For anyone who has been to Sydney, you’ve probably had the chance to walk along the harbour and across either the Domain or the Royal Botanic Gardens – two spectacular green spaces just minutes away from the CBD and next to landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House. But recently announced new development plans for these areas are putting what makes them special at risk.
Luckily I’ve spent five years of my life in Sydney so I can attest to just how important these two spaces are – both as recreational areas and also as a cultural heart during the Australian summer. In the Domain, don't be surprised to find yourself in the middle of the world’s largest outdoor short-film festival or even enjoying a night at the opera. During the summer at the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens you can grab a bag of popcorn and settle into a film at the Moonlight cinema. It’s spectacular. But there is a downside to the area’s popularity. Dance festivals on New Year’s Day don’t necessarily bring out the best and brightest.
There have been arguments before regarding the Domain and gardens. Many say these two green spaces are being turned into cash cows. Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating once said that Sydney is a “whore to stimulus”.
Well, now prepare yourselves for even more criticism. The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust have just released a 25-year master plan for the site that includes a five-star hotel, a new ferry wharf, a railway station, sound shell and more shops and cafés. For some reason they are also including a harbour-viewing platform for the site – even though I doubt there’s ever been a complaint about not being able to catch the view.
The total price tag for the plan is more than AU$130m (€88.3m). That’s AU$130m for more opportunities to cash-in on visitors and residents alike – more shops to sell souvenirs, more cafés to sell watery, overpriced coffee and more transport links to ferry more people in and out. I don't have a problem with staging temporary cultural events but why spend so much money on permanent projects that aren’t going to go very far to improve the spaces? Why risk the further commercialisation of two of the most, if not the most, green spaces in the city?
If the city wants a master plan for the site, they should look beyond how to make money from it. Perhaps Sydney should listen to former Paul Keating and not become a whore to stimulus. It’s just not worth it.
Phil Han is a producer for Monocle 24.