By Sally Block
The man who helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is now recreating part of the town centre of Parramatta.
And he is working with an American who believes Parramatta could be transformed into Sydney's version of the hip New York borough of Brooklyn.
Urban planning expert Ed Blakely lives near Parramatta and is attached to the University of Sydney's United States Study Centre.
Professor Blakely was called in by then president George W Bush as "recovery tsar" after Katrina and has now been commissioned by Parramatta City Council to rebuild its central square, Church Street Mall.
He says the task in New Orleans was massive.
"The city fell down. 80 per cent of it was ruined," Professor Blakely said.
"We had to build it from the ground up and that's what we did.
"But I worked on a lot of other cities around the world: San Francisco, some in New York, Moscow, Paris."
Urban design is all about child's play
Professor Blakely says the process for Parramatta begins immediately and the first thing in the square to go will be a fountain built in 1986 that is popular with the local pigeons but not children.
"Kids can't play in this. If you're going to have a fountain or something it has to be a space where people enjoy," he said.
"They could go to see the fish or they want to see the water move or they want to play in it the way kids do.
"Summer's coming up. Kids can't go in there, you wouldn't let your child in there."
Professor Blakely is being joined on the project by urban designer Ethan Kent, who helped transform New York's famous Times Square.
"In Times Square we put out seating, kiosks and cafes and that's created activity that changed the patterns in that space and so you have the opportunity to take that even further here," he said.
Potential to be 'the heart of the city'
"I live in Brooklyn and we're very proud that Brooklyn's a place that has a lot of diversity and is creating a lot of the great culture in the US," Mr Kent said.
"I think Parramatta similarly has that potential to be the heart of the city region, that drives and creates the new generation of culture that's going on here.
"Great squares like this can transform how people see a city, but really how they participate in a city.
"This needs to showcase and draw out all the cultural activity here and bring it together so this really supports and showcases the incredible personality that Parramatta has, with immigrants, the established cultures, the history that's here and create new culture too."
Big and small events will be part of the new square, including during the design process.
"There's a lot of talent in this community, why not display it here?" Professor Blakely said.
"Have talent contests, kids contests and so on. Flower shows, all that kind of stuff can be done now. We don't have to wait until the end of the process."
The square redevelopment is slated for completion by June next year at a cost of up to $2 million.
"We're not going to plan, we're going to do," Professor Blakely said.