Vanessa Berry on Sydney - We Need to Talk! / by Kurt Iveson

Thanks to everyone who was able to make it along to the book’s launch on Sept 11!

For those who couldn’t be there, here’s what Vanessa Berry had to to say in launching the book. Vanessa is author of Mirror Sydney (Giramondo, 2017), writes the Mirror Sydney blog, and is Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney.


Talking Across Cities: the Urban Crew's Sydney - We Need to Talk!

Thank you to the Urban Crew for inviting me to launch Sydney We Need to Talk. I'd like to acknowledge that we are here on Gadigal land, where we work and think and research and write, with the benefit of the thousands of years of Gadigal knowledge and care of this land.

Knowledge and care are a big part of this project - it's a beautiful publication that brings together conversations the Urban Crew have been having with cities, with each other, and with some of the communities in Sydney who have been hit hard by change and redevelopment. It's also a result of the first year of the Printer in Residence program and what a perfect project to revive the Piscator Press, to reconnect it to the work of the university, and to the city that the university has been a part of for 168 years.

I spend a lot of time talking to Sydney. I think we all do - it's the kind of place that wrings conversation out of you. Sometimes the conversation is sweet and light. You might look over towards the eastern horizon after a storm, with the smell of the rain in the air, and see a flock of bats flapping across the sky, through a rainbow and say "ah, Sydney, this is a lovely moment". Sometimes Sydney throws together such exhilarating combinations of the elemental, natural and urban. Other conversations are not so romantic. We all have those, the kind that might occur when you're on your bike trying to "share" the road with cars, for example, or upon catching a glimpse inside one of the giant sheds that cover the dive sites for motorway tunnel excavations, with their huge mounds of earth dragged out from underneath the unsuspecting surface. You might say "Sydney, what on earth is happening here?", or something not quite so polite. Our conversations with the city chart our struggles and synergies with it, and it's a powerful thing to document them.

Sydney We Need to Talk is a collaboration across cities, across disciplines, and across practices. Crossings are important - so much of living in an urban environment is about journeys: the journeys made in the city's physical environment, but also metaphorically, the journey of change, which is a fundamental element of all cities, but in Sydney has been occurring at a rapid rate that can seem exponential.

It can be easy, as an individual, to feel disempowered by large-scale urban change, particularly when it involves the loss of familiar places and the erosion of public space. This disempowerment is particularly acute in the case of public housing - and some of the essays in the book consider the situation of Millers Point and Waterloo in this context.

However what these essays, and the work of the urban crew does, is see change as an opportunity to resist, to react, and importantly to reimagine, how the city might be otherwise, and to be an active agent in shaping it for the better. As the opening essay explains: "This work of imagining and organising a more just and sustainable Sydney is much more difficult than the work of critique". It's difficult, but it's so necessary, and we're lucky to have this wonderful book to ignite and continue this work.

The aesthetics of the book form a powerful message that conveys the Urban Crew's project. The handmade processes of illustration, and letterpress printing on the Piscator Press - which Wendy has produced as the visual and design elements of the book - are an antidote of sorts to the sleek promotional images that illustrate visions of, for example, the sinuous curves of the Westconnex St Peters interchange as they coil through the lush green Photoshop parkland.

Handmade images and processes reflect how cities are lived - by individuals, whose interpretations of them are as various as the lines on a page that comprise a drawing. Like drawing, or setting a row of type, we compose our knowledge of, and connection to, places through our experiences, and our collective and community actions. As we live in this city, it imprints itself onto us. We in turn shape it, and by revealing our interpretations of it, through the means available to us, we make the city we want more possible. The urban crew are doing this work with Sydney We Need to Talk, and I offer my congratulations to everyone involved.