Greater Sydney's cities, centres and neighbourhoods each have a unique combination of local people, history, culture, arts, climate, built form and natural features creating places with distinctive identifies and functions. Great places build on these characteristics to create a sense of place that reflects shared community values and culture. Through this, they attract residents, workers, visitors, enterprise and investment.
Great places include all parts of the public realm such as open space, streets, centres and neighbourhoods and the interface with the private realm which includes residential, commercial and industrial streetscapes. They exhibit design excellence and start with, and focus on, open space and a people-friendly public realm. They recognise and celebrate the local character of the place and its people.
To create great places, the mechanisms for delivering public benefits need to be agreed early in the planning process, so that places provide a combination of the following elements as set out in A Metropolis of Three Cities:
- Well-designed built-environment: great places are enjoyable and attractive, they are safe, clean and flexible with a mix of sizes and functions.
- Social infrastructure and opportunity: great places are inclusive of people of all ages and abilities, with a range of authentic local experiences and opportunities for social interaction and connection.
- Fine grain urban form: great places are walkable, of human scale, with a mix of land uses including social infrastructure and local services at the heart of communities.
The District's great places include local and strategic centres such as Katoomba, Picton and Camden and riverside neighbourhoods like Richmond and Windsor, together with major shopping precincts, and distinctive dining and night-time precincts at Penrith and Cabramatta.
The unique character and distinctive mix of land uses, activities, social connectors and functions in these places provide social and physical connectivity, local diversity and cultural richness, all of which contribute to the liveability of neighbourhoods and enhance people's quality of life.
Improving liveability in urban environments necessitates planning for a mix of high quality places that engage and connect people and communities. Co-locating activities and social infrastructure in mixed-use areas is a more efficient use of land and enhances the viability of, and access to, great places, centres and public transport.
To deliver high quality, community specific and place-based outcomes, planning for the District should integrate site-specific planning proposals with precinct-wide place and public domain outcomes through place-based planning. This is a method by which great places can capitalise on the community's shared values and strengths and the place's locally distinctive attributes through collaboration and meaningful community participation.
As the population grows and demographics change, more high quality public places will be required in and around centres. Ground level places including streets, plazas, parks and recreation spaces provide places for community events, markets and festivals and for encouraging social interaction and active lifestyles. Growth and renewal will increase opportunities to expand and connect these places and to explore innovative public places, such as rooftops and podiums.
Streets as places
Streets are the most common places in any city. They connect and unite communities. The way streets meet people's different needs is fundamental to the way the city is experienced. Streets are important for moving people and goods between places, but are also important places for people and street life, enhancing social and economic participation. A Metropolis of Three Cities and Future Transport 2056 adopt a common approach to balancing the dual functions of streets (refer to Figure 12).
Creating and renewing streets as great places is therefore key to improving liveability. Walkable places, particularly streets, need to be designed, built and managed to encourage people of all ages and abilities to walk or cycle for leisure, transport or exercise. Walkable neighbourhoods support an active street life, which enhances community connections, safety and the success of local businesses, and improves social and economic participation. Improving walkability should guide decision-making on locations for new jobs and housing and prioritisation of transport, health, schools and social infrastructure investments.
Although streets differ in their function and character, maximising opportunities for walking, safe cycling and social interaction is a priority. This requires allocation of road space between footpaths, cycleways, public transport and vehicles that considers people's safety needs and balances movement and place functions in response to the type of street and local conditions.
This occurs through the design and management of the street environment. The pattern and amount of road space allocated to pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and private vehicles and the speed of travel are important considerations. Where streets are destinations for shopping, dining, meeting friends, accessing transport or working, the design of streets affects the attractiveness, vitality and viability of a place.
Figure 12: Movement and place framework
Leading a healthy and active life means substituting walking and cycling for short car journeys. More people can be encouraged to walk and cycle where there is a safe road environment and suitable pathways (refer to Greater Sydney Services and Infrastructure Plan Customer Outcome 3). This requires improvements in the following:
- Accessibility: pathways need to be suitable for use by people of all ages and abilities.
- Connectivity: direct routes to local destinations and services are required along streets that allocate sufficient road space to safe walking and cycling. A permeable and well-connected urban form that has human scale and attractive streetscapes. In local streets with low traffic volumes safe cycling can be encouraged through design of the street environment for low vehicle speeds.
- Amenity: safe, direct and comfortable pathways for all people. Suitable pathways, pedestrian crossings of universal design, with appropriate lighting, shading, wayfinding, kerb ramps, rest points and natural surveillance provide comfortable and safe conditions for pedestrians with mobility constraints. The elderly, people with disabilities and the whole community benefits, and all people are able to be more active and healthy.
In addition, provision of fine grain urban form and land use mix through the co-location of schools, retail services and transport infrastructure in local centres contributes to enhanced walkability as well as the viability of, and access to, great places, centres and public transport.
Transport for NSW is also establishing the Principal Bicycle Network which will connect centres with high quality cycling routes.
Local centres include many of the District's great places performing a variety of functions, from the cluster of local shops at Canley Vale to larger retail centres that attract tourists, particularly in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury local government areas. Local centres all form an important part of local community life as social connectors. Centres such as Leura and Camden are community hubs, with scenic qualities that enhance their vibrant character. Glenbrook and Picton villages are emerging as destinations for new eateries, unique neighbourhood qualities and cultural facilities.
Local centres are a focal point of neighbourhoods, and, where they include public transport and transport interchanges, they are an important part of a 30-minute city. While local centres are diverse and vary in size, they provide essential access to day-to-day goods and services close to where people live.
Future Transport 2056 identifies the importance of transport interchanges as places which will have a high level of accessibility which is enhanced as service frequencies and travel times are improved. There will be potential for interchanges to deliver mixed-use, walkable, cycle-friendly centres and neighbourhoods. As service frequencies and travel times are improved, there is a need for councils to consider local conditions through place-based planning that provides for centres around interchanges to grow and evolve over time.
