Since 2016, a group of local residents led by Joan Street, David Bowman and Ian Mutton has been campaigning to turn an 1890s railway track lining the southeastern shore into the Sydney Harbour High Line. The High Line, which is currently in a costing stage, is a proposed landscaped corridor linking Lavender Bay with nearby Waverton Park and Balls Head Reserve. Along with a commitment by the New South Wales Government to invest AU$290 million in green infrastructure, it’s part of a recent movement to make Sydney’s natural assets more accessible and democratic.
“The [Sydney] Harbour, for all of its magnificence, actually divides the city, and there are so many parks that overlook the water that are isolated. When people forget about these places, they are lost,” explains Mutton, who becomes increasingly animated as he speaks about the project. “We’re looking for a way to connect these harbourside parks and give them back to the community. The Sydney Harbour High Line ends with a vision of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden. It integrates all these places into something that’s truly exciting.”
Change is also afoot in the city centre. These days, a walk down Hickson Road near Wynyard railway station is soundtracked by whirring cranes and the chatter of construction workers. With a 5.1 million-strong population that’s growing by 100,000 each year, Australia’s biggest metropolis is undergoing a development boom – and the need for public parks and greener spaces has never been more compelling.
Just this April, the Government announced plans to plant five million new trees by 2030, expanding the city’s urban tree canopy from 16.8% to 40%. For Anthony Roberts, the New South Wales Minister for Planning, this will help ensure a high quality of life for the future. Having easy access to green spaces is doubly important for millennial Sydneysiders for whom rising property prices have meant that the Australian Dream looks more like a shoebox-sized apartment than a sprawling house with a spacious backyard.
“A planned network of parks, rivers, bushlands and street trees are as crucial to cities as transport, schools and roads,” offers Roberts, an outspoken advocate for natural spaces in Sydney. His passion for green infrastructure is also reflected in plans to invest millions in further developing the 5,280ha Western Sydney Parklands, a nature reserve that might soon become Australia’s largest urban park. “A tree canopy combats heatwaves in our suburbs, lowers energy bills by providing shade and is a habitat for native birds,” he adds. “According to the World Cities Culture Forum, Sydney already ranks third in the world when it comes to open green space. But I want us to be first.”