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New Urbanisation: a style of city planning that aims to integrate people and the environment in urban design

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STAN CORREY: There are some new urban myths you'll be hearing in the coming year. They'll be about 'pre-war values' in housing and community design. Watch out for words like walkability, urban village and ecological integrity. It's all about what's called new urbanism and it's coming to a development near you.

Hello, I'm Stan Correy. Welcome to Background Briefing.

New urbanism is an American movement in city planning that says it's going to put people and the environment back into urban design. If you live in Newcastle, in Perth, or outside Brisbane at Mango Hill, you'll have heard about it already. And it's coming to Sydney's western fringe - at a huge defence industry site at St Mary's. Its promise of friendly neighbourhoods, pretty, old-world houses, and anti-car transport systems has won it many supporters in Australia and North America.

Australian property developers like Lend Lease and Pioneer Homes, use words like 'eco friendly' and 'community conscious' when selling their housing projects. But the world's biggest supporter of new urbanism is mega myth maker, Disney Corporation. They've just built a new town near Disney World in Florida. It's called Celebration. Disney Vice President and General Manager of Celebration is Don Killoren.

DON KILLOREN: Celebration is founded on five cornerstones. These are the elements that we considered most important in planning our town, the first of which is education. The second is health, the third is creating a sense of place, created by world-great architects and planners. The fourth would be technology, which is embedded in everything we do. And the fifth, and probably the most important is community - creating a true sense of community, having neighbours helping neighbours, volunteering programs et cetera.

STAN CORREY: Education, health, sense of place, technology, community - no one can argue with the ideals. But is it just gift wrapping on a modern version of the company town? Celebration in Florida is regarded as a prototype for new urbanist communities.

Let's hear a working definition of new urbanism from someone who should know. There's been a New urban conference in Australia this week, and Peter Katz has been there. He's head of an international architect and planning association called Congress for New Urbanism.

PETER KATZ: I would say that new urbanism involves basically two activities: one is the making of neighbourhoods, the other is the completion of neighbourhoods. And neighbourhoods again can be assembled into towns, cities; when they're found on their own out in the countryside we'd call them villages. But those are the basic ingredients and that's the basic activity that new urbanism promotes.

STAN CORREY: And what does new urbanism not promote?

PETER KATZ: Anything called a shopping centre, an office park, an apartment complex, a housing sub-division - those things being the product of developers, those are the forms of growth that we discourage.

STAN CORREY: So, lots of neighbourhood, but don't emphasise now discredited things like shopping centres, office blocks, apartment complexes, and subdivisions. And Disney's Don Killoren stresses again - community.

DON KILLOREN: Well, Celebration is really a small American town. It has the ingredients that you would find in many small towns around the United States. It has a downtown district, it has a Main Street, it has a school, it has a health campus, it has some very nice homes - pre-1940s architecture. But all of that is the stage-set, and beneath that is the much more sophisticated and well thought through series of programs that make it a true community.

STAN CORREY: Celebration is the child of America's mythmaking giant, the Disney Corporation. Can you transplant that style to Australian housing developments?

Stuart Hornery, the Chairman of Lend Lease, recently commented that 'large scale, complex urban regeneration is a growing market around the world'. There's a very smart coffee table book on new urbanism. The pictures are of the kind of houses people die for - timber cladding, pretty, subtle colours, front porches, olde worlde tidy gardens.

The first big project for new urbanists in Australia is a large site outside Sydney, 1500 hectares owned by the now corporatised Commonwealth body, Australian Defence Industries at St Mary's. Lend Lease and ADI want to build a planned community of 10,000 homes there, in the new urbanism style.

TREVOR WREN: We're now heading really across the flood plain, heading west at that point there. You might have noticed this area just before we got to the warehouses on the left-hand side - that's a radar range, it's run by an electronics business.

ARTHUR ILIAS: Again the timber round here, you can see the natural vegetation, a bit more sparse than it was further back in. But this area here as you can see is not - hasn't got the mass of trees. So I think this area here actually Trevor is an area that we're looking to develop.

TREVOR WREN: That's right, on the left here. Yes, this is this area here. So we'll be going through this tree band here very shortly, we're just about entering it now, we're here.

ARTHUR ILIAS: There was quite an extensive bit of land use and planning that went on, Stan, that determined what areas we could and couldn't develop. we had to take a lot of things into account such as the vegetation, terrain, flood plains, you know a whole lot of factors. And then I guess you worked out you had your residual land, and that, I guess, formulated where we could and couldn't develop. So there was a lot of planning that went in over a number of years to determine exactly where we could and couldn't touch.

