AECOM's Sydney Connected event

AECOM has presented the findings of its interactive Sydney Connected survey to leaders of the property and planning sector.

Representatives from firms including Mirvac and Lend Lease, UrbanGrowth NSW and the City of Sydney last week heard that what the people of Sydney wanted was more seamless public transport, environmental and natural resource protection and new types of housing, particularly affordable housing.

James Rosenwax, AECOM’s managing director – design + planning, said the survey, carried out via digital platforms in collaboration with the Sydney Design Festival, showed that precinct-based vertical communities were a key element in addressing changing community needs.

James Rosenwax

Respondents selected their top three priorities from a list of nine.

While 52 per cent said protecting the city’s natural beauty and resources was important, Mr Rosenwax said that the public generally thought of environmental protection as more about Sydney’s green space and natural assets than as an aspect of design and form of actual buildings.

“They are not really joining the dots; it’s a bit disconnected,” he told The Fifth Estate.

“The restoration of Barangaroo Headland, for example, the public would think is a good idea. In the context of protection of the environment in a dense urban area, most of the developments are brownfields, precincts and infills, so the natural environment per se is not a major issue.

“In that context the protection of the environment is not related to the site, it is more about broad design measures to reduce energy use, treat stormwater, passively manage the urban heat island effect through the use of trees, the use of recycled water and water sensitive urban design. These are all elements that are coming into play in precincts.”

These types of measures that were more about protecting downstream assets, he said, were things the industry had to respond to.

In terms of new forms of housing, which 35 per cent of respondents identified as important, Mr Rosenwax said affordability was the major driver of this concern.

“It is a big issue, and one of Sydney’s biggest challenges, providing affordable housing on expensive sites,” he said.

Michael Parry, Powerhouse Museum director public engagment, addresses the crowd

The Sydney community was looking for new types of opportunities that will enable their children to one day buy houses, he said. If this were to come about through increasing the emphasis on vertical communities and apartment developments, the issue also became about how to ensure these developments could cater to the needs of children.

“A good example is the Landcom Victoria Park development. Space needs to be made part of the precinct for kids’ play and nature play. That project combined the restoration of the ecology with space for kids’ play and nature play very successfully.”

As to whether Melbourne-style towers with one- or two-bedroom floorplates and very little outside play space would meet the needs of the Sydney community, Mr Rosenwax said that Melbourne’s investor-driven market represented “older thinking”.

One Central Park, he said, was a good example of newer thinking, and the evolution of a form of vertical living that can provide amenity and cater to multiple and different users.

Sydney Connected launch

Another example given was a new tower designed by Bates Smart, which is planned for Bicentennial Park, bordering the Olympic Park urban renewal precinct. The 34-storey tower will include three and four-bedroom apartments because the vertical living trend is beginning to attract families and downsizers who appreciate the advantages and amenity of Sydney’s Olympic Park and Bicentennial Park.

Another trend the vertical living concept needed to address was the ageing population, with the potential of vertical aged care facilities needing to be explored.

“If families are going to be living in vertical communities, then they should ideally have the opportunity to visit with loved ones in vertical retirement living,” Mr Rosenwax said.

The overall vision is the equivalent of vertical villages, bringing together a mix of family types, age groups and socio-economic demographics.

“This is the diversity that will be the future of the industry.”

(Left to right) Kate Miles, Jennifer McAllister, Kerry Ross, David Collett

Mr Rosenwax said that while Sydney’s outdoor attractions did in many ways define the city’s lifestyle, the city had a “long way to go” in terms of connectivity to those natural assets. Of the more than 500 respondents to the survey, 65 per cent nominated “seamless public transport” as critical to Sydney’s future.

“Sydney has relied on its natural assets for too long, but it has not succeeded in providing connectivity to them,” he said.

The solution, he said, was multi-modal public transport including heavy rail, light rail and buses, which is integrated in a similar manner to the public transport systems in Hong Kong and Germany.

“Sydney is not seamless. There is a lot of potential for transport hubs to be rethought, such as Central and Wynyard stations. These need to be re-masterplanned. The buses and light rail do come into Central, but the seamless bit is missing, and that is what good design can provide.”

Mr Rosenwax noted that the NSW government was currently in the process of redesigning Central as a transport hub, and that the blueprint masterplan had just been released.

Overall, he said the benefits of the Sydney Connect survey process and industry discussion revolved around the sharing of ideas and outcomes with industry so they had a clearer picture of what their stakeholders – the community – wanted. The availability of technological platforms, such as the online survey and the pop-up iPad installations, which were part of the Sydney Connect process, is facilitating this.

“Sydney Connected is one example where a diverse range of people can engage in a conversation about the future shape of our cities,” Mr Rosenwax said.

“Government and industry have realised that without stakeholder engagement and buy-in it will take longer to make complex projects get moving smoothly.

“It’s almost like when developers put forward green concessions in exchange for greater floorplates, when you can demonstrate community buy-in, it makes the process run more smoothly.”

Key findings of Sydney Connect:

  • 65 per cent of people nominated seamless public transport and as critical to Sydney’s future
  • 52 per cent nominated protecting the city’s natural beauty and resources
  • 35 per cent nominated new housing solutions
  • 32 per cent nominated building on the success of its existing communities through better infrastructure
  • 29 per cent nominated building precincts such as Green Square Town Centre in inner-city Sydney and further west in Parramatta as important to Sydney’s successful growth into a city of more than six million in future decades
  • 29 per cent nominated creating more open, green spaces and fostering a connection to nature
  • 24 per cent nominated getting people active and walking
  • 23 per cent nominated bringing more of the city to life at night
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  1. Nothing new. People have always wanted those things. Yet the gap between those four key areas listed above and government policy, planning strategies, and local by-laws still exists…These should largely be non-issues but because of this gap we continue to have to have discussions (or events) of this nature.

    When I was in Vienna a few years back, one of the main issues the Mayor (who, incidentally has been in the job since 1994) ran on as part of his campaign was dog poo on the sidewalk. Why? Because those four issues were addressed a long time ago. And when those issues are addressed, only the little (brown) things are left to worry about.

    It’s time City of Sydney and the State of NSW took a leaf out of Michael Haupl’s book and just got on with it.