Cities and Sustainability Report (King Street, Newtown, Sydney)

This report was written by Chris Matthews as part of the Murdoch University undergraduate degree in  Sustainable Development. Photography : Chris Matthews, except where indicated

  1. Introduction

    1. Location and Boundaries

    2. History

    3. Broader Context

  2. Analysis

    1. Transportation

    2. Current Land Uses

    3. Water Use and Management

    4. Biodiversity and Natural Environment

    5. Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainability

  3. The Vision

  4. The New Plan

    1. Reducing Auto-mobile Dependency

    2. Redesigning the current urban form

  5. Conclusion

  6. References

  

1 Introduction

With sustainable projects and groups that act to contribute towards an informed local community, the King Street area located between Newtown and St Peters train stations, is an interesting area to choose for this report. Moreover, “people in the cities do not usually need to travel as far each day as country dwellers, and are more likely to be able to take buses and trains for the journeys they do make.” (Barley 2010:32) So why is personal automobile use growing at the rate as stipulated by the RMS? This report will touch on the opportunities that Newtown’s King Street has in regards to further moves towards a sustainable future addressing issues such as public transport, community participation, pedestrian and bicycle safety, alongside population growth and development in the area with an emphasis on circular rather than linear models.

1.1 Location and Boundaries

Newtown has a long and interesting history and is now, according to Lord Mayor Clover Moore, “.. a place for people from all social classes and cultural backgrounds… [additionally a], strong sense of community, progressive ideas, creativity, acceptance and environmental awareness” (www.sydneymedia.com.au). Past residents include the poet Henry Lawson, and the convict pioneer Mary Reibey, whose face adorns the $20 note. Since the 1990s, Newtown has been the much-loved heart of Sydney’s live music scene, kick-starting the careers of popular Aussie bands such as AC/DC, The Whitlams and Frenzal Rhomb (http://www.sydneymedia.com.au). Newtown locals set up “Australia’s first, and largest, professional car sharing service”, GoGet (http://www.goget.com.au). Furthermore, the centrepiece, King Street, is said to follow a walking track used by the land’s original custodians from Gadigal country in the Eora nation. Indigenous pride has continued to this day with the “I have a dream” mural pictured below where people gather for market stalls, music and political activism.

two mural1 one

1.2 History

Traditionally a transit hub that spanned the Sydney CBD and Eastwards, Newtown had seen the last of trams in 1961 following pressure from the NRMA and other private automobile stakeholders, with a major arterial roadway put in its place, King Street.

four

(Image source –  http://www.brushtail.com.au/ost_v0606/newtown_bridge_1908.html)

five

(Image source – www.teara.govt.nz)

Newtown has Sydney University to its north, and Sydney Park to the south, and so King Street is bordered by professors, researchers and students, as well as a park that facilitates an innovative and internationally recognised sustainable rainwater harvesting program, and draws crowds of families, dog owners and fitness enthusiasts daily, who are proud of the sustainable projects that have been implemented over the past years, and into the future. Newtown is in a state of constant change and it is important to ensure that developers take into account the local feel, history and future sustainability.

six seven

(Image source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/state-records-nsw/6957398451)

 

1.3 Broader Context

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2013, out of 23673 people in the Newtown, Camperdown and Darlington area, there were 9507 registered vehicles, or just over 40% car ownership. (http://stat.abs.gov.au)

eight

As you can see from the map, there are over 25 green spaces within a 10 minute walk from King Street. This adds to the idea that Newtown local’s value parks, and these are used by a range of people for a range of activities from dog walking, to children’s playgrounds, picnics and meeting up in clean, green areas.

 Most recently, the NSW government has unveiled plans for a new road project named WestConnex to facilitate a fast roadway tunnel to bring an estimated 7243 more cars into the area from the Western Suburbs during morning peak time of 7am – 9am, adding to the already crowded 1898 in the 2 hour morning period.

ten nine

(Pic source – Sydney Morning Herald, May 26 2015)

Added to this is the recent abolishment of frequent trains stopping at St Peters and Erskineville stations (see flyer from FOE – Friend of Erskineville).

