On Saturday, S., dog and I headed over to Sydney Park to attend a community consultation session run by Sydney Council (City of Sydney) on their new vision for the park. The session was staged as a "fun" event. There was a sausage sizzle and council staff handed out show bags for dogs, free plants and kites for the kids. A number of blown up maps displayed the "Master Plan" for the park and details of specific sites. The plan is to build an "all abilities playground" as well as setting aside space for a commercial kiosk near the King Street/Princes Highway entrance to the park. The plan also involves significant earthworks to reshape the Village Green into an outdoor ampitheatre. The Village Green is the most accessible of the green spaces from surrounding residential areas. A row of now established Morton Baby figs along the Village Green will have to re-located as part of the plan. There was an intention to continue the natural re-vegetation of the park and wetlands but this was given lower priority.
Sydney Park was originally managed by South Sydney Council and they initiated the bulk of the re-generation of the park from waste tip to natural wetlands. Over the years the park has been transformed from an uninhabitable wasteland (literally) to the largest open green space in the city next to Centennial park. One of the things I love about the park is that, to date, the focus has been on planting and building a wetland and native wildlife habitat and not on landscaped gardens, kiosks, picnic and bbq grounds, sports fields and playgrounds. I'm not sure if this was the vision of South Sydney Council but over the years it has established itself as a unique city park fashioned in a different image to the landscaped gardens of the nineteenth century. The park is not like someone's backyard or a highly landscaped private residence. It's not Centennial Park. It's more like a mini national park. When you are in the park it feels as though you have left the city.
As the park has become more established, so has its popularity. It is visited by a multitude of walkers, dogs, kids, picnickers, kite flyers, ball-kickers, joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers and more. It seems clear the focus on re-generation of flora and fauna has not reduced or denied human use of the park. On the contrary, the strategy has led to use of the park by an enormous variety of people with a range of abilities. I am convinced the park has become a central hub for existing local residents as well as for the "re-generation" of surrounding commercial areas at the far end of King Street. Developers want to get a slice of the "added value" that the park offers with more and more apartment blocks being constructed close to the park. Over the last year or so, the Village Green has been leased out increasingly by Sydney Council as an outside ampitheatre for large events like "Soundwaves".
The City of Sydney has now come in with a plan that significantly changes the direction of the park and I fear that the new direction for the park won't benefit the people most effected, that is, local residents. The development will attract more commercial events, more people who "drive" to the park from regions further afield, larger groups of picnickers and more cars. Existing habitats will be significantly disrupted during the construction works including use of the park by local residents.
I suspect that the park plan is about making more money for the City of Sydney Council through increased leases of the Village Green to commercial events, renting out the Kiosk and other commercial outlets. The playground is a "sweetner" to local residents, but I'm not convinced that even this has been developed with local residents in mind. My view is that kids playgrounds are best located in the midst of high density living, for example, on street corners. Playgrounds suit very young children (I remember being over playgrounds by the age of 4 or 5) and are best located metres away from a house or apartment, not a drive away or a long walk crossing major highways. There are plenty of these urban playgrounds throughout the inner city and many of them are in dire need of repair. What about repairing these playgrounds and making them accessible to all abilities?
One of the Council reps said to me on the day, "A park is just like a house that you want to invest in and add value to". I disagree. A park is nothing like privately owned property. What Sydney Park currently offers inner city residents - a large, green, open space with plenty of trees and wildlife - is incredibly valuable, unique and a "vision" worth preserving. There is no reason to "develop the park". The continuation of the re-generation strategy and the repair of the old brickworks so they can be used safely as a park space is all that is required.
It sounds to me like this Master Plan by the City of Sydney is already a done deal. The scheduled works are due to commence in May and the Councillor presenting the development described the consultation as "refining" the park design. Perhaps objecting to their proposal is a waste of time but if you are concerned at all about their plan, as I am, I recommend writing a letter to City of Sydney as soon as possible, raising some of these issues about the park development.