TREVOR WREN: And all aspects have been covered, you know, from conservation, Aboriginal archaeology, land use from when settlement arrived until when the Commonwealth took over and developed the land, and then, you know, the flora and the fauna and the kangaroos and, it's all been studied.

STAN CORREY: If I'm looking through, I can see houses over there, so that's - right. So we're on the perimeter here.

TREVOR WREN: Yes, that's Werrington.

STAN CORREY: Yes, so we're looking at Werrington over there.

The site is surrounded on three sides by existing suburbs; on the fourth, it's farmland. Right in the middle is a planning nightmare. South Creek, which runs through the site, is already contributing much of the disastrous pollution to the Hawkesbury Nepean River system. Lend Lease and ADI say that'll be no problem, it's just part of their environmental management plan.

Great visions of building dream cities and towns has a long history. There was already a dream for this particular site in the 1930s. This is what Australian Building magazine said in 1931.

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The project from the architects' and master builders' point of view is bristling with possibilities. The company has 4,000 acres near the St Mary's railway station. Surrounding the civic centre will be a central park. Provision has been made for more parks and gardens and these, it is hoped, will make one of the features of the proposed city.

In each park, space has been set aside for the parking of cars to obviate traffic congestion.

STAN CORREY: And in the 1950s, this is Walt Disney taking us on a tour of Disneyland.

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WALT DISNEY: Hello, welcome to Disneyland. We have dedicated this happy place to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America. This dedication is engraved on a plaque at the foot of the flagpole in the Disneyland Town Square. Suddenly, as we come into this square, the cares and worries of today are left behind and we find ourselves in a little town in the year 1900. On one hand is the City Hall and on the other is the Fire Station. Down Main Street, we see the Emporium and all the many shops ...

STAN CORREY: And the Disney Corporation has built a city, Celebration, which opens its Main Street this week in Florida. But can this high tech version of a 1940s American town have any application in Australian new urbanism?

Australian architect Jacinta McCann from the planning firm EDAW, worked on some of the landscape design for Celebration. She believes you can't be prescriptive in creating new communities, and that new urbanist principles are simply guides to better planning, not solutions. You can't just pick up new town plans and plonk them down anywhere, she says. People in America like developments like this, but they have to grow out of realities.

JACINTA McCANN: Well, it's a real place. There are real people who want to live there. There was a first stage of housing released a few months ago and it was over-subscribed. They had something like 360-odd lots, and there were some thousands of people who wanted to live there. They had a ballot and so, you know, it is a real place and it is a place of that part of America. And I think that's the most important thing about Celebration. It is the right sort of new community development for Florida, and that's where it belongs.

STAN CORREY: What's attractive about Celebration for you as a designer, as an architect?

JACINTA McCANN: Well, it does have a streetscape, which is a very human scaled, comfortable space, comfortable street to be in. Again, as an Australian, looking at the character of that particular project, you know, it is something that I see as being attractive in that environment, in that cultural environment. I think that in Australia we have always had a history of a little better quality streets, residential streets, than in many parts of America, especially in more recently developed suburban areas in America, where the emphasis on cars and vehicular travel as the preferred, and in some cases the only means, of transportation has dominated the proportion of streets and taken away that more intimate neighbourliness that narrower streets and houses built closer to the front boundary and smaller lots can create.

STAN CORREY: Jacinta McCann. Disney, with its deep financial pockets, was able to hire the world's best architects to create their version of a small American town. It's position next to the world's most visited theme park, Disney World, gives it a status more than your normal residential subdivision. The Pope of new urbanism is Andres Duany, an architect and planner working all around the world. He doesn't like the term 'new urbanism', preferring 'neo traditionalism.'

Duany worked on developing the Celebration master plan and he was hired by Lend Lease to do the master plan for the St Mary's development. Duany is a busy man, with projects on the drawing board all over America, and of course, Australia. Background Briefing tracked him down to an airport hotel in Tucson, Arizona.

Is Celebration a good example of new urbanist thinking?

ANDRES DUANY: If there is a fault with it, it is only that it will be too perfectly maintained, too perfectly managed. It won't age, it will also be pristine and it'll have that sort of false quality that comes when something is constantly burnished. But the fact is that the way it's designed it's exceptionally well done. It follows all the attributes of the new urbanism, and its popularity is, I think, well deserved.