The congestion on King Street will continue to rise through population growth and urban density set to increase through large planned residential developments on Alice Street and Mitchell Road. Both of these developments are on roads that lead to King Street. Furthermore, to take a different elevenapproach, dense development and dense urban populations are critical to support a public transit system, however as Porter states “Most communities are trying to overcome the traffic crisis in ways that actually perpetuate it. Most projects being planned and developed in fast growing areas build in automobile dependency, which leads to congested arteries which results in cries to reduce densities of development, which in turn creates greater dependency on automobiles (Porter1987:34 cited in Kenworthy 1990). Or in other words, Michiel Bliemer from the University of Sydney Institute of Transport & Logistic Studies comments “…quite quickly it will have the phenomenon of induced demand, which is that all the other roads around will become less congested and more attractive to drive on,” he said, which would probably attract public transport users back to their cars.” (Saulwick 2015) This report will look at ways to encourage commuters to adopt more sustainable practices.

King Street is a hub of creativity with a village feel. It has a diverse range of shop fronts leading to a vibrant walkway that flaunts street level cafes, twelvesecond hand stores, music stores, hairdressers, fashion, restaurants, buskers and pubs that add to a great local culture at all hours of the day and night. This goes on to attract people to the area to live, work and play. It is clear that population density will continue to increase in the future and the transport projects that are adopted must reflect the needs of everyone, not just the minority of wealthy car owners. In other words, “The disturbing part about all these trends [WestConnex] is that they are seeking to treat only the symptoms of an ailing transport system”, rather than an open and honest critique of the system via a holistic approach with emphasis on innovative public transport models and walking/bicycling options. (Kenworthy 1990)

thirteen

On a positive note, the WestConnex project has ignited local activism and brought people together to form groups and in doing so, has ensured that the area is teeming with public meetings, conversations in cafes and ways to counter act the planned automobile invasion in order to preserve the local culture of which many are so proud.

As you can see from the map below that outlines the public transport (trains and buses) and bike paths. King Street has 2 train stations on different lines, namely Newtown and St Peters. Additionally there is a bus system that criss-crosses the surrounding areas and 11 different bus routes that move people from Newtown around the city. Coupled with extensive bike lanes, this system has the potential to revolutionise getting around the city. Unfortunately this public transport system is underused because it lacks reliable timetabling that links buses with trains. Wait times are over 10 minutes and the routes lack logical planning, thus leading to many who prefer the convenience of personal automobiles. (see map)

 

 

2.3 Water Use and Management

fourteen

This map outlines a $10.5 million project that captures 850 million litres of stormwater to be harvested and cleaned. This helps to achieve the 2030 target for “10% of water demand to be met through local water capture and reuse.” Additionally, this water will top up Sydney Park wetlands and irrigate, thus enhances the existing environment and improves ecological, environmental sustainability and the magnificence of the 44 hectare park. (http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au)

 

In addition to the specific plan for Sydney Park, the City of Sydney Council aims to ensure ongoing biodiversity as presented in the table below. (City of Sydney Council (2014) Urban Ecology Strategic Action Plan, Chapter 1 Background, Page 10.)

 

 

Category Objectives
Local indigenous vegetation • Protect, expand and improve condition of naturally occurring locally indigenous vegetation, including possible remnants.• Increase the extent of bush restoration sites across the LGA, and maintain sites in good condition.• Re-establish representative patches of the likely original vegetation communities.
Fauna • Protect and enhance sites that provide habitat for priority fauna species.• Increase the distribution and abundance of priority fauna species across the LGA
Habitat connectivity • Improve habitat connectivity across the LGA, particularly between priority sites, and between identified habitat areas in adjoining LGAs.

