With its landscape architecture by Clouston Associates, The Ponds, in Western Sydney, is a benchmark sustainable residential development by Landcom and Australand. Its 3,000 residential lots and over 80 hectares of parkland integrates rehabilitation of the creek and bushland in a residential context, with district and community-focused public recreation facilities.
The Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney to 2031 (New South Wales Department of Planning and Infrastructure, 2013) predicts that by 2031 Sydney’s population will have increased by 1.3 million, requiring 545,000 new residences. While a substantial amount of new housing will become available through the redevelopment of Sydney’s older middle suburbs, most is expected to arise in new developments in the city’s north-west and south-west sectors.
Anticipating this additional population at the urban periphery, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure is implementing the long-discussed North West Rail Link to provide essential public transport to that region. The strategy flags a need to balance new housing with maintaining the agricultural lands that produce a significant proportion of Sydney’s fresh food.
UrbanGrowth NSW is the state agency charged with facilitating delivery of land and new residential development. It assembles and prepares land for development, working with developers and local councils to plan, design and build residential communities. Its website (urbangrowthnsw.com.au) features some twenty current projects. The Ponds exemplifies the scale and character of residential development at Sydney’s periphery.
Located in the Blacktown local government area and covering 320 hectares, The Ponds is planned for moderate-income families, comprising 3200 residential lots and including two schools, a community resource hub, a waterfront community centre, and seven thousand square metres of retail space. The site includes about eighty hectares of open space, comprising playing field complexes, playgrounds and lawn areas. Almost half of the open space (forty hectares) is the riparian corridor of Second Ponds Creek, which traverses the site and provides a focus for the landscape development.
UrbanGrowth NSW’s development director (north-west sector) Carmen Osborne believes a significant achievement of the project has been turning the degraded riparian corridor into high-quality open space. She notes, “The value of the central parklands corridor was evident from the initial masterplan stage of the project. It is not just parklands, but an overlapping series of uses including trunk drainage, ecological corridor, recreation zone and flood mitigation area.”
The Ponds has been one of the fastest selling new residential projects in Sydney over the past several years. “The open space has been central to the marketing of the project, featuring in imagery and text, and demonstrating how residents will be able to engage with the parkland setting. It is definitely a value-add. People are attracted to it,” says Osborne.
Construction of the open spaces was carried out early in the project so prospective buyers could visualize how the site’s landscape would evolve. Osborne says people are choosing their locations in relation to the central parklands and the opportunity they provide for an active lifestyle. With this, a key aim of the landscape architects is on its way to being realized – connecting people and places across the creek and integrating the parklands into the life of the community.
Martin O’Dea, associate director at Clouston Associates, says the firm has been working on The Ponds since 2006, following corridor masterplanning work by Hassell in 2005, and delivering thirty-eight separate commissions, including signage and a site interpretation program. From the outset, Clouston articulated design principles that guided its work: creating memorable experiences focused on the creek, establishing strong geometries and clear design language, ensuring easy access along and across the creek, and providing places for people to play, interact in and learn about their community’s unique environmental setting.
Underpinning the landscape planning and design is a commitment to best-practice sustainability measures. The project’s Cumberland Plain landscape setting, a highly valued and endangered ecosystem of the Sydney Basin, presents distinctive opportunities and challenging constraints, requiring sensitivity throughout the planning, design and construction phases. The water-quality management system of rain gardens, wetlands and ponds, and the clearly delineated public/private open spaces, minimize encroachment of the more intensively managed landscapes into the surrounding bushland.
Using “managed lawns” in specific locations throughout the development provides desired recreation space, and the lawns are “structured geometric spaces that, as the bushland edges re-establish, will give the central corridor lawn spaces the appearance of having been ‘carved out’ of the surrounding vegetation,” says O’Dea.
Housing Sydney’s increasing population requires more than building new houses. Strategies to do so need to sensitively integrate these new communities into the landscape of Sydney’s urban periphery. At The Ponds, UrbanGrowth NSW’s commitment to working with landscape architects over the long-term increases the chances of meeting their goal to “leave a legacy for the community.”
The Ponds was the winner of the UDIA Austral Bricks 2012 Awards for Excellence in Residential Development.