The Sydney Morning Herald

By Leesha McKenny

AMONG the weekday migrations of workers and joggers, it is what Tom Murphy could not see in Martin Place that awoke him to its potential.

''I would say if you had some restaurants with tables spilling out, you would create more life,'' said the three-term mayor of Pittsburgh, who transformed the rust-belt city into "America's most liveable city''.

''People are running through here, there are skateboards, people want to use this space. So how do you encourage them to continue to use it? This is what makes great cities, places like this.''

Martin Place business owners this week floated a proposal to create a European-style piazza to enliven the heart of the city's financial district.

Mr Murphy agreed transforming an urban landscape ''is about imagining something that doesn't exist''.

''We had thousands of acres of steelmills and we imagined a riverfront park,'' he said.

Mr Murphy is in town to share his experiences creating a different future for Pittsburgh as part of the International Urban Planning and Environment Association's 10th Symposium, Next City: Planning for a New Energy and Climate Future, co-hosted by the University of Sydney's faculty of architecture, design and planning and the United States Studies Centre.

The 67-year-old son of a steelworker oversaw more than $4.5 billion in economic development that transformed a swathe of industrial sites, abandoned after the industry began its collapse in the 1970s, into a vibrant commercial, residential and civic hub.

Sydney's equivalent opportunity in Barangaroo offered a harbourside city the chance to build on strong foundations, he said. ''Barangaroo, the quality of what that looks like and how it connects to the rest of the city, will continue to either define you as a world class city or say somebody missed the boat.''

A senior resident fellow with Washington's Urban Land Institute, Mr Murphy will tonight present a public lecture, City Revitalisation: Lessons for Sydney and its Suburbs, to be followed by a panel discussion into ways to transform Sydney and other Australian cities into global examples of excellence.

He said every city needed a clear vision to lead development, as well as a focus on good design and a spirit of boldness.

''Hyde Park and the Botanical Gardens, and that whole area, without a vision would have been high-end housing," he said.

He cited Pittsburgh's decision during his 12 years in office as mayor to oversee a $US1 billion investment in new football and baseball stadiums and a new convention centre as a risk that drew criticism but paid off.

''''There was lots of controversy and then our football team won the Superbowl. So everybody loved it.''

Sydney's foreshore offered another famous example: ''If I look at the Opera House, as painful as it was building that, someone had a grand vision of creating a remarkable building.''