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Everything is greener in Sydney

It is hard to imagine this park was once a container yard.

Last week I featured park-rich Sydney. That wonderful Australian metropolis has, as I mentioned, close to 80 hectares of greenery in the center of the city. It is also gifted with several other public parks, waterfront esplanades, and beaches, covering almost 30,000 hectares. Amazing.

And that’s not all. Sydney continues to maintain and upgrade its public parks and civic spaces. The city is, in fact, building more parks and public spaces. The newest ones are in the Barangaroo district, west of  the Harbour Bridge.

Barangaroo ia actually part of what is Darling Harbuor, which was developed as a commercial port serviced by a railway from the late 1800s. It was a busy center of economic activity for the city until the late 1980s. Port operations had choked the area by then and a decision was made to move to Botany Bay. The area had undergone redevelopment since then.

The southern or interior part of Darling Harbour was redeveloped first, as a mixed-use, development anchored by a convention center, a shopping center, hotels and a casino. Its waterside esplanades became a popular destination for locals and tourists. Half of the site was kept open or green.

The original makeover became a classic example of good waterfront redevelopment. From the 1990s, it was cited in many publications on design, and studied as a prime example of what is called brownfield development by urban designers and landscape architects. I had wanted to visit the place for the longest time.

Darling Harbour today is being updated and expanded with a new convention center to add to current attractions like its famous aquarium, a wildlife center, and a Madame Tussaud’s (with all its Hollywood actors who are actually Australian). My family and I enjoyed the place immensely.

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This first section of Darling Harbour defines a space that is over 40 hectares. This is about three times the size of Rockwell in Makati. Unlike Rockwell, however, Darling Harbour takes great advantage of its waterside location. Unlike Rockwell, Darling Harbour is easily reached by light rail, by dedicated pedestrian and bike corridors from the nearby districts, as well as by ferries from the city’s other coves.

About a decade ago the authorities released another 22 hectares of East Darling Harbour, north of the first section. It was renamed Barangaroo, which, like Benelong, nearby is an aboriginal name.

 

 

 

 

A design competition was launched based on stipulations that half of the site would be open public spaces and parks. Some controversy ensued, akin to the exercise with the Opera House decades before, with changes in architects and the brief to accommodate denser development closer to the water. Eventually a direction was taken to meld the need for keeping the green nature of the city, as well as accommodate commercial interests, housing, retail, a high end hotel and a casino.

The new district was divided into three sections: Barangaroo South, Barnagaroo Central and the Barnagaroo Reserve (the object of my greatest interest).

Barangaroo South is the section close to the original Darling Harbour development. Three tall residential towers are close to completion, along with new ferry stations fronting them. On Barangaroo Central will rise the 75-story casino and hotel—the Crown Sydney. The structure will be the tallest building in Sydney by the time it is completed.

Barangaroo Reserve, or Headland Park as it is also called, is Sydney’s newest park. The area was a flat expanse of concrete, a container yard until the 1980s. The final winning park design was by an Australian firm, Johnson Pilton Walker in collaboration with the American firm of PWP Landscape Architecture (the same consultants involved with the site of The Arena in Bulacan).

Peter Walker, the renowned American landscape architect and principal of the firm, has acknowledged that the Barangaroo Headlands Park is an important once-in-a-lifetime project. This is because it sought, and accomplished, to bring back the original historic form and ambiance of the place from before the mid-1800s when it started to be re-shaped into the city’s port area.

The stark rectangular geometry of the port was reshaped into the place’s original outline. The original contours that rose to meet Miller’s point behind it were reconstructed with terraces and sloped lawns. These were planted to 75,000 native trees and shrubs. Newly recovered fringes of the headland were built with the native sandstone quarried from the site itself. The striated pattern of the stone followed the angle the original geologic striations.

I walked the whole park with my son Wham one morning, starting from Munn’s Cove, which separates it from Barangaroo Central. The park is a hit with the locals and tourists are only starting to discover it. In a few years the trees and native shrubbery will mature and the place will be even more delightful.

The park, like all the other parks of the city, is very accessible by ferry, bus, bikeway and will soon have a dedicated pedestrian walkway from the nearest train station.

After enjoying our walk in the park, we took only 15 minutes to get to under the Harbour Bridge and to the Rocks, where we did the tourist thing and had a sumptuous pancake and bacon breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks.

As I emphasized last week, Sydney has just over five million people, while Metro Manila’s has 12 million. We have a dearth of parks and have not built any new large public ones in decades, while Sydney continues to improve and add to its parks and civic spaces.

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There is a lot to learn from this city down under. Their approach to parks and waterside development is the envy of the world. It is not too late for Metro Manila, but only if we build from the lessons taught by cities like Sydney.

Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

 

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