STAN CORREY: Would anything smaller than Disney have had a hope in hell of turning a dream into reality?

ANDRES DUANY: It always takes a large corporation. Lend Lease is a large corporation -they're doing St Mary's of course. But you cannot do large-scale land development and be a small corporation. The fact that Disney is a large corporation simply gives it that financial security that I think most people would like to know is behind the work. But I don't think it's particularly different from what Lend Lease is doing, or what Akama is doing in Calgary, or these other large projects that are being built elsewhere.

STAN CORREY: Andres Duany. With its focus on beating urban sprawl and its emphasis on building better suburban communities, who could really be against new urbanism? Yet there's a good deal of scepticism.

Phillip Graus works with Cox Richardson Architects, a leading Australian firm. They do work for all the major property developers, including Lend Lease. Graus questions whether a sense of community can be asserted simply by town planning and housing design. Andres Duany came to Australia early this year and Phillip Graus heard him speak.

PHILLIP GRAUS: Well, I thought it was interesting in that he showed traditional suburbs and very rightly pointed out from a physical fabric point of view, why they were attractive, and from that he deduced that they were good places to live and that they allowed a whole lot of social things to happen. And I don't think you can deny that, I think that's quite true.

He then showed poor suburbs, and really made the point: 'things have got worse, haven't they?' and he showed tract housing, a whole lot of things, and then said: 'Along with that, the sense of community has broken down, hasn't it?' And I think it's an assumption you can go along with. And then step three is really to go back and say: 'Well, if we take that earlier fabric that we all agreed was good, and had a feeling of community, we can reassert that.' I think premise one and two make sense, but to then assert that you take the traditional suburb and reinforce it or bring it back now, you will bring community back with it.

Is our community the same as it was pre-industrial? And I think that's a serious question.

STAN CORREY: According to Graus, the kind of housing that Duany admires may not transfer easily to the outer suburbs of Australian cities.

PHILLIP GRAUS: Most of the suburbs that Andres Duany thought were good, are very expensive suburbs, and similarly if you go to New York, there's Forest Hill Gardens that was planned by Olmstead. It's a beautiful suburb, it's very expensive, it's not affordable, and these sorts of communities work because people have enough money to go to the country on the weekend, to have a lifestyle that supports that sort of community.

What else is interesting if you look at the issue of affordable housing, if you go to the fringes, if you do high density housing, it costs more than the basic stock out there, and increasing density at the fringes probably makes things less affordable. You've got to look at economic, social and demographic issues in understanding community. Can the new urbanism put together communities at these lower incomes? Can they make those sort of things work? I don't think that proposition's been tested to date.

STAN CORREY: The question with Celebration is: Can Disney build a real community that's not simply a white, middle-class enclave? Evan McKenzie is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He's written a book called Privatopia which is about the growth of private housing estates, and what are called homeowner associations. These are elected groups, a bit like body corporates, which set the rules for residential living. The Celebration Company, McKenzie says, can veto the homeowners association and set very strict rules about who lives there and how. He believes the new urbanist obsession with the planned community is an extension of the middle-class enclave mentality.

EVAN McKENZIE: Celebration is a pretty good example, I think, of the syndrome I'm describing, where the notion is that if we have an intense physical planning effort and we try to control every aspect of the physical structure that somehow we can produce a sense of community. And again when I was researching Celebration, I obtained copies of the rules that people have to live by, which are quite extensive - what we call in America the CCRs, the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. And they're in my view, extremely repressive. I think that they allow the Celebration company virtually total veto power over everything the homeowner association does - that's the supposedly elected local government. In other words, this community is supposedly going to be self-governed, and in my view, it's a very watered down form of self-government that amounts to corporate control of the neighbourhoods. It's like a Company town, more than it is like a local community in the traditional American sense.

But they have shrouded it in this mystique of the 19th century American town that never was.

I mean I was actually born in a town of 900 people in central Maine that was a true 19th century town I think, and people have been, I think, leaving a lot of those towns for many years. The life in them is not what people in Disneyland think it was, or would like people to believe it was. And I think they're selling the illusion of community rather than the real thing, and I hope the people there can create a sense of community. But my concern is with these repressive rules and the lack of local control, I don't see how they could ever do it.

