, http://www.smh.com.au/national/storming-the-headland-20090918-fvc8.html

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