 

3.6 Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainability in Newtown

Challenges Opportunities
·       Getting people out of cars and either onto public transport or walking/cycling·       Manage eco-efficient energy into residential and commercial buildings·       Embrace an increase in population density·       Encourage people to participate and engage in well designed and planned public spaces ·       Use the local public spaces to enthuse people to adopt sustainable lifestyles·       King Street to accommodate more for the pedestrian than the personal automobile·       Education as a tool to facilitate more sustainable practices

 

  1. The Vision

The vision for King Street in Newtown is one where pedestrians

  • feel safe
  • can engage in a range of outdoor public spaces
  • can travel quickly from one end of King street to the other
  • can travel quickly throughout Sydney as a whole
  • are informed of sustainable energy options
  • embrace the physical environment and network/share ideas without the over use of social media
  • all urban space used for a purpose with no wasted space

fifteen

In every city, public spaces, or the lack of them, instil either an idea of safety, independence and interest or as somewhere unattractive and to be avoided. Whilst Newtown is an example of a localised mixed walking, transit and automobile area, King Street is also a major thoroughfare for many daily commutes. The automobile city, according to Schiller, Bruun & Kenworthy, encourages “gated, unfriendly human environments that are the logical extension or expression of a declining public realm.” (2010:14) In Newtown, and King Street in particular, there are 12 pubs, with 13 more within a 15 minute walk. (see map)

Additionally, as you can see from the image on the right from timeout.com.au that King Street and its surrounds is literally studded with a myriad of small bars, restaurants cafes and boutique stores. “Streets with active frontages such as ground-floor commercial uses are also important in making streets feel safer and encouraging pedestrian activity.” (Rudlin & Falk 1999:155) This adds to the feel of the area and whilst King Street is a thoroughfare for daily commutes, it is also a busy area for those who live, work, study, eat, shop and socialise in Newtown.

 

There is a diverse range of opportunities to actively participate in the local Newtown sixteencommunity, and a range of ways to get to King Street. The WestConnex roadway sees a push for more cars to bring people to enjoy Newtown rather than use public transport. This has ramifications in regards to safety, parking, noise pollution and the ‘feel’ of the area. Additionally, “Like the motel room, the parked car was a new kind of domestic space, a mobile extension of the living room.” (Davidson 2004:103) So while it could be appealing for people to have this extended living room in Newtown, it also lacks the community feeling and limits the participation in street foods, buskers and other often hidden gems only found through a casual stroll or bike ride.

It is this point that lends our prerogative to create or in this case, preserve the social spaces on King Street. In the Scientific American journal it reads “The most hopeful impact of city life may be its effect on the mind. Humans are social animals; we draw stimulation from other minds close at hand… Technology is reshaping city life and making it more intellectually productive, but it will not soon replace the easy interchange of ideas that comes from casual proximity, the cornerstone of city life.” (—– 2011:40) One could argue that King Street may be at risk of losing this with the introduction of increased urban density, more traffic and congestion, however I argue that increased population, along with careful planning, will lead to a more vibrant, diverse Newtown with further potential to add to the rich social tapestry.

  1. The New Plan

4.1 Reducing automobile dependency

As mentioned earlier, urban population density invites opportunities to move away from car usage into adopting more planned walking and public transport to get around. “Coordinating walking and cycling with public transport enhances the benefits of all three modes, encouraging more walking and cycling as well as more public transport use.” (Brons et al., 2009; Givoni and Rietveld, 2007; Hegger, 2007; Martens, 2004 and 2007; Pucher and Buehler, 2009; TRB, 2005; U.S DOT, 1998 cited in Pucher and Buehler 2010:16) As it stands, King Street lacks the coordination of these methods and so coupled with ongoing funding of road projects, it seems to act to move away from sustainable methods to get around the city.