STAN CORREY: The rules, the CCRs, as McKenzie calls them, are the regulations that Celebration lives by. They run to almost 200 pages, and it's not only about the height of your fence. Rule 10.5 under the section Community Governance and Administration gives the Celebration company the right to approve changes in something as open to interpretation as community standards. Other covenants give the company absolute right to make, construct and install improvements, whatever they are, to public areas. In fact rather than the community having the upper hand in Celebration, it seems the Celebration company has all the power.

It's a profitable business venture for Disney, but the residents of Celebration were not forced to live there.

UNIDENTIFIED: I firmly believe in the typical nuclear family, so to speak, of having a wife, or in the case of a wife having a husband; keeping the family in tact, having kids that are being taken care of. I'm not opposed to both spouses working outside of the home, but I think it's important to have an in tact home atmosphere.

UNIDENTIFIED: I think obviously the crime rate that we've seen in America, especially the teenage crime rate, has bothered so many people, and we're all trying to find an answer for it. You know, what's gone wrong, What makes teenagers do things that just seem so outlandish to us today? And I think we're all trying to nip it in the bud so to speak, as far as raising our young children to have values, to care, to care about other people, and their community in general.

UNIDENTIFIED: Some of the things that are being brought to the forefront in terms of responsibility, taking responsibility for the community in which you live - in other words, not pointing the finger at somebody else and saying: 'Well you're responsible for that, why didn't you take care of it? I mean we pay you as a Public Servant to do that.' I think people are finally catching on again that you can't delegate civic responsibility.

UNIDENTIFIED: You can have all the stuff out of Washington here that will tell you that this is what you should do, and this is where the money ought to go, but if they just got back to the roots of the fact that people need to see other people, deal with other people, socialise with other people, we'd be in much better shape.

STAN CORREY: Celebration is an example of new urbanist thinking. But new urbanist supporters say their work is not only about building model towns of communities. The actual influence of new urbanism may not be in the big glossy projects, but in changing attitudes to building and planning codes.

Wendy Morris is a consultant to developers and councils and a new urbanist. Her interest is in rewriting the codes that provide the rules for building Australian communities. She's been involved in doing this kind of work - what she calls the transition phase - for the Victorian and West Australian governments.

WENDY MORRIS: Well, I think the key is projects being seen as transition pieces, but I think the point that you made that new urbanism can really only begin to try to live up to the claims that many other people are making about it - often not even ourselves - is to become quite systematic and quite regional and change the way that metropolitan Australia is growing. That's certainly been the focus in Australia. We are privileged in Australia and indeed in Canada, relative to the US, in that we have a regional planning system in place, in all States virtually.

And so we're dealing with a quite different situation in Australia, than in the States. But getting projects on the ground, albeit often very transitional projects, such as some of the VicCode projects, is critical, because what we're trying to do is what we'll call turn around the oil tanker of suburban sprawl. And it takes a long time to even slow that oil tanker down, to convince the marketers, to convince the financiers, to convince the developers that they need to change direction.

And a particular developer, for example working in Melbourne, Adelaide and other places, such as Pioneer Homes, is really showing that you can begin to put product on the ground - the Kensington Banks and Lynch's Bridge development in Melbourne is a very good example of that. And you won't hear that promoted as a new urbanist project, but it is very much evidence of a new urbanist project going onto the ground.

PETER KATZ: It's important to realise in trying to assess the claims of new urbanism, that we're living in a world that's been largely shaped by the automobile in terms of developed countries like the US, Canada and Australia. To a great extent our suburban areas have been shaped by the car, and as a pedestrian without the automobile you're fairly limited. I think that what the new urbanists are trying to do is to create islands of pedestrian sanity within the sprawl.

You know, when I fly over the US, which is a vast country, I think about the fact that there is maybe 500 square miles of the entire country that one could consider walkable places that are for a high quality experience for the pedestrian where they're in parity with the automobile. And there's thousands and thousands of miles of places that can only be reached by the automobile. And so I think we feel that if we can create some islands within that.

And, you know, I mean we know the places that do work, and we're delighted by them. I mean you know, parts of New York, parts of Boston, parts of San Francisco, some tourist towns like Sausilito or Carmel California, Annapolis Maryland, these are places that absolutely delight people and have an impact in terms of image and identity that go way beyond their size.

Now what we're trying to do is bring some of those same qualities to newer places, and that places that are normal places of habitation for normal Americans and for Australians as well.

STAN CORREY: Peter Katz and before him, Wendy Morris.

Alex Marshall is an urban affairs journalist in America. Marshall's view, after his research, is that new urbanism, whatever it claims, can't work in practice.

