Livable connections in Sydney

March 30, 2017

Today Runstad Fellow Rachel Berney talks about how the transportation systems and the public spaces in Sydney …

I came to Sydney with no printed map. Thinking to save on space and weight, I had downloaded guidebooks onto the Surface borrowed from UDP for our trip. Despite this, I think that I am and we are making sense of the place. Something that really impresses me about connectivity in Sydney is that we have been using the Opal card to seamlessly transfer between ferry, train, and bus. The local region is much better connected in terms of network as well as payment system in comparison to what we are currently doing in Seattle. There are also several bike/ped trails and networks such as “Green Links” located in many of the neighborhoods we have been visiting. We’re seeing quite a bit of density here and what helps make it doable for such a large number of people are the amenities that lie outside of their homes: parks, plazas, cycle tracks, and shoreline access, to name some of them.

I’ve seen some great public space here. We went west by ferry this morning to Parramatta, a suburb located just west of Sydney and its famous CBD. We wanted to see Parramatta because it hosts a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan for regional growth for 2056 includes developing Parramatta as a complementary yet separate city with its own CBD over the next several years. As someone who looks at “everyday” livability concerns, I thought that the city handled its main civic plaza in an especially handy way: St. John’s Cathedral (1802) and the Town Hall (1883) are connected via a plaza that rolls from historic building to modern water feature (2014) for kids, all on an ADA-accessible urban surface. People can come and go from this space along a cool tree-line allee. From 1975 and onwards, this public space, located at the nexus of government, church, and town center, has been evolving. A few lessons I think we can draw upon:

1. Think about community amenities in conjunction with proposals for (attractive, well built) density. These can be formal packages that are negotiated between residents, local government, and developers.

2. Focus on and enhance peoples’ mobility. Our ability to move around our cities for work, play, or for other reasons is a crucial aspect of quality of life and a livable city. It’s also a key way to address historic inequities.

3. Preserve heritage buildings and spaces and build new things near them, or even within them. Rather than strictly preservation-focused efforts, we’re seeing terrific examples of conservation and adaptive re-use.