Sydney didn’t look like this last time

It's the tallest building anywhere in the immediate vicinity ... and the funky façade has never been attempted before.
It’s the tallest building anywhere in the immediate vicinity … and the funky façade has never been attempted before.

THIS TIME LAST MONTH IT DIDN’T LOOK LIKE THIS. Just a stone throw away from Sydney’s central station, a gleaming, and massive glass-and-steel complex towers over us walking down Broadway. Barely four years ago, here stood one of the last bastions of inner Sydney’s industrial past; the Carlton & United was one of the country’s oldest and most iconic breweries, having operated there for several decades; and a symbols of generations of workers across the suburb of Chippendale. Yet of that story, little remains bar a small portion of the old plant, comprising a single smokestack and a hollowed out shell of a building reminding us of what used to be there.

The brand new, part-completed Central Park development now casts a somewhat ominous shadow over this last remnant of history in the block. Standing up to 30 stories tall, complete with apartment blocks, offices, small green spaces and a funky shopping mall downstairs, it appears to be just another harbinger of the wave of growth and progress that has shaped Sydney – especially the inner suburbs – in recent years. The old labourers of decades gone by would never have imagined what it looks like now, or the people who have shaped its new identity. There is little doubt that many of these flats will be bought by (often international) investors, leasing it on to (also mostly international) students, who, though intending to avail of the convenient proximity to the city, public transportation and many nightlife districts, bring a spark of trendy youth to make their cultural mark on the area.

Nonetheless, there are remarkably almost no complaints or protests against it among the general public, contrary to the village-like anti-development attitudes that surround much of this type of development. Instead, the community has embraced Central Park as symbolic of ‘the way of the future’, a new and innovative concept. On its grand opening, young and old alike came to marvel at what – unlike the eyesores that people often see these things to be – was a work of urban art, a masterpiece addition to the Sydney skyline.

Yet this grand opening is only Phase 1. Construction sites surround the old factory shell, remaining barricaded off. But unlike other developments, the shell is here to stay, even when the development is complete; the construction sites around it are set back by wide patches of grass, which Sydneysiders are now establishing as ground of retreat from the urban jungle. When complete, the shell itself will be transformed, and the old shall be embraced by the new. And ‘new’ it is indeed – the skyscrapers are dotted with vertical and hanging gardens, incorporating pioneering green design elements that have never been seen before in Sydney on this scale.

Perhaps the locals can see a unique respect for culture, heritage and the environment among whoever developed this site. Even the older generations could smile at having a small gem of the old town they once new restored among the futuristic new identity of Sydney towering around them. A new Sydney is here to stay, but at least it doesn’t forget its past. But in the meantime, I’m going to check out the cool stuff in this brand spanking new place a bit more while it’s still a blank space – at least culture wise – before it takes on a new identity of its own.

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