One way to reduce automobile dependency in Newtown, would be to introduce a $2 toll from 7am to 9am on weekday mornings. As per the RMS calculations, this would raise $4000 per day or $20000 per week. This toll, due to population growth, increased urban density and WestConnex, would only make more and more money that would be used to fund a range of local sustainability projects, educational workshops and community events; and would act to dissuade people from using their cars, instead, coupled with planned and logical public transport, encourage ongoing lifestyle choices that benefit individuals, families and the community.

Education is important to seeing long term sustainable lifestyles adopted by local residents. “Education and training programs can help to overcome barriers to the market acceptance of energy efficiency.” (Hennessy 2008:31-32) Here we see people not only adopting sustainable lifestyles and habits as mentioned in this report, but also understanding why these new ways of doing things are so important.

King Street is congested with commuters during peak hour and so parking is restricted to allow for 4 lanes of traffic rather than just 2. A fast bus that ran every 5 to 6 minutes could be used by closing the outside lanes and would ferry people from the south end to the north where they could walk, take a train or another bus to complete their journey.

Outside of the peak hour times, cars race through King Street as it is used as a thoroughfare. To slow down these motorists and encourage them to enjoyseventeen what King Street has to offer, traffic calming techniques such as pedestrian islands or reduced speed limits, would go on to create a more pedestrian and bicycle friendly environment. Additionally, according to Newman & Kenworthy, “Traffic calming’s major objectives are to:

  • Reduce the severity and number of accidents in the urban area
  • Reduce local air and noise pollution and vehicle fuel consumption
  • Improve the urban street environment for non-car users
  • Reduce the car’s dominance on roads by reclaiming road space for living space
  • Reduce the barrier effects of motor traffic on pedestrian and cycle movement, and Enhance local economic activity by creating a better environment for people” (Newman & Kenworthy 1999:146)

eighteenThe quiet streets around King Street are already being transformed into pedestrian friendly havens and there are businesses that are thriving due to the increased traffic of people on foot.

Techniques used to make walking or riding more attractive include reduced speed limits, one way streets and pedestrian/bicycle only walkways.

 

 

nineteen

Community engagement and interaction is evident in a number of community gardens and workshops that are run in the Newtown area. All space in twentyurban areas should be used for a good reason. “… the planners’ approach must incorporate some more radical visions of compact land use patterns both in developing areas and through selective infill and redevelopment in older areas.” (Kenworthy 1999) Here we see a block of land used to grow food, bring people together and create a local economy whereby people share ideas and support each other to create depth and meaning in their sustainable lifestyle choices.

This is supported by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage who state that “The sustainable city of the future will integrate the built and natural environments” (2003:4) and all space will be used for a purpose leading to increased urban density and the ability to walk, ride or take public transport in order to, for example, grow food, harvest urban gardens, sell or barter the food, collect food scraps from local restaurants, compost these food scraps and so on. The specifics of these ideas are based on the particular area because cities are individual and have their own personalities. As Hook (2007) puts it, “if you have money, you go to a tailor where the clothes are custom fit. You look better, you feel more comfortable… what is needed… is a tailor for the streets.” (2007:3) In saying this, some initiatives will work and others will not. What works in one city may not be taken up in another for whatever reason. The underlying idea here is that people should remain vigilant and confident to try new things, innovate and create based on careful planning and refinement of ventures, or that instead of a one size fits all approach to sustainable cities, we should look at ways to customise in regards to the people, culture and opportunities.

4.2 Re-designing the current urban form

There are many things that have been mentioned in this report that lead to a positive outlook for Newtown to continue with further urban density, twentyonecommunity participation, public transport and reduction of automobiles. However there is still some room for improvement.

