Sydney’s green expansion to come on waste grounds, man-made beaches
A swimmable Parramatta River and man-made beaches will be some of the ways people in Sydney can experience the water without a trek to the coast – while narrow, long parklands and shared areas on golf courses will help Sydneysiders make the most of our green space as the population swells beyond 5.8 million in the decade to come.
“The good news is we’ve actually got plenty of space in Sydney. We’ve just been pretty lazy about the way in which we’ve allocated it in the past,” says Planning Minister Rob Stokes.
Corridors are key, he says, particularly in the creation of linear parks. New parks will become narrower but more connected to other open spaces. One such park was recently opened between a stretch of apartment buildings across several blocks in Mascot, while The Goods Line in Ultimo spans nearly one kilometre from Railway Square to Darling Harbour.
Multi-use golf courses on the way
Linear parks may be few and far-between in Sydney in 2019, but golf courses are plentiful. There are 81 in Sydney, and their linear nature could be useful in future projects. There are three within a four-kilometre radius on the north shore: Avondale, Gordon and Killara.
“We don’t need to remove golf courses, we just need to tweak them to provide more benefit to a greater number of people,” Mr Stokes says.
He gives the example of having bike paths and running tracks on the edges of golf courses as “having your cake and eating it too”.
“We need to think of ways to include the community, rather than exclude, while at the same time meeting the needs of the golfing community,” Mr Stokes says, adding golf courses are ideal for the government’s plan to plant 5 million trees throughout greater Sydney by 2030.
The need for green space
The government has a target of increasing the proportion of homes in urban areas within 10 minutes’ walk of green public space by 10 per cent by 2023 – currently, nearly half of the people in Sydney’s west live more than 400 metres from an open space. “We need green lungs in the west just as much as in the east,” Mr Stokes says.
But it’s not just green space that Sydney’s booming population will need – it’s blue space, too.
Taking a dip
Sydneysiders are aquatic people – and a series of projects, spearheaded by the cleaning of the Parramatta River, will give residents in the western suburbs more access to water-based activities without long commutes.
A decade-long project to make large parts of the river safe for swimming has begun. There are 12 new swimming sites along the river to go with four existing ones – as far east as the heritage-listed Dawn Fraser Baths at Balmain and as far west as a proposed site at Little Coogee, Parramatta Park.
Major chemical industries from the early 1900s identified the Parramatta River as dumping grounds for waste discharge and some areas – particularly near Homebush – are almost beyond cleaning.
“We have a big legacy of dioxins contaminating that part of the harbour – and that’s not going to go away any time soon,” says Stuart Khan, a professor at UNSW’s school of civil and environmental engineering who has worked on the river project.
Dioxins are highly toxic pollutants which are not easily killed – as opposed to bacteria, which is a short-term problem resulting from stormwater run-off.
“You can make the whole river swimmable by keeping contaminated stormwater out of the river, but there’ll always be a few hotspots of dioxins,” Professor Khan says.
Dioxins stick to sediment, so as more sediment is laid down the dioxins get further buried, diminishing their impact. “It’s possible to dredge a river but you could do as much damage as you would improve anything,” Professor Khan says. “The only real option is to avoid contaminated sites.”
In addition to the river, Homebush will soon be home to the country’s first man-made surf park, Campbelltown City is currently building an artificial billabong, and the government says it is examining a similar project at the Prospect Reservoir.
Expect a rise in synthetic pitches
While there are many projects aimed at getting people more active, adult participation numbers are shifting towards yoga and pilates and away from organised team sports.
Sports Minister John Sidoti said the Active Kids program, which offers parents a rebate for their children participating in team sport, had been “fantastic” but there was more work to be done.
“We’ve also got some work to do in large multicultural areas and in terms of Indigenous participation,” he says.
Synthetic pitches have become more popular in the past few years, and lighting has been added. “Come Monday if it rains, [grass fields] aren’t fit for purpose on a Friday,” Mr Sidoti says.
Ryde Council is home to several synthetic pitches, with plans to convert three more by 2022. Converting grass pitches can increase their usage rate throughout a week from 40 hours to 80 or 90.
They may need every extra hour possible – a 10-month audit from Football NSW this year estimated soccer would be 700 pitches short by 2030 and will need to find room for 120,000 participants.
The number of beach-going visitors to Sydney is growing year-on-year, with 6.1 million visitors in the year ending March 2019, a 60 per cent increase from 2011. Overall tourism numbers are expected to increase in the next decade, with visitors for sporting and cultural events also increasing substantially in that time.
The Sydney Morning Herald is hosting a population summit on September 23. For more details and to view the list of speakers click here.
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.