What future for Australia’s largest urban park?

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The Great West of Sydney has one of the fastest growing populations in Australia. Currently home to 1.9 million people, the region’s population is expected to reach three million by 2036. This population growth and related development poses potential challenges to the preservation of what is Australia’s largest urban park, the Western Sydney Parklands (WSP).

The 5,280 hectare Western Sydney Parklands area stretches 27 kilometers from Quakers Hill to Leppington, passing through the local government areas of Blacktown, Fairfield and Liverpool. It is 25 times larger than Centennial Park in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, and similar in size to Lee Valley Park in London (UK) and Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto (Canada).

The 1968 Sydney Area Comprehensive Plan was the first time that the potential for a park corridor west of Sydney was identified. The early strategic acquisition of land created an important green infrastructure corridor. Its regional importance was recognized in 2006, when the government of New South Wales introduced the Western Sydney Parklands Act to Parliament, setting the boundaries and establishing the Western Sydney Parklands Trust (WSPT), the self-funded government agency that established them. manages.

The 2030 Management Plan presents the final vision for the future of these parks. “The legacy of what started 50 years ago with the NSW Planning Department is really starting to come to fruition,” said WSPT Executive Director Suellen Fitzgerald.

“As the population of western Sydney grows, the parks will help mitigate temperature increases and provide a respite for the local community,” says Fitzgerald. “Vegetation and water recreation in the summer will certainly come in handy in this part of western Sydney, and the expansion of the bush corridor will also ensure that there will be a home and habitat for native species in the future. . “

One of the new challenges facing the Western Sydney Parklands is the development of Western Sydney Airport and its associated aerotropolis, which will attract both more people to the area and warmer temperatures, as the proportion of hard paving and buildings will increase.

“The Aerotropolis will bring a city the size of Adelaide to our foothills, so the southern part of the parks will become increasingly important to meet the needs of this new population,” said Fitzgerald. “The other major benefit of the parks for the Aerotropolis will be that visitors will see the beauty of the original landscapes – the Cumberland Plain forest and the spotted gums – and these will become synonymous with the image, the l ‘identity and atmosphere of the region’.

The trust and its consultants have developed a series of responses to this project and to demographic pressures. Several of these responses recently received accolades at the 2019 NSW Awards from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA): the WSP Plan of Management 2030 (winner of an Award of Excellence in Landscape Planning); the WSP Design Manual (winner of the Land Management Excellence Award); and the Southern Parklands Framework (Award for Excellence in Parks and Open Spaces).

Although these responses address different scales and slightly different contexts, they all demonstrate a keen concern for protecting the future of parks by integrating them into the life and spirit of the communities they serve. They share a common interest not only in protecting parks, but also in making sure they are well loved and used.

Under the 2030 Management Plan, 40 percent of the parks will remain in bush form, with 30 percent reserved for recreation and tourism facilities and five percent maintained for urban agriculture. “It enables uses ranging from the bush to business centers, from tourism to urban agriculture, from sports to community facilities,” says Fitzgerald. “With this wide range of uses, the plan prepares the parks to meet many types of community needs in the future.”

The plan gives the trust a flexible set of guidelines to meet and adapt to the new and changing needs of surrounding communities. Already more than 140 nationalities live in the districts of Blacktown, Fairfield and Liverpool City Council. Almost half of all residents near the parks come from non-English speaking backgrounds. With this diversity comes its own set of challenges and opportunities, as different groups use parks and their amenities in different ways.

“West Sydney is home to people from all over Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa; it’s a very multicultural community, ”says Fitzgerald. As Fitzgerald says, culture and religion are a vital part of the daily life of many of these communities. “This means that they often like to come to the park in fairly large groups – family, community or cultural groups -. events. “Since there is a large Muslim population, she adds, especially in the southwest,” we have barbecue facilities for halal cooking so people can bring their own charcoal and throw it away. safe in a picnic area “.

The open space corridor has protected some of the most beautiful parts of the western Sydney natural bush. The new plans outline opportunities for all sectors of the community to experience the Cumberland Plain woodland and understand the features of the native landscape in this part of the world. “The corridor also protects cultural and ceremonial places of Aboriginal significance so that new communities can understand the Aboriginal history of West Sydney,” says Fitzgerald. “It also encompasses some rural landscapes, which are as much a part of Western Sydney’s more recent heritage, as the city’s food bowl.”

One of the objectives of the plan is to ensure the economic sustainability of the parks in the future. The plan sets targets to increase the number of visitors from 2.6 million visitors per year to 10 million visitors per year by 2030. “One of the ways we will do this is to organize events like this. than the Food Fest, ”says Fitzgerald. “It started with 2,000 people and during the Food Fest 2019 which just took place in September, we had 10,000 people. In addition, the Chang Lai Yuan Chinese Gardens located in the Nurragingy Reserve within the Blacktown Council are part of the twin city project with the Liaocheng Municipal Government in China. One of the motivations for developing these gardens was not only to connect with the local Chinese community, but also to attract international Chinese visitors.

While the plan describes the vision for the wider park and how it will be managed, the design manual is a tool that landscape architects can use to design individual areas. The manual identified best practices based on what has already worked well and lessons learned from previous projects carried out by WSPT over the past 10 years.

NewScape Design coordinated the compilation of the manual, provided the technical specifications and advised on the graphic design. Director John Newman said that “the standard designs in the manual generally capture the best way to design for neighborhoods in Western Sydney Parklands, so that they can meet the demands of visitors, management and maintenance staff and that there is a sense of continuity throughout the park “.

The trust has a thoughtful approach to conserving designs for different key tourism areas and a clear understanding of how different visitors can use the parks. “Some visitors have no experience of native Australian landscapes and are concerned about the risks of native animals, especially snakes,” Newman explains. “As part of a separate project, we have developed short and easy hiking routes for visitors to encourage them to venture out into the landscape and build their confidence to discover more secluded parts of the park. . “

The Southern Parklands Framework focuses on an approximately 1,500 hectare southern section of the park system, south of Elizabeth Drive in Cecil Hills to Bringelly Road in Leppington. TYRRELLSTUDIO’s work rethinks the park’s current role as a green barrier to city growth, making it a key structuring device for the new Western Parkland City

Proposal for a sculpture in the south of the park by TYRELLSTUDIO.
Proposal for a sculpture in the south of the park by TYRELLSTUDIO. image provided.

“We created a new lens through which to visualize the Western Sydney Parklands by mapping and revealing layers of ancient land in great detail,” says director Mark Tyrrell. “We prioritized the highest quality landscapes for recreation, then came up with precise, large-scale sculptural frames as design gestures to highlight specific features of the landscape by layering: a perfect circle defines the crest of a bowl-shaped relief; a cycle path crosses two mirrored dams; a straight, level walkway creates a reference through rolling hills and against a winding canal.

The design was inspired by the rugged infrastructure of the adjacent freeways and canals, as well as the micro-details of the grasses, given the “varied landscape textures and their beauty impossible in western light at different times of the day. “.

The strong growth and diversity of communities west of Sydney is driving a new wave of timely open space planning and design. The newly imagined parks build on a planning legacy that recognizes the importance of connected open spaces to the vital recreational, cultural and environmental services they provide. This new series of projects recognizes the rich and continuous layers of occupation of the region and seeks to protect and encourage engagement with a unique landscape, now and in the future.

Neena Bhandari is a Sydney-based foreign correspondent and former President of the Association of Foreign Correspondents (Australia and South Pacific).

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