  • The abolishment of the WestConnex roadway to reduce road traffic ( http://www.jamieparker.org)
  • $2 toll during 7am and 9am to reduce peak traffic and encourage the use of public transport
  • Bus lanes on King Street instead of 4 lanes of congestion during peak times
  • twentythreeTraffic calming in back streets to promote walking or riding, and the introduction of new business, cafes etc. to line these streets.
  • Tram lines in line with 1961 Sydney tram system to link Newtown with the Eastern Suburbs via Randwick, and the Western Suburbs via Leichardt and Parramatta Road. (See tram map from 1961 and tram lines still exposed in a road in Glebe Point Road between Newtown and Leichardt – (http://www.bondivillage.com/tramsyd.htm)
  • Empty space to be used in a variety of ways including the old 1961 tram sheds to be used to service new trams, empty lots fortwentytwo community gardens that foster a sense of ownership and responsibility for the area.

Conclusion

It is clear that for sustainable design to be successfully implemented into Newtown, there must be collaboration between major infrastructure developments and local community groups. This will ensure that each project reaches its potential to service the public now and into the future. Newtown was a great area for this report due to the passion displayed by all people that I spoke to, the quality of the local projects and the desire to achieve sustainable lifestyles for all.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) http://stat.abs.gov.au/itt/r.jsp?RegionSummary&region=117031332&dataset=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&geoconcept=REGION&measure=MEASURE&datasetASGS=ABS_REGIONAL_ASGS&datasetLGA=ABS_REGIONAL_LGA&regionLGA=REGION&regionASGS=REGION accessed 5/7/15

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) http://profile.id.com.au/sydney/population?WebID=210 accessed 5/7/15

Barley S. (2010) Escape to the City. New Scientist. November 6, pp 32-35

City of Sydney (2014) Urban Ecology Strategic Action Plan, Chapter 1 Background, Page 10.

Davison G. (2004) Car Wars. How the Car Won our Hearts and Conquered our Cities. Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest. Chapter 4: The New Landscape

GoGet Car Share (2015) http://www.goget.com.au/about-us/our-story/, accessed 15/7/15

Hennesy K. (2008) Climate Change. Chapter 2 in Newton P.W. (Ed) Transitions: Pathways towards Sustainable Urban Development in Australia. CSIRO, Collingwood

Hook W. (2007) Well-Tailored Cities. Sustainable Transport. No 19, Fall

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage (2003) Sustainable Cities 2025 Discussion Paper. Environment and Heritage Committee, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra.

Kenworthy J. (1990) Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Transport Planner (Apologies to Elton John). In Newman P., Kenworthy J., and Lyons T. Transport Energy Conservation Policies for Australian Cities: Strategies for Reducing Automobile Dependence. ISTP, Murdoch University, Perth.

La’Rance, D. (2015) http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/vision/better-infrastructure/parks-and-playgrounds/sydney-park accessed 2/7/15

Newman P., Kenworthy J. (1999) Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence. Island Press, Washington (DC). Chapter 4: A Vision of Reduced Automobile Dependence. Pp. 128-162

Parker, J (2015) http://www.jamieparker.org/tags/westconnex, accessed 14/7/15

Penalosa E. (2002) Urban Transport and Urban Development. Presentation to the World Bank Urban Forum, Washington (DC), April 2-3

Pucher J., Buehler R. (2010) Walking and Cycling for Healthy Cities. Built Environment. Vol. 36 (4) December.

Rudlin D., & Falk N. (1999) Building the 21st Century Home. The sustainable Urban Neighbourhood. Architectural Press, Oxford. Chapter 10: The Eco-Neighbourhood

Saulwick, J. (2015) http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/sydney-traffic-secret-westconnex-documents-show-worse-congestion-after-toll-road-20150525-gh980u.html accessed 5/7/15

Schiller P.L., Bruun E.C., Kenworthy J.R. (2010) An introduction to Sustainable Transportation. Earthscan, London. Pp. 7-21

Time Out (2014) http://www.au.timeout.com/sydney/area-guide/newtown/8, accessed 2/8/15

Unknown (2011) Street-Savvy. Scientific American. September. Pp 39-41

Unknown (2012) http://www.sydneymedia.com.au/from-kangaroos-to-craft-beer-newtown-turns-150/, December 11th accessed 14/7/15

 

<Back