By Anna Robinson, Associate Director, Urban Design

Has your relationship with your local street, park, library or town centre changed since the coronavirus pandemic? Many of us have spent more time in our local community – I certainly have, and somewhat serendipitously, I’ve been working on an initiative to help citizens share their brilliant ideas about public space.

The Public Space Ideas Competition (PSIC) is an opportunity to reimagine, inspire, create, include and bring awareness to great public spaces across Sydney. I’ve been involved in the development of the competition in partnership with the Committee for Sydney and the NSW Government. It’s being supported by AECOM, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and the Sydney Morning Herald – and it’s finally live!

We first conceived the idea for the competition in early 2020 with the intention of elevating the conversation about public space – why does public space matter, what makes great public space and how can we be creating better public space in our cities and for our communities? Then, the coronavirus pandemic struck.

We wondered whether people would have the headspace to think about taking part in an ideas competition while in lockdown. Then I realised from a personal perspective, my views about public space and the way I was using it had dramatically changed. No longer experiencing incidental exercise – walking from home to the bus stop, or wandering around the city at lunchtime – I found myself exploring my local neighbourhood with renewed vigour, going on short walks around the block and long walks through Flat Rock Creek to Tunks Park (sometimes with headphones in, trying not to be too breathless on calls).

We discussed whether we should still go ahead with the competition and there was universal agreement – now, more than ever before, public space matters!

The competition defines public space as comprising three components, each unique in their own right and each contributing to the urban and natural ecosystem of our cities:

  • Streets allow people to get to the places they need to get to; through walking, running and cycling for passive and active recreation. Tree-lined streets provide opportunities for shade, urban canopy and biodiversity; while outdoor dining areas provide opportunities for social interaction and generate income for local businesses.
  • Open spaces include parks, playgrounds, sports fields, harbourfronts and riverfronts. They enable formal and informal play, sports and recreation, from bushwalks to swimming to Saturday morning sport. They contribute to our sense of community and the identity of place. Equitable access to and provision of open spaces are both critical to the health and wellbeing of our cities, our environment and our people.
  • Public facilities comprise free libraries, galleries, museums, community centres and showgrounds. They offer cultural, educational and social experiences; they are places for people to meet, collaborate, learn, share ideas and inspire one another. As our cities expand and the world becomes more connected, public facilities are the local heart of our communities both physically and, in more recent times, virtually.

Together, this network of streets, open spaces and public facilities positively contribute to our physical and mental wellbeing. In the last couple of months, I have realised just how much social, environmental and economic benefit they provide for us all – and just how much we miss them when we are enduring a period of isolation or lockdown. One silver lining of this pandemic and the associated restrictions on public space is that it has reminded people just how reliant we are on having convenient access to public space and the social interactions that occur there.

While I can’t enter the competition myself, I am excited to receive your brilliant ideas for the three types of public spaces outlined above. There are a number of award categories for you to consider covering open space, facilities, streets, low cost or temporary space and best resilient space idea. In addition there are four special awards which will see the Minister for Planning and Public space choose his favourite entry, an award for the best entry from a student, a children and your people award and finally the people’s choice award that will be chosen by readers of the Sydney Morning Herald.

I hope I’ve inspired you to have a say in the future of public space in our cities and I’d encourage everyone to submit their ideas, no matter how small or large. For further information, please visit Entries close at midnight AEST on Friday 28 August 2020.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the winning ideas are in October!

Anna Robinson is an Associate Director in AECOM’s Design + Planning team and is based in Sydney.

Back to the PSIC landing page.


Banner Image – White Bay Power Station: This public space concept design was prepared for White Bay Power Station, part of The Bays Precinct in Sydney, and it represents a vibrant, active and healthy space enabling interaction and recreation for employees, residents and visitors. (Source: AECOM in partnership with Avenor and Kann Finch)