Wianamatta, or ‘the Mother Place’ in Dharug language, is the longest freshwater stream in Greater Sydney. It runs like a spine through the newly christened Western Parkland City and its planned Aerotropolis.
Today Wianamatta, more commonly known as South Creek, is almost a forgotten creek, despite running for 80 kilometres through the heart of the western suburbs of Sydney, from Oran Park in the south, to the Hawkesbury River at Windsor in the north.
In times of drought it can be ephemeral, drying up over long stretches for months or years, only to flow rapidly during periods of heavy rainfall.
This creek is changing the way we do planning in NSW. Parts of Sydney feature spectacular topography but the majority of Western Sydney is situated on a large, flat floodplain. There are some hills but the landscape is broadly homogenous, making the creek the most significant feature.
Traditional urban planning has been transport-oriented, with the construction of large transport hubs to shuttle workers from residential communities into employment centres. However, many growing cities are moving away from this model.
Much of modern urban design and planning now focuses around landscape features and providing centres for residences and businesses that reduce commute times and increase quality of life for citizens.
With premier Gladys Berejiklian prioritising an overhaul of planning laws in 2020 in a push to deliver 30-minute cities, we are already seeing evidence of the desire to do things differently in the Parkland City.
The Western Sydney Aerotropolis Plan (WSAP) went on display recently, showcasing the vision for the Aerotropolis as Australia’s next global gateway. Prepared by the Western Sydney Planning Partnership, it was developed with unprecedented collaboration across all levels of government.
The importance of respecting water, waterways and green places to maintain connection to Country is embedded in the document. In that same vein, Wianamatta-South Creek is critical to the development of the city’s west.
The WSAP is the first step in the direction of defining a city by its blue-green grid – a network of blue and green spaces and assets such as waterways, open spaces and the tree canopy – not its grey, heavy infrastructure.
Population is predicted to swell in the western suburbs in coming decades and the network of waterways and green spaces will help mitigate against a localised warming climate.
Stakeholders involved with the Parkland City will look at innovative approaches to incorporate the landscape and waterway features into the design of new urban communities.
Areas of higher-density and high-quality public spaces, for example, will face the waterway, and walking and cycling trails will connect continuous open space along the creek.
Multiple bridge crossings will help connect communities on either side of the creek, and enable the movement of wildlife along the corridor.
It is hoped also that by maximising public ownership of riparian corridors we will be able to create opportunities to link areas of high biodiversity along waterways.
Well-maintained riparian corridors will also help to support healthy waterways by managing flows of water and nutrients from storm water.
Greening the environment by creating shade canopy will be incredibly important for this part of Sydney as it already averages higher temperatures than the eastern suburbs. And, unfortunately, the trends we’re seeing at the moment point it to growing hotter in coming decades.
This landscape-led design approach leads into water management and raises the question of how we manage water — not just in terms of getting clean water in and dirty water out of the environment, but also how to manage it effectively in times of rainfall and in times of drought.
Increased capture and localised use of water will become critical in developing a more hospitable, liveable landscape that encourages business and residential growth.
Healthy communities grow where there is respect for the spaces and places they are expected to live and work in. There’s a lot of evidence that shows that if you have recreational spaces near residential areas, people will use and benefit from them.
There’s also a strong link between the benefits of regular exercise on mental health and obesity, the two emerging chronic disease problems for cities. Sports fields are important, but so are restorative landscapes, wild spaces and green places people can walk to from their homes and workplaces, giving them a chance to step out of the concrete jungle.
Central Park in New York is a great example of this philosophy. When it was constructed, it was deliberately planned to have wild spaces, lakes, forests and rocky outcrops to create an oasis in the centre of one of the biggest cities on the planet. If it can be done in New York, it can be done in Western Sydney.
Delivering planning outcomes that respect the landscape while facilitating growth is no mean feat. Done well, the dividends are great. The Wianamatta South Creek will continue to play a critical role. With continued collaboration, we can shape a city which truly embraces Country rather than concreting over it.
Phillip Birtles is the Urban Water and Waterways Manager at Sydney Water.
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