Better streets are leading to a better quality of life

As the pandemic reframes how we think about our cities, the design feasibility of various strategies to pedestrianize streets has been widely debated. A somewhat surprising benefit of the Covid-19 lockdown has been the reduction of car usage on city streets and the renewed appreciation for urban streets as public and pleasant assets to be enjoyed by people.

Inspired to explore this idea further Woods Bagot focuses its attentions on the cosmopolitan city of Sydney and proposes some bold strategies for the city. The research then goes on to explore the impact of those strategies from a city-wide planning and placemaking perspective. Sampling 11 LGAs in Sydney, can we establish if a New State of Wellness for New South Whales will not only influence the livability and aesthetics of our neighborhoods but also the economic wellbeing of our citizens?

The impact of reducing cars in Sydney could provide life satisfaction benefits up to $2.9 billion in value and solve the NSW Premier’s priority to increase people’s access to green space, asserts a report released today. Streets Ahead: A New State of Wellness is a place study on the potential impact of reducing cars in Sydney. The study by Woods Bagot examined the bold proposition to close quiet community streets but retain main thoroughfares, allowing closed streets to become vibrant places for local communities by creating more space for parks, playgrounds and market gardens.

A global architecture studio Woods Bagot interrogated the possibility of increasing and diversifying use of green space and modelled the impact on people and households across broader Sydney. The research and analysis were done by Woods Bagot’s head of impact valuation Meg Bartholomew.

“A surprising benefit of the Covid-19 lockdown is that urban streets got quieter and more pleasant. Cities around the world are now introducing measures to retain a more peaceful state,” said Ms Bartholomew. “Our study shows what a strategy for Sydney could look like, at a micro and macro level.”

Talk to Sarah Kay about Better streets are leading to a better quality of life

Critically, the scalable, place-based methodology can be applied to inform governments and communities with measurable impacts of proposed changes. Sampling 11 inner local government areas, the study shows that closing quiet streets could take up to 100,000 cars off the road – resulting in almost $1.3 billion in yearly household savings. Additionally, the reduction in paved surfaces could give way valuable space to plant approximately 80,000 new trees.

Woods Bagot principal and regional transport leader for Australia and New Zealand John Prentice points to examples where both efficiency and experience for public transport commuters are improved by street closures.

“At Woods Bagot we’re interested in the vitally important design of ‘first and last mile’ experiences in our cities and neighbourhoods, which help create enjoyable and efficient public transportation to reduce cars on our streets. The pedestrianisation of Chalmers Street and a new entry as part of Central Station’s redevelopment will make it faster and friendlier for PT users, as did closing a lane off Napoleon Street for Wynyard Walk (an underground pedestrian concourse linking the Barangaroo waterfront and Wynyard Station in the city),” said Mr Prentice.

Welcoming the report as a valuable contribution to the policy debate, Committee for Sydney’s Director of Policy Eamon Waterford said the Streets Ahead study showed a novel way of delivering the New South Whales Premier’s Priority to increase access to green public space.

“Transforming quiet streets is a wonderful conversation we need to have in Sydney. Turning streets back to space for gardens and children playing would increase the livability of our city,” Mr. Waterford said.
Woods Bagot director Sarah Kay hopes the study will inspire planners and policy makers to support place based approaches as they address issues of urbanization.

“These are big numbers, the types of figures that we don’t typically see. The Streets Ahead report shows how it’s possible to back up bold and progressive propositions with hefty evidence,” Ms. Kay said.
Download the report Streets Ahead: A New State of Wellness.