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Urbanism festival navigates post-truth politics for the facts

13 July 2017
Real conversations about the big urban issues for Sydney

The Festival of Urbanism returns for the fourth year to expose the real historical, political and economic forces shaping cities and urban life in an era of post-truth politics.

Magnifying glass illuminates the facts

The two-week festival (31 July-12 August) of talks, panels, films, exhibitions and tours sees local and international speakers, academic researchers, industry leaders, policy makers and community groups take a deeper look at the real facts of living in global cities such as Sydney.

The big urban issues including smart cities, housing and living affordability, city growth and inequality, and balancing heritage conservation and social issues with urban renewal, are examined alongside Australians’ obsession with car ownership, the slow progress with Indigenous planning, and the pop-up culture reinventing communities.

The University of Sydney’s Professor Peter Phibbs, Head of Urban and Regional Planning and Policy in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning said: “In a time when the challenges facing Australian cities are substantial, the political and economic discourse about cities is light on evidence and too focused on rent-seeking and fake data.

The debate needs to move past slogans and symbolic policies, and engage the community in a real discussion about the trade-offs facing our cities.
Professor Peter Phibbs

Architecture critic and alumna Dr Elizabeth Farrelly, a long-time advocate of conscious urbanism, will launch the Festival and set the scene for how planning might navigate the post-truth political landscape. Professor Phibbs will also reveal some awards for Australian urban documents that come to the attention of the Festival’s panel of fact-checkers.

Associate Professors Tess Lea and Kurt Iverson will present talks on their urban research incubators, funded over three years by the Henry Halloran Trust. Tess Lea will examine issues around indigenous housing and health, while Kurt Iverson runs an international study on urban alliances.

In an event with the NSW Planning Institute of Australia, a panel of experts from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs), the Department of Planning and Environment, City of Sydney, and the University of Sydney will discuss interaction of the NSW Land Rights Act 1983 with the NSW planning system and examine opportunities for improvement.

Dr Somwrita Sarkar and Dr Tooran Alizadeh from the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning will each discuss their research into the relationship between city size and growing economic inequality, and how to build telecommunications infrastructure for the 21st century smart city.

From community gardens and cinemas to mobile libraries and outdoor art, the pop-up culture that is reviving community spaces and urban life is the focus of a Sydney Ideas event with international guest speaker Professor Ann Forsyth from Harvard University and Associate Professor Lee Stickells.

NSW Minister for Planning, the Hon. Anthony Roberts, is a special guest at a talk by Professor Nicole Gurran who gives deeper insight and possible solutions for the current housing and urban policy problems, drawing on recent Urban Housing Lab research projects. A panel of representatives from the Greater Sydney Commission, Tenants Union of NSW, and Stockland property group also give their views.

The documentary ‘Waterloo’ (1981) about the 1970s battle between residents and state government to save the area from redevelopment, is screening ahead of a panel with the film director Tom Zubrycki, a member of the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group (WPHAG), and architect Genevieve Murray on a new plan to gentrify the inner-city suburb. The WPHAG will lead a separate walking tour of the Waterloo Housing Estate.

The North Parramatta heritage precinct inspires a western Sydney discussion on how planning can work hand-in-hand with heritage conservation to safeguard a city’s history. A separate precinct site visit led by local advocate Suzette Meade and historian Dr Terry Smith will take in notable government architecture.

Opening during the Festival is a new Tin Sheds exhibition Small, featuring small-scale residential projects by local architects that offer a new way of thinking about housing renewal in Sydney.

The ancient walking track from Circular Quay to the fresh water spring known as the Tank Stream along Sydney’s George Street, and a Wild Food Tour along the Cooks River led by culturalist Diego Bonetto, are among several weekend walking tours during the festival.

Mandy Campbell

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