Central Park Sydney: A development that communicates with the community

Feb 6, 2013 | Civilisation, Columnist, Creativity

Lisa McCutchion, Group Marketing Manager of Frasers Property Australia, shares with us Frasers’ efforts in embracing community consultation and engagement to transform sites like Sydney’s Central Park into icons of 21st century living while maintaining its unique heritage and culture.

1.5km west of Sydney’s Town Hall is a 5.8 hectares large site in Chippendale. For 150 years, the old Kent Brewery stood over a surrounding suburb known for its quirky and slightly aloof character. Frasers Property acquired the site in 2007, creating a mixed-use urban village that redefined Sydney’s downtown. Central Park is now one of Sydney’s up and coming swanky addresses, characterised by global design collaborations, industry-leading green infrastructure and generous arts initiatives.

The Columnist (TC): Chippendale is a suburb known for its slightly quirky and aloof character. What was your focus and approach when redeveloping the Old Kent Brewery site? Why did you take that approach?

Lisa McCutchion (LM): Frasers Property started work on Central Park by listening carefully to our neighbours and studying the existing social context, architecture and culture. We had purchased the site with an approved development masterplan in place, but we felt it didn’t serve the neighbourhood well. This was confirmed as we undertook our listening process and got to the heart of what as meaningful to the existing community: access and permeability, open space, culture and the arts, and a connected community.

Consequently, we re-designed the development masterplan to deliver a very large public park at the heart of Central Park and immediately began a multi-million dollar, multi-faceted arts programme which has defined the personality of the precinct.

We continue to listen carefully to the local community, and we’re delighted to sponsor and support Chippendale’s blossoming creative businesses.

A 5.8 hectares development that took over the site of the old Kent Brewery. Photo: Frasers

A 5.8 hectares development that took over the site of the old Kent Brewery. Photo: Frasers

TC: Even before the construction works began, Frasers initiated conversations with the local community, seeking their opinions on the development’s masterplan. Why did Frasers feel the need to do so?

LM: The need to listen before acting is of paramount importance on projects of this scale and sensitivity. By engaging both supporters and detractors in genuine, ongoing discussion, we quickly establish the key issues and establish a respectful and open context for what can otherwise be a fraught planning process.

Listening to the local community reveals the personality of the neighbourhood, suggests priorities for our development strategy and sets a tone of voice for ongoing dialogue with local residents; in this case, it revealed a keen interest in creativity, culture and the arts.

As we approach completion of our first residential tower, five years after purchasing the site, we see Central Park as a youthful place, open-hearted and accessible, generous in its green initiatives, with a unique creative spark. These defining values are drawn directly from our understanding of this neighbourhood and its place in Sydney’s green, connected future.

Members of the Sydney community were asked to share their dreams for the future of the city. The group of visionaries included the Vice-Chancellor and President University of Technology, Sydney, cafe-owners, design and art studios, students and locals. Photo: Central Park Sydney website

Members of the Sydney community were asked to share their dreams for the future of the city. The group of visionaries included the Vice-Chancellor and President University of Technology, Sydney, cafe-owners, design and art studios, students and locals. Photo: Central Park Sydney website

TC: What were some of the challenges that Frasers faced running the community engagement programs? What were some of the positive outcomes?

LM: At the time Frasers purchased the Central Park site, both local government and the local community felt disenfranchised and disappointed by the planning process, which had been hotly contested. Frasers’ first steps were to identify the strongest dissenting voices and to bring them closer to the planning process. This may seem counter-intuitive and it is certainly time-consuming, but in our experience respectful communication with strongly dissenting parties quickly improves overall community satisfaction with the planning process.

In the year following Frasers’ purchase of the site, we provided private and public briefings, site tours, heritage tours, information days and a two-day community design charette with our international masterplanning architects. We also launched ‘FraserStudios’, a community arts space located in an otherwise vacant warehouse within the development site, providing free visual arts studios and rehearsal space and a rich programme of community events, exhibitions and open days. FraserStudios closed in June 2012 after almost four years, having hosted 120 visual artists and over 20,000 performance artists – an extraordinarily successful community engagement which set a positive tone for the entire precinct.

Launch of FraserStudio 30 days & 30 nights, a festival of exhibitions, performances and workshops for entire month of June 2012. Photo: Rhys Morris

Launch of FraserStudio 30 days & 30 nights, a festival of exhibitions, performances and workshops for entire month of June 2012. Photo: Rhys Morris

FraserStudios aimed to add to the cultural life of Chippendale with an emphasis on local community development and engagement through a diversity of art form practises and skill development programs.

FraserStudios aimed to add to the cultural life of Chippendale with an emphasis on local community development and engagement through a diversity of art form practises and skill development programs.

TC: As a 5.8 hectare, $2 billion new urban precinct at the edge of Sydney’s CBD, how would you expect Central Park to affect the City of Sydney and its real estate market?

LM: Central Park’s A$2 billion redevelopment will re-define the southern gateway to Sydney’s CBD, delivering around 2200 apartments, 50,000sqm of commercial space, a major retail centre and public parkland. We call it Sydney’s new ‘Downtown’, a key component of Sydney’s expanding CBD footprint, which will house 4000 residents, 6000 workers and innumerable visitors when completed.

Across the road, the University of Technology Sydney is undertaking a A$1 billion redevelopment of its city campus, with extraordinary new buildings by Frank Gehry and Denton Corker Marshall. Collectively, these works have a construction value of A$1.5 billion.

Ten years ago, a stroll down Broadway took you past the tall fences of a vast brewery, gated and austere, resonant with the aroma of hops. Today, it’s one of Sydney’s largest construction sites, with the raw steel framework of an extraordinary cantilevered heliostat extending from the 29th level of Jean Nouvel’s residential tower. The same stroll in 2015 will be a profoundly different experience, indeed.

One Central Park viewed from Chippendale Green. Photo: Frasers

One Central Park viewed from Chippendale Green. Photo: Frasers

TC: The concept of Place Making is increasingly popular in real estate developments. What have you observed are the possible pitfalls of such developments and what actions have Frasers taken to avoid them in Central Park?

LM: Thoughtful place making is an essential ingredient in contemporary property development, influencing decisions at every stage of the development process. New precincts need to reference the social and architectural context into which they are placed and provide meaningful amenities to these communities.

Delivered well, these new precincts are magnetic places with heart and character, and we are confident that Central Park will be one such place. With Jean Nouvel, Lord Norman Foster, Patrick Blanc, Jeppe Andersen and Australia’s greatest architects on our team, Central Park is an unprecedented collaboration between the very best designers in the world, with the common goal of creating an extraordinary place for the people of Sydney.

TC: Which city or place holds the most meaning to you? Why?

LM: Just around the corner from Central Park in Chippendale is Myrtle Street, a residential street lined with 100 year old bald-faced terrace houses, typical of inner city Sydney. Following the passion of local sustainability advocate, Michael Mobbs, the residents of Myrtle Street have dug up the cement verges of their street and planted an abundant edible garden, filled with fruit trees, vegetables and native bush foods, which they tend together as a community. It’s a patch of wild green wonder in the heart of a city. To my mind, Myrtle Street is in conversation with the extraordinary vertical gardens we have just planted on the facades of One Central Park.

This interview was conducted for The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Consulus.