Regenerative developments are breathing new life and economic growth into mature cities with transformative initiatives that are imparting a new competitiveness and bright futures to urban areas, panelists said at the 2016 ULI Fall Meeting in Dallas.

“We aren’t just building buildings. We’re building cities,” said David Pitchford, chief executive officer of UrbanGrowth NSW, a government agency of the Australian state of New South Wales.

UrbanGrowth NSW, with significant input from the public and other stakeholders, is tackling a 235-acre (95 ha) long-term regeneration project on the edge of downtown Sydney. The multiphased project, called the Bays Precinct, will deliver a waterfront promenade, the adaptive use of a power plant, parks, food markets, restaurants, and other waterfront development.

“We are unashamedly conducting a war against mediocrity. We will not settle for mediocre designs, mediocre buildings, and mediocre public spaces. So we have a chance here to do something world-class, and we are determined to do it,” Pitchford said.

Work started recently, and the planned buildout of the Bays Precinct will unfold over the next 20 or 30 years delivering cultural, maritime, recreational, retail, and commercial uses on government-owned land near the waterfront on Sydney Harbor.

“Our ambition goes way beyond just urban regeneration—replacing what was there,” Pitchford said. “We are all about the regeneration and creating great destinations on Sydney Harbor, one of the great harbors of the world.”

The Bays Precinct effort will bring about regeneration of Sydney’s Wentworth Park, Rozelle Rail Yards, and the Sydney Fish Market.

“Overall, what our responsibility is, apart from the economic development, is to develop great places and great spaces,” Pitchford said.

Urban regeneration can also be accomplished through projects of a smaller scale, such as the Central Mid-Levels Escalator in Hong Kong, said ULI panelist Sean Chiao, president, Asia Pacific, AECOM, an engineering firm based in Los Angeles.

The Central Mid-Levels Escalator, an outdoor transportation system, was built at a cost of only US$30 million to assist pedestrian commuters on the steep hilly terrain of Hong Kong, Chiao said. The escalator system stretches 2,600 feet (792 m) through dense urban areas and takes about 20 minutes to ride from top to bottom.

The thin escalator corridor embraced the urban fabric of the surrounding Hong Kong neighborhood and enlivened the economy, Chiao said.

“It energized a lot of retail and urban spaces,” he said.

Another transformative Asian project is WF Central, a high-end retail center with a 74-room Mandarin Oriental hotel in Beijing. The center, slated for completion in 2017, is being developed by HongKong Land Limited. WF Central was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

WF Central, which is near the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, will revitalize the historic fabric of Wangfujing area, said Raymond Chow, executive director of commercial property for HongKong Land.

The highly competitive international markets compel cities to unlock their potential through these kinds of transformative projects of urban regeneration, said John Fitzgerald, chief executive, Asia Pacific for ULI.

“As cities around the world compete for business, compete for talent, and move forward in the new era and the new economy, increasingly these transformative urban regeneration initiatives and projects are really helping cities to find that competitiveness,” Fitzgerald said.