ALEX MARSHALL: The new urbanists have had enormous appeal because they really are hooking in to a lot of things that are wrong in a lot of contemporary life. I mean, people really do tend to live pretty fractured lives today. They're kind of driving everywhere and they're working two jobs and you know, they try to keep up with the kids. And the new urbanists come along and kind of advertise this older style of life where everything kind of works better, and you can walk to the corner grocery store and meet your neighbours down in the central park or plaza, and somehow life is like saner.

The problem is that these new places that they're building don't really work like that. They really function like any other sub-division, and at best they sort of just look a little different. And the problem is that these older communities that they're using as a model, were created by just a different set of standards and conditions. They were created by a dependence on mass transit, with few cars and if we really want those kinds of communities, then we really have to recreate those conditions. And that's a tough set of choices. I mean, if we want those kind of communities, then we have to start talking about things like drastically controlling growth, limiting development a lot, investing a lot more in mass transit, making the use of the car much more expensive, stop building freeways, limit parking so, again, the people are encouraged to take mass transit. And those a really a lot more difficult than just building a sub-division a little bit differently out in the country.

STAN CORREY: In The Washington Post in September, Marshall examined the ideals and what he saw as the reality of one of Andres Duany's master plans in a community like Kentlands, Maryland.

ALEX MARSHALL: It's located right off a main highway, along with a lot of other sub-divisions. It only has a couple of entrances into it, so it's relatively isolated. The main street that it was supposed to have did not work out, so it doesn't really have the smaller stores and shops that you can walk to.

Now, the designers will say well that was because it had to be moderated, the design had to be adjusted to get it developed. But the fact is, these kind of Main Streets have not really worked anywhere. You can't support 19th century style shops with 20th century automobile habits.

Again you get this kind of phoney, it has a kind of phoney, fakey feel to it. A friend of mine today called it The Stepford City after The Stepford Wives because it has a kind of a fake feel to it.

STAN CORREY: And what does Andres Duany think of Alex Marshall's critique?

ANDRES DUANY: It's the kind of thing that ... I don't know how to deal with anything that inaccurate as that article. By the way the press, and you're probably not excluded, should actually do their own research instead of reading each other's you know progressively more inaccurate reportage.

Alex is holding up earlier inaccurate reportage, and I find it absolutely shocking the way that this is snowballing. And I could spend my entire time just answering one inaccuracy after another, but if people were to visit and actually see for themselves what the costs are, how people are behaving, whether they drive or not. But the press isn't doing that, the reportage is so, so cheap. Do you work, for God's sake go visit the place and learn what you're talking about, and don't read each other's junk. Marshall's article's junk.

STAN CORREY: Andres Duany. The Florida Centre for Community Design actually did research on two of Duany's community projects. They praised Kentlands for its street design and its emphasis on pedestrians. But they also concluded it was still very dependent on cars and that it was basically a commuter suburb, although a very nicely designed one.

Phillip Graus, of Cox Richardson Architects in Sydney, believes that one area where Duany can't be criticised is good house design. An example is his first major project in Seaside, Florida.

PHILLIP GRAUS: He noticed what was being lost in the Yale suburbs where things were being pulled down - beautiful old houses with verandahs, front fences. He looked at the kit of parts that made up the street, and he would argue I think that from the street's point of view, what's most important is the fence, can you see the front door, is there a verandah, what are the scale elements?

Now when you put together this kit of parts, you end up with an American small town vernacular, and that's what you see in Seaside. It's very prescriptive. I mean if we look at this new urbanism book that we've got here, and you look at some of the elements, everything has timber siding, white painted windows, all the rooves are the same. We have porches with Jefferson-type balustrade details. And that gives it, on the other hand, a great cohesion which I think is another reason why it's very attractive.

STAN CORREY: Phillip Graus. American small town vernacular could also become a stylistic straitjacket for kitsch, said one Australian architect, Ken Maher of Hassells, at the conference in Australia this week. 'It's being pushed as the panacea to all our suburban ills', says Maher, and he also believed that new urbanism in the US paid insufficient emphasis to environmental issues.

Chris Johnson, the New South Wales Government architect, on the other hand, recently visited Seaside and thought it was surprisingly good, although the Florida Center for Community Design report thought Seaside 'was too precious and specific to be convincingly used as a model for other communities'. And the report also quotes this view of Seaside:

EXTRACT

The community lacks any industry, shares perhaps too many elements with Disney's Main Street, and is to affordable housing what Mercedes Benz is to economical transportation.

