Sitting in a café in Rotterdam on the roof of a converted, multi-use start-up space set me thinking about Sydney – particularly as this same rooftop supported an established community garden, from which the café was harvesting organic produce to use in its offerings. It was not so much that the garden existed – that in itself was great – but rather its role in bringing the local community together that intrigued me. OK, things in Rotterdam are a bit alternative, and that rooftop community space was the essence of alternative ... so how does this relate to Sydney?
I’m the first person to champion the overall trend towards increased housing density in Sydney. Put simply, it’s the only way to make the city fit for the twenty-first century – both because it uses resources more efficiently and because it helps to limit wasteful urban sprawl. But what’s the point of density if the city’s residents are unhappy living in compact apartments in high-rise towers?
The answer lies in being a lot smarter about the public spaces and resources we already have, as well as the new ones we’re creating, in and around high-density developments.
Green infrastructure, for example, is vital for delivering lifestyle, leisure, wellbeing and social benefits for the hundreds of thousands of new residents now living in high-rise blocks around the city – and with these numbers set to grow dramatically over the next decade, it’s even more crucial that we get these spaces right.
For a start, we could rethink the way we use existing facilities, such as sports ovals, parks and school fields, so that they become far more multipurpose. Doing so would create what I like to call “activated spaces” – spaces that are dynamic, flexible and accessible to whole communities at different times over the course of days and weeks.
A great local example is the One Central Park development, situated on an old industrial site right on the CBD’s doorstep. These spectacular, green-planted residential towers not only offer a range of amenities, residents also have access to more than 6,400 square metres of adjacent parkland and other public spaces.
But it’s not just open spaces that could be better utilized; we need to bring focus and smart thinking to built spaces as well. Community buildings and school halls are obvious targets, but what about the meeting rooms of public bodies such as Councils, or even those of local businesses? Is there any reason these should not be shared spaces as well?
The crucial point here is that a dynamic, well-functioning city doesn’t happen all on its own. Just housing more people won’t work without creative solutions that boost social cohesion and a sense of belonging, and which encourage residents’ personal investment in their own communities. And if we can maximize both the public and commercial opportunities for creating community spaces, we’ll be well on the way to delivering infrastructure that not only enhances amenity, but which also ensures that people have attractive places to meet, interact and grow.
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