In January, the state government of NSW announced it would spend almost $200 million on parks, cycle ways, plazas and public art to renew and revive Parramatta Road, a 20km arterial corridor that runs through the most densely populated part of Sydney.
The initiative goes some way to meeting the widespread calls for a major overhaul of this much neglected road corridor. In this article, Adrian McGregor from landscape architect and designers McGregor Coxall, discusses independent think tank, the Committee for Sydney’s Reclaiming Parramatta Road report, released in November 2020.
I commend the Committee for Sydney on its work in championing a plan for Reclaiming Parramatta Road. The proposal seeks to transform an iconic, historical stretch of road into a thriving corridor that harbours sustainable human, ecological and economic health for generations to come.
Historically, billions of dollars have been spent trying to decongest this road, revitalise the region and connect the geographical heart of Sydney to its neighbouring eastern, northern and southern suburbs.
In concert with the major WestConnex motorway development, there’s a fantastic opportunity for Western Sydney to emerge as a leader in sustainable living through a proposal that aims to promote the prosperity, health and longevity of its communities.
Aligned to current initiatives by state and local government, Western Sydney is undergoing a considerable amount of change thanks to the region’s predicted growth and the construction of an aerotropolis linked to Sydney’s second airport.
The Committee for Sydney plan is in alignment with the urban regeneration proposal for Parramatta Road McGregor Coxall helped prepare as part of the Sydney Central team in 2003 – a blueprint for revitalising the ancient song line-turned-vehicle thoroughfare.
The international competition-winning plan sought to elevate the concept that Sydney could be more than a harbour city by embracing the western suburbs as a major region for sustainable growth.
Almost 20 years on, it’s evident there’s still a need for radical fix for this great city.
Any revitalisation of Parramatta Road throws up several challenges. More than 80,000 vehicles travel on the road every day, creating a congested, hot, noisy and polluted environment unsafe for pedestrians.
- Traffic has adversely affected property values, diminishing the place economy of the local communities through reducing retail activity and public amenity;
- There are many empty shopfronts and vacant blocks;
- Suburbs north and south of the road are socially disconnected from each other
However, there are things that can be done to reverse this situation.
With the delivery of transport infrastructure, such as Westconnex and the new Sydney Metro West rail line, Parramatta Road is ready for a crash diet. At least two traffic lanes should be converted to generous footpaths with large, shady trees, allowing locals to walk to the shops in comfort, and mixing with neighbours.
Reclaiming Parramatta Road incorporates best practice in urban renewal and offers numerous benefits centred around improving community and the economic health of the region, including:
- Increased pedestrian walkability and accessibility through the creation of streets to provide a link between commuters, public transport and surrounding shops and homes. A healthier lifestyle can be provided for citizens along the corridor by creating designated cycling infrastructure stretching from Parramatta to Burwood and Central Sydney.
- Increased positive impact on the economy. Walkable, vibrant urban places are good for business. With the fast-moving traffic finally diverted to the new motorway, public life can return to city streets. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of local suburban centres in servicing work-from-home telecommuters as the CBD progressively loses its traditional role. Sydney is becoming more polycentric.
- Increased liveability through positive environmental impact by creating green places. Centres along Parramatta Road can support local flora and fauna in a sustainable ecological framework. The implementation of green infrastructure will ultimately create cooler streets. Trees will also improve air quality by cleaning emissions. Less cars on the road and better public transport linked to designated cycling lanes will also increase connectivity.
Reclaiming Parramatta Road aligns with recent government initiatives and new policy surrounding greener communities, particularly complementing the recent NSW Government Placemaking and Public Spaces initiatives and appointments.
The corridor can be a shining example of how bio-urbanism strategies can regenerate blighted places.
In 2003, the Sydney Central team proposed Parramatta Road sustainably housing an additional 250,000 people by leveraging public investment in transport.
Now that the transport infrastructure is finally in place, the time has come to finish the job and put the road on a well-needed diet. It’s imperative that our city’s main artery takes the necessary steps to regain its health.
By working together, we can make Parramatta Road a world-class boulevard and a place for Sydney-siders to be proud of.
Adrian McGregor is founder and Global Director of Design at McGregor Coxall.