STAN CORREY: The Congress of new urbanism, the association that promotes new urbanism, says the cost of houses in these developments is not policy, it's because they are so popular. Peter Katz.

PETER KATZ: I think that the high cost of some of these projects really attest to their popularity and their desirability. I think it's important to remember that property is something - we don't put a fixed price tag on it, the way we would on a television set or a wristwatch. Property gets bid up based on desirability, and so it's a bit ironic - I mean Seaside was actually out to be a fairly bohemian community for artists and for people who were seeking somewhat of an alternative lifestyle. It very, very quickly became so desirable that the prices went through the roof.

Andres Duany, one of the leaders of our movement, believes strongly that the way we're going to deal with that is simply by making enough of these places that they're uniqueness doesn't cause them to be bid up so significantly.

But I think the alternative being, should we create awful places to keep the prices down. New urbanists are very clear about wanting to create places for a full range of incomes and to have all those incomes within the same community. So we would no sooner set out to create a place for only the poor as we would for only the wealthy. We want to create places that have a complete mix.

STAN CORREY: So with new urbanism still in the transition stage, where does that leave Lend Lease's grand designs for urban development in Australia?

Joe Banek, Lend Lease Project Manager for the St Mary site, says that creating communities is much more than just a smart marketing tool.

JOE BANEK: People throughout Sydney you can see examples of successful communities, and the way they live, they way they play, the way they work et cetera. So it is happening at the moment, but it's happening in different parts of Sydney.

Unfortunately in some of the areas of urban sprawl that exist in Sydney, it hasn't been done as well as it should, and I think the focus on the recreation of the communities is certainly an achievable objective, and while some might say it's too good to be true, it can be done. It's happening at the moment.

STAN CORREY: Joe Banek, of Lend Lease. Lend Lease plans to build, over the next 20 years, four urban villages, leaving 600 hectares of open space. The St Mary's Resident Action Group is, however, suspicious.

Lesley Edwards likes the urban village concept, but says 10,000 homes and 30,000 people can't be environmentally friendly. She says the site is one of Sydney's most important examples of pre-settlement vegetation, and that Lend Lease has spent millions of dollars in their campaign to win approval for the project, blitzing Council, residents and Government about the benefits of their ecological sustainable development.

LESLEY EDWARDS: There's an awful lot of hype surrounding this, and I'm always wary of something so hyped. It just avoids detail, terribly; and it seems to me that when you look at the plan, the only green space they're leaving is the flood plain that they can't build on. They've hired many people to work for PR on this, and that concerns us, that you'd need to conduct such a public relations exercise to push your development. I mean it didn't happen with Glenmore Park, it didn't happen with any of the other estates in the area. If it was so green, it wouldn't need such an exercise.

STAN CORREY: Joe Banek from Lend Lease says protecting the environment is an integral part of the St Mary's project.

JOE BANEK: Let's go through the way that we actually built our plant, so I can explain to your listeners. Firstly, the most important thing that we addressed is the environmental issues on the site, so we actually put together a very comprehensive plan of all the flora and fauna that exists on the site. That was the foundation stone or the building block to our plan.

The next thing was to address how that environmental system would work within the region, so not only was it looked at in a local context, it was looked at very much in a regional context.

STAN CORREY: Joe Banek.

And while Lend Lease has been doing its research, the Government planning process has swung into action. There was a regional environment study earlier this year, and then another master plan. A planning committee is currently examining this Lend Lease master plan to advise the New South Wales Planning Minister.

Luckily for Andres Duany, he doesn't have to worry about this aspect of the proposal. But he believes the St Mary's site is a great example of new urbanism.

ANDRES DUANY: The client was very understanding - you know, Lend Lease was very enthusiastic about this. We were permitted to do an excellent job, like we were not asked to compromise in any way, we were simply told: Go ahead and do your best, which in fact you know we did.

And you know the reality of the situation is that we were not actually involved in the political complexities of the preservation of open space, so I can't speak to that. But as far as the design is concerned, we were asked to design something as close as we could to a model city, to pick up the threads of Australian urbanism, as old as you know, Canberra, in fact is an illustrious tradition of urbanism in Australia - great places which have somehow been forgotten.

STAN CORREY: Andres Duany.

