Planning that turns ugly into lovely
It’s been described by Sydney media as a lost cause, but even with its congestion, lack of parking, minimal green space and poor retail performance, Parramatta Road is an essential part of what keeps the city moving. So what will it take to transform it?
This was the question facing students in the UTS Master of Property Development and Master of Planning degrees. Earlier this year, they were asked to develop a masterplan for one of two sites along Parramatta Road, a major arterial route that runs from Sydney’s CBD all the way to Parramatta in the city’s west.
“For the previous eight years, it’s been too easy to build residential properties – too attractive, too profitable – and so we end up transforming and replacing all of this old, light industrial land, sometimes industrial properties, into housing because that’s what sells,” says Master of Planning course convener and head of the UTS School of the Built Environment, Professor Heather MacDonald.
“But we haven’t stopped to think, how do we make sure that we can still have reasonable spaces for start-up businesses, that we can still have employment in reasonable proximity to housing, that we maintain a balance between jobs and housing? That’s what we asked our students to consider.”
Working in multidisciplinary teams that included planners, property developers and architects, students selected one of two sites along Parramatta Road to develop. They completed an intensive period of background research, including presentations from head planners at the Inner West Council and reviewing the sites’ history and demographics, before starting to formulate their masterplan ideas.
The resulting projects responded to the NSW Government’s Parramatta Corridor Urban Transformation Strategy, which provides a strategic framework to revitalise this crucial transport corridor. Ideas included a plan to deliver artist studios as affordable housing – a way of emphasising the creative economy potential of the Leichhardt area; and the development of a greenlink corridor, connected to the existing GreenWay, to encourage outdoor activity.
Master of Property Development student Amanda Lavecky and her teammates focused on the Taverners Hill area which, despite its proximity to the CBD, good transport links and abundance of young families, has little in the way of community facilities.
Called Taverners Green, the student project was centred around the idea of connection and building a sense of community by creating opportunities for casual interactions between the area’s residents, with the new light rail station acting as an access point to the neighbourhood. The central feature of the project was the Green Link, a linear park that ran from the Taverners Hill light rail station to a bulky goods home maker centre at the other end of the precinct.
The masterplan sought to revitalise the local economy through the large format retail centre which would provide an easy-access retail hub for local retail businesses, complete with a carpark and loading bay. A childcare centre, library and office building were also key to the plan, as was a mixed-use residential building that also housed grab-and-go supermarket retail facilities adjacent to the light rail station.
“You only need to walk along Parramatta Road to see all the boarded-up shops and for lease signs” said Lavecky. “The Taverners Green Masterplan solves this by providing an easy access destination for local businesses to relocate to. We are also injecting much needed green space and social infrastructure to the area.”
“The Greenlink linear park gives pedestrians a pleasant and attractive alternative to walking down Parramatta Road to access the light rail station. All the buildings in the precinct are oriented towards this green space.”
From a teaching and learning perspective, the idea behind the masterplanning project was to expose students to the realities of this type of multidisciplinary planning initiative, albeit with a significantly shorter timeline.
“It does give students a very good idea of how their particular discipline and background fits into the complicated development planning processes, and the interplay between creativity, aesthetics, sustainability, financial stability and public benefit and how you make those trade-offs,” MacDonald says.
The project is just one component of an industry-focused approach to learning that’s already having a positive impact on students. When she’s not studying, Lavecky is putting her learning to the test at her property company, Double Bay Capital Developments. She’s currently working on a $15 million residential project in Bondi Junction and finds herself calling regularly on the learning experiences she’s had at UTS.
“A lot of the lectures were led by industry professionals, so we were exposed to their real-world challenges, they explained their projects and you could see from the ground up how some of these precincts were envisioned and created. It’s something that I just wouldn’t have ever had exposure to in the workforce,” she says.
“I find every day that there’s something I’m learning at university that I can apply to my work.”