Local centres also have an important role in providing local employment. Approximately 200 local centres include a supermarket with floor space greater than 1000 square metres. These centres account for close to 18 per cent of all of Greater Sydney's jobs (refer to Figure 13 and 14). The mapped local centres in Figures 13 and 14 are not exhaustive as there are many local centres without a supermarket that provide essential local functions, access to goods and services, social or community infrastructure or transport interchanges. Rural towns and villages also provide essential goods and services and are an important focus for the local community.
Principles for local centres
As part of the exhibition of the revised draft district plans, a number of councils recommended additions to the centres identified in Figure 13 and 14. As the management of local centres is predominantly led by councils, the resolution of which local centres are important to each council will need to be assessed as part of their preparation of local strategic planning statements and local environmental plans.
Councils will need to consider which centres:
- will be appropriate to accommodate housing as part of their housing strategy
- will need to grow to provide for the required goods and services of the community
- may also need to grow to deliver other roles for the community, such as recreation, cultural, arts and community hubs.
This hierarchy of local, strategic and metropolitan clusters (including transport interchanges) should be informed by an evidence-based assessment of local and District-wide housing, employment, retail, commercial services and infrastructure demand.
An understanding of the identity, character, size, land use mix, function, catchment and potential of each local centre and the local centres hierarchy will inform housing strategies. Additional residential development within a five-minute walk of a centre focused on local transport, or within a 10-minute walk of a centre with city-shaping or city-serving public transport, will help to create walkable local centres. However, housing should not compromise a centre's primary role to provide goods and services, and the opportunity for the centre's employment function to grow and change over time.
Place-based planning for centres should address the following principles:
- provide public realm and open space focus
- deliver transit-oriented development and co-locate facilities and social infrastructure
- provide, increase or improve local infrastructure and open space
- improve walking, cycling and public transport connections, including through the Greater Sydney Green Grid
- protect or expand retail and/or commercial floor space
- protect or expand employment opportunities
- integrate and support arts and creative enterprise and expression
- support the night-time economy
- augment or provide community facilities and services, arts and cultural facilities
- conserve and interpret heritage values
- accommodate local festivals, celebrations, temporary and interim uses
- increase residential development in, or within a walkable distance of, the centre
- provide parking that is adaptable to future uses and takes account of access to public transport, walking and cycling connections.
A vibrant and safe night-time economy will enhance the social and recreational needs of communities across Greater Sydney. Planning for a night-time economy in centres includes supporting a range of small businesses such as retail, arts and cultural enterprises and events.
Figure 13: Western City District (north) – centres.
Figure 14: Western City District (south) – centres
Heritage and history are also important components of local identity and contribute to great places. The District's rich Aboriginal cultural and natural heritage reinforces its sense of place and identity. A variety of local heritage items and heritage streetscapes also form part of the character of centres.
The District's communities in Camden, Picton, Richmond-Windsor and Menangle share heritage items and historic places. Camden town centre's heritage is founded by its associations with Australia's early agricultural industries, including the wool industry, and its role in early colonial settlement. Early colonial buildings and townships are found in Hawkesbury Council where the Convict Trail and four of the five Macquarie Towns are located. Historic buildings such as the Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath, Fernhill Estate in the Mulgoa Valley and Tebbutt's Observatory in Windsor are rich in architectural heritage and have a distinctive local character. The Blue Mountains National Park has significant Aboriginal, cultural and natural heritage values. Rivers, waterways and wetlands also play an important role in the history, heritage and tourism of the District. Refer to Planning Priority W12 for actions on protecting and improving the health and enjoyment of the District's waterways.
Identifying, conserving, interpreting and celebrating Greater Sydney's heritage values leads to a better understanding of history and respect for the experiences of diverse communities. Heritage identification, management and interpretation are required so that heritage places and stories can be experienced by current and future generations.
Place-based planning is a design-led and collaborative way of examining the complexity of the city by viewing it as a mosaic of different places, each with unique potential and characteristics. It is a means of better understanding a place, and building relationships and collaboration to deliver a vision and solutions that respond to a place's potential.
Focusing on how specific places work and collaborative processes that recognise the value and need for local expertise, knowledge, responsibility and investment allows the development of a shared vision and values.
People involved in the process vary depending on the circumstances, nature and scale of the task and may include the community, local businesses, residents, State and local governments and other stakeholders. A shared vision for a place that resolves different perspectives and interests can then be created.
The shared vision and a spatial framework for a place provide the basis for future development, governance and allocation of responsibilities. The outputs of place-based planning detail how the vision will be implemented and the place activated, monitored and managed. Place-based planning is also a way of managing change over time through staging, sequencing and revisioning that allows for continual adjustments and improvements.
A placed-based planning approach can be applied to streets, neighbourhoods, local centres and larger scale urban renewal. This approach also underpins the development of strategies in Collaboration Areas.
Sympathetic built form controls and adaptive re-use of heritage are important ways to manage the conservation of heritage significance. Respectfully combining history and heritage with modern design achieves an urban environment that demonstrates shared values and contributes to a sense of place and identity. This is particularly important for transitional areas and places experiencing significant urban renewal, where it is necessary to take account of the cumulative impacts of development on heritage values.
Understanding the significance and community values of heritage early in the planning process provides the greatest opportunity for conservation and management. Protection and management of heritage is a community responsibility undertaken by a broad range of stakeholders including Aboriginal people, State and local governments, businesses and communities.
The Government Architect NSW has prepared Better Placed - An integrated design policy for the built environment of New South Wales. This supports the creation and renewal of great places for use by all place makers including State and local government, business and the community.