One day when I was on my way home, I came across this semi-private courtyard space in Ultimo. It is a mixed-use residential and commercial site. It roughly runs 20 metres long and 5 metres high. It is a rather steep slope with a stone pathway on both sides.
Its location and sitting makes it very private and calming space. I have to say that it is a great breakout space for semi-private program like this. Pedestrians or residents are allowed to walk across and to chill out in the surrounding area.
Then it struck me as an idea. Why don’t we allocate and design spaces like this all around the city? Now I do hope to see more of these breakout spaces to spread around Sydney city.
What I see as a problem in the city is that there are a lot of underused open spaces, which they do not serve a function other than a dead space that is between the pedestrian walk and the building. Therefore, if the government can rethink the connectivity of different types of urban fabrics, people will be more likely to be lured to walking around, instead of driving and being heavily reliant on cars.
As these breakout spaces can be used as a node of interest or meeting place, or even just a place for them to chill out. And not to mention how these breakout spaces can help beautifying the city too.
I do acknowledge the fact that the City of Sydney started its strategic planning for Sydney Pedestrian Network all the way back to 1971. And in its plan, the City stated that George Street would become the main spine of the entire pedestrian network, which is a system of walkways running through buildings, sidewalks and underground walkways.
It also links different programs together, such as commercial, retail, shopping malls, hotels and green parks. And the main objective of this plan is to provide pedestrians a comfortable walking environment.
Moreover, according to The 2030 Guidelines, the Council is planning to implement several strategies to improve the existing Sydney Pedestrian Network, such as transforming George Street for more light rail access, developing a new City Plan to achieve sustainable development, design excellence and heritage protection, etc.
Apart from planning, the existing Sydney Pedestrian Network also has quite a number of strengths. Sydney has a well-developed infrastructure that allows users to easily walk along George Street spine; the existing city grid with information kiosk provide navigation for pedestrians; multiple public transport methods; have together helped promoting walkability.
The recent development of The Green Paper stated that one of its main purposes is to connect people and places. How this can be achieved is by connecting people and public spaces. A quality public space is that it is safe and relaxing, facilitating to connect people and places, hence providing an impression of being at home.
However, significant research has shown that there has been a lack of public spaces for people within the Sydney CBD and The Green Paper does not show any concerns in improving this, thus not particularly helped in promoting walkability. Therefore, I personally think that ‘Connectivity – reconnect the urban fabric via quality public spaces’ should be prioritised as one of the main objectives of the new planning system.
So to recap what is stated earlier, the City of Sydney should prioritise the development of more quality public spaces, so as to act as a mediator between pedestrian walks and underused public spaces. They should be used to reconnect the urban fabric and act as the lure for getting people to start walking and start using public transportations.
Walkability is mainly about getting people to level up their initiative to walk more and use more public transportations, and I believe that in getting the underused public spaces used as a connector and to beautify the city will eventually help in promoting walkability.
Timothy Cheung is a student at the University of Technology, Sydney