There has in fact been a master plan for this part of Sydney since the 1930s. It was designed by a company called Australian Made Motor Cars and Aeroplanes Ltd. The new town was to be called Austral City, and here's what Building magazine had to say about it in 1931.

EXTRACT

The company's success will mean the establishment of a model city, centred around the manufacture of cars and eventually, airplanes. The area beyond, radiating from the shops to the factory, will be devoted to residences. Care will be taken to give each home its own individual appearance, as far as possible.

The installation of a water service, electric light and power, and sewerage, will all tend to make the city self-contained.

STAN CORREY: What stopped Austral City from being built on this current site was the Great Depression. Although the project was car dependent, since a car company was behind the proposal, the architectural guidelines, residences above shops, parklands, open spaces and employment on the site, is remarkably similar to new urbanism of today - which of course, wants to go back to pre-war values in planning.

Will the Lend Lease model city of today suffer the same fate as Austral City - not for economic reasons, but for other more late 20th century problems - pollution, water quality, and so on.

The Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Trust is a Government body responsible for managing the river system in western Sydney. South Creek runs through the St Mary's site, and it's a major source of pollution. The Catchment Trust's Bob Crawford.

BOB CRAWFORD: Sure, it's going to contain the major part of Sydney's population expansion; the Australian Defence Industries site is only just 10 kilometres away from the now spoken-of Rouse Hill development, and so it's pretty important that we get it right in South Creek.

STAN CORREY: The St Mary's ADI site is quite a large area really, it's in an area which is on the edge of I suppose some major Sydney sprawl.

BOB CRAWFORD: It sure is. It's one of the biggest that have been proposed for development. It contains significant remnant vegetation; it's got a tremendous flora and fauna ecosystem there now. But it does present a challenge to the Sydney planners, and the planners at Council, to see whether we could develop or use this site to the best advantage, and that's the challenge before us right now.

STAN CORREY: Is the best advantage to leave it alone and say have a large green space, and let the river managers look after it and clean it up without too much more development?

BOB CRAWFORD: It's tantalising to consider that, to leave it alone, but there are some areas there that we could probably do some good with. We could actually improve the wetland zone where the confluence of Ropes Creek and South Creek meet; and with that, we might be able to improve the total water quality of South Creek. So the challenges are there, and the Trust acknowledges the fact that maybe it would be better to leave it as is and develop it as a regional park for western Sydney residents, and that would be a fantastic option too.

STAN CORREY: Western Sydney residents are split about the worth of the Lend Lease proposal. Blacktown Council likes it because of the employment prospects, but Penrith is more concerned about the environment.

Ross Fowler was Mayor of Penrith when Lend Lease and Andres Duany presented their master plan.

ROSS FOWLER: The attraction I suppose was that it was a concept which had not been previously tried in Australia, even though there had been limited examples of it in Canada and the United States. It's something that needed to be looked at, to be analysed and understood, and that, as far as Council, was concerned was the first step.

STAN CORREY: How different was it from other housing estates that are seen all around the metropolitan fringe?

ROSS FOWLER: Well, that's an interesting question, because we're not quite certain that it is different from other housing estates. What we want to be sure of is that what it offers is something better than is available in other housing estates both in Sydney and the rest of Australia, and that is the big question: Does it offer anything more than these other housing estates?

STAN CORREY: It's been presented as a kind of a solution to problems of urban sprawl. How do you feel about that?

ROSS FOWLER: It's been presented at Council as an infill development; if 1535 hectares can be an infill development, well then so be it. But to the question of urban sprawl, there is concern in western Sydney - and I think the whole of metropolitan Sydney - that the limits of the expansion of Sydney are just about reached as far as they can go. There are certain requirements as far as the State Government is concerned regarding densities and increasing the densities of populations within the existing areas. I don't see this as any solution to stopping urban sprawl, no.

STAN CORREY: Not even with the urban village concept promoted by Mr Duany?

ROSS FOWLER: Well, when it's all said and done, it's a residential development. People are going to have to live there, they're going to have to find employment there, or within the close vicinity. It is another residential development. It may be different from other residential developments, and I certainly hope that it will be different, it will be an improvement on it, but when it's all said and done, it is a place to live in.

STAN CORREY: That looks like an area of swamp over there, I'm not sure whether it is but ....

TREVOR WREN: That's right, it's a low-lying area. You see that the road here is raised up. This area, and especially from the South Creek onwards and to our right, is deemed flood plain area. And that's part of the 600 hectare area Arthur said isn't going to be developed - won't be developed for residential purposes, it will be developed for open space, recreation and wetlands, conservation use.

