People’s Choice Awards: The beaches, baths and bike trails transforming Sydney

Walkers on the Cronulla esplanade stop to enjoy the sunrise over north Cronulla beach.Picture: John Veage
Walkers on the Cronulla esplanade stop to enjoy the sunrise over north Cronulla beach.Picture: John Veage

For the fourth year in a row, Sydneysiders are being asked to vote on which ugly duckling public spaces have been quietly transformed into swans.

The inaugural Premier's People's Choice Awards for landscape architecture will be decided on by a vote by Domain and Sydney Morning Herald readers and revealed on Friday September 11 and the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at the UTS Business School.

"All of the entrants are spaces that were underutilised, ugly and have been repurposed for the specific use of the public and to beautify the environment around it," said Catherine Scheen​​ of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), which sponsors the award with the government.

The six short-listed for the award include the UTS Alumni Green, Wylde​ Mountain Bike Trail, the Glebe Foreshore Upgrade, Merewether Ocean Baths Redevelopment, Taronga Zoo Education Centre and the Cronulla esplanade and seawall upgrade.

Last year the cleverly designed Lemur playground at Taronga Zoo took out the top gong.

The VIP Taronga Zoo Education Centre salvaged existing structures and repurposed materials where possible.

The VIP Taronga Zoo Education Centre salvaged existing structures and repurposed materials where possible.

The year before that Livvi's Place Inclusive Playground in Ryde was the people's favourite, while in 2012 Lizard Log in western Sydney took out top spot.

The value of parks and green space in our cities is crucial to the community," said Ms Scheen​.

This year the nominated projects have a similar theme, such as the UTS Alumni Green, which looks to provide both public open space and an "oasis at the heart of the campus" with The Green, The Heart and The Garden.

Some, such as the Taronga Zoo Education Centre, were done on a small budget, repurposing materials and structures.

Others were done with a significant outlay, such as the Glebe Foreshore Upgrade, which was part of a $20 million project involving five stages over 10 years. It includes a new sea wall with habitat shelves where crustaceans can repopulate.

The Cronulla Esplanade and Seawall upgrade focused on involving the area's history into the design, as well as providing an area for visitors to recline and sunbathe.

Similarly, Merewether's Ocean Baths Redevelopment, originally constructed in 1935 and the largest ocean baths in NSW, went through a significant upgrade. This included changes to the access of the baths, ensuring safety and experience for children and the re-creation of the starting blocks – iconic for the location.

The Wylde Mountain Bike Trail was nominated for providing a BMX and Mountain Biking experience within the parklands with jump runs, a mountain bike course and pump tracks. The redevelopment has the potential to reinvigorate visitors to the area and for the site to potentially be used for biking events.

The institute says these six nominees are just the tip of the iceberg for what could be done in Sydney.

The AILA made a submission in August to Infrastructure Australia's 15 Year Infrastructure Plan for Australia, calling for a number of initiatives, including a National Green Infrastructure Strategy and a national green infrastructure training program.

Chief executive of the AILA, Shahana​ McKenzie, said it was an opportunity for the government to "reprioritise outdoor spaces like parks, streetscapes and public precincts to support healthier modes of transport that enable our population to be more active."

Ms Scheen​ said landscape architecture affects every part of city life. "It's what defines a city, it's where we meet, gather and travel," she said.

"It's so important because it's about the liveability of our city – the experience between leaving home and getting to work."

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