Getting on board the TODs Train

From the FJ Holden to the Ford Falcon, Australia has had a long and passionate love affair with the automobile. However, with increased populations and urban activity, Australian cities – in particular, Sydney – are stepping on board the transit-oriented developments (TODs) train.

“I’ve noticed transit-oriented planning has really been at the forefront of the media and press lately, people are starting to understand that we need to be investing in the future,” Anna Robinson, Associate at Hames Sharley, said.

In urban design and planning, TODs are essentially self-contained and self-sufficient communities, developed around significant, high-frequency transport nodes.

TODs are used as a tool to not only create density and encourage transport usage and capacity but also to make the urban form more efficient.

In Australia, Hames Sharley is considered a thought leader in transit integration, responsible for developing Subiaco Square – the first TOD in Western Australia.

Cara Westerman, Associate Director at Hames Sharley, said TODs are used as a tool to not only create density and encourage the use of transport but to integrate the two – so when you plan, you plan for both.

When thinking about the most successful TODs, Cara refers back to the three Ds – density, diversity, and design.

“Density doesn’t mean tall buildings, it has to be a dense environment making use of a small space, in terms of diversity, you have to incorporate mixed-use buildings to create interest by night and by day,” she said.

“Importantly, when it comes to design, you have to think about how the development will interface with the public realm, enable walkability and safety, comfort and inclusivity.”

Anna Robinson, who is currently working on the Sydney Metro Northwest Project agrees.

“Hames Sharley has been working on the Showground Station Master Plan as part of the Sydney Metro project for about a year,” she said. “The firm’s role is to think broadly about how space will be used, who will use it, and to set-up guidelines for how the site should be developed over the next five to ten years.

While the Sydney Metro will deliver eight new railway stations, from Rouse Hill to the Chatswood Interchange, Hames Sharley’s task is to master plan the land above and around the Showground Station, in the Hills District, which is currently being tunnelled.

The design will make use of the land bought for the train to travel under and will incorporate commercial, retail and a large component of residential properties.

“The project is a classic TOD because it’s all about integrating community with transport and transport with the community – building the two together,” Anna said.

“It’s going to completely change the way people see and approach public transport.

“The Hills District sprung up in the 1990s and has never had strong transport, there were limited buses into and out of the city, so everyone used cars.

“In contrast, the Metro will take a more European approach to transit, with trains every three to four minutes.”

At the forefront of the design concept is retaining the identity of the surrounding Showground and its context. Anna said there is a distinct topography in the district and the design will incorporate this.

“Our role as urban planners and designers is figuring out how to maximise the environment and maintain the identity of the Hills District, using the green, leafy environment and the Showground itself as inspiration,” she said.

The Hills Showground Station project – a partnership between UrbanGrowth NSW and Transport for NSW – will be launched in 2018.

From the northern suburbs to the heart of Sydney’s CBD, another renewed approached to transport and urban planning is taking place, with a $2 billion, 12-kilometre light railway planned for George Street.

“Our office overlooks George Street, where they’ve now closed one block in preparation for the construction of the light rail project that will run from Circular Quay, down George Street, to Central Station,” Anna said.

“There are no longer any buses on George Street, which has already changed the way it feels and how people use the space – it was eerily quiet for the first week.”

The government’s investment in the light rail corridor has spurred confidence amongst developers with over $25 billion worth of development occurring along the corridor between Circular Quay and Town Hall and a further $35 billion worth of investment in the pipeline.

Included in George Street’s redevelopment will be hotel accommodation, which Anna said there is an ever-growing need for in Sydney, especially with the new convention centre under construction. Retail, residential and commercial buildings will also add to the city’s skyline.

While it’s not something new to urban planners, state and federal government support means that TODs are becoming much more prevalent in today’s urban environments. Creating a whole centre and place around transport, so that it becomes one of the mechanisms for activating a space, rather than just a sideline.

“TODs should really be part of our everyday practice, it’s funny that it’s still seen as a specialist field,” Anna said.

“The good news is, it’s not just urban planners and designers who are talking about it now, we have a Minister for Cities in our Federal Government who is thinking about urban planning and transit in a broader way – so, the future is certainly bright.”

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