ARTHUR ILIAS: One of the key aspects from the environmental side, what will be done to improve the instream water quality to South Creek, which is going to have positive effects on the - I guess at the end of the day to the Hawkesbury Nepean River system, because that is quite a concern about the quality of the water, both in South Creek and the Hawkesbury Nepean.

STAN CORREY: For the innovative property developer, the site at St Mary's has everything: open space, biodiversity, a rare natural environment. But it's those very qualities that have caused an incredible number of interested parties to slow down the building of an eco-friendly model city. The Australian Heritage Commission considers the site later this month for listing on the National Estate.

Bob Crawford, of the Hawkesbury Nepean Management Trust, also raises another interesting aspect of the development.

BOB CRAWFORD: The notion that the developer would be part of an urban services company is quite new to Australia. This new urbanism is being extended to taking over public assets, or the proposal is to take over public assets, and to utilise those in a much more integrated manner.

STAN CORREY: The key issue here is that Lend Lease, a private company, would control water and sewerage services for their city, but by controlling this key part of the now public infrastructure, it also affects the cost and quality of water for surrounding suburbs.

Joe Banek of Lend Lease, is supremely confident that any environmental and water management problems can be overcome. Lend Lease have been thorough in preparing their master plan for St Mary's. In fact they want to present it to next year's International Congress on new urbanism in Toronto.

Suspicious of over-selling the project and using new urbanist jargon are rejected by Joe Banek.

JOE BANEK: The term that you use, overselling, is not a correct term because it's just the job that a large developer would do. In terms of the promises that are put on the table, so to speak, I mean these have been calculated and analysed through a whole series of market studies, through a whole series of technical studies, so they're not guesstimates, they are provable issues, and the market does tend to behave a certain way, and we can analyse that. So I think a developer such as Lend Lease does get a better understanding of what happens in the local and regional markets, and can predict fairly accurately we believe, what the needs and issues are.

STAN CORREY: Joe Banek, Project Manager for the St Mary's site.

Phillip Graus is not so sure about the scientific certainty of new urban dreams. He feels we've seen it all before. Radburnism was another American planning style, aimed at stopping the suburban sprawl. It was developed by Clarence Stein, and it's been a tragic failure. Now there's a growth industry called de-Radburnising. Phillip Graus.

PHILLIP GRAUS: People like Clarence Stein developed a diagram from separating the car and pedestrian, saying it would be safer and give you a better environment. Now before this, there were really small neighbourhoods. Things like safety, surveillance, were taken for granted, no one questioned them. What Radburn did was give you pedestrian routes that never crossed cars, so your child could walk to school without crossing a road. There were culverts for going under roads - all sorts of things, and you had pedestrian paths and roads quite separate.

Now what that created, quite inadvertently, was that the pedestrian system was different to the street, which meant you had two circulation systems. The pedestrians came along these paths at the rear of the properties, into the backs of the houses, the street was at the front. But which was the front? Was it where the pedestrians came in, or the street? The front door was not clear any more, and at night time when there weren't as many pedestrians, those pedestrian paths weren't safe.

Now in Sydney at the moment, those sort of Radburn estates are now being re-planned to combine streets and pedestrians again. And a lot of what the new urbanists say was the idea of segregation separation wasn't working for a whole lot of social reasons, even though the diagram was very attractive from a traffic point of view.

STAN CORREY: And where does Peter Katz, Director of the Congress for new urbanism, feel the movement is headed?

PETER KATZ: One of our concerns Stan, is a lot of people regard new urbanism as a style. They look at front porches and picket fences, the most superficial aspects, and they believe that all we're doing is sort of taking conventional suburban subdivisions and simply tacking those things on, without regard to what's really happening within these places. And I think it's my worst fear that I may come back to Australia in 10 years and see acres and acres -hectares and hectares of new urban sprawl, communities that look largely like what we see out there today, but perhaps a bit closer together and with front porches, picket fences and through streets rather than cul de sacs.

That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about creating authentic towns, cities, villages and neighbourhoods, much like the older, most loved parts of your existing communities, and also the places the people are willing to pay the most money for, the places that have endured over time and simply work better. It's not a style, definitively not, and it's very much about people living their lives, it's not about being a set piece.

STAN CORREY: Technical Producers: Greg Richardson and Jeremy Mawer. Research: Suzan Campbell. Executive Producer, Kirsten Garrett.