The Goods Line Returning Power to the Feet of Sydney Citizens

The Goods Line
The Goods Line sits above traffic allowing pedestrians a safe passage across Ultimo | © Gina Robilliard

Completed in 2015, "The Goods Line" is the latest pedestrian network Sydney, designed with the democratic goal of bringing power back to the pedestrian. Once a railway line for the transportation of goods from the harbour to industry hubs, the space is now lined with cafes, study nooks and native greenery. Designed by ASPECT studios, "The Goods Line" pays homage to the area’s roots, allowing original railway lines to dart amongst flowerbeds and industry machinery flanking the path.

Having been closed to the public since 1855, it now services the area’s local residents, students and staff of the nearby University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and workers from the surrounding buildings. Despite being a fairly recent development, come lunch time The Goods Line is buzzing with students sprawled out over the lawn chatting with friends, suits settling down for a bite to eat and visitors practicing their photography skills on the surrounding architecture before venturing off to Darling Harbour. It has been well received by the residents of Sydney, as the area has been in dire need of community space for quite some time.

Frank Gehry’s ‘Crumpled Paper Bag’ Frank Gehry’s ‘Crumpled Paper Bag’ aka The Dr Chau Chak Building, which sits alongside The Goods Line | © Gina Robilliard The Goods Line connects the previously underutilized Southern end of the Central Business District (CBD) to Darling Harbour and rather poetically, Chinatown. The area has placed emphasis on its efforts to accommodate the Chinese Diaspora who come to Sydney for work and education. It has also become a (wheelchair accessible) way-finding tool for tourists navigating their way from Central Station to The Powerhouse Museum. Despite all the technological advancements in urban transportation and Sydney’s major investments in a new tramway line, The Goods Line has been quite deliberately created to increase the city’s ‘walkability’. Author and city planner, Jeff Speck’s theory of ‘Walkable Cities’ contains a set of criteria for how to make an area more enticing to walk through instead of using public transport or a car.
There must be:
A reason for walking
A safe place to walk
A comfortable walk
An interesting walk 

The idea is that walkable cities, as a result, become safer for pedestrians and cyclists, healthier for the community in promoting exercise and assist in tightening community bonds.

Creating a Stickier UTS

Known as the ‘Southern CBD’ the area surrounding The Goods Line has been heavily developed in partnership with the State Government and UTS to create their very own ‘Sticky Campus’. A relatively new concept to university planning, it’s very much the latest buzz word. The Sticky Campus is one created to foster atmosphere through greenery, shade, comfortable seating and cafes. The theory being that students will spend more time on the campus, liaising with staff and fellow students. Communities are subsequently cemented and experiences grounded in university life are far richer.

This is in stark contrast to the original ‘brutalist’ design of the UTS Tower which prominent architect, Frank Gehry has publicly proclaimed to be the ‘‘ugliest building in Sydney’’. Colloquial theories from the University’s architecture students propose that the tower was originally designed to deter students from congregating or protesting political issues. This is because the campus’ design was drafted at a time when student protests in Paris had almost shut down the French capital. The design of Parisian campuses that followed seem to have been subsequently created to have a similar effect to UTS. Gehry has since had the opportunity to make his mark on the campus, offering up the Dr Chau Chak Building, a multi-million dollar installment resembling a crumpled paper bag, which serves as an innovative Business School designed to inspire creative thought.

Nearby street art injects culture into the suburb Nearby street art injects culture into the suburb | © Gina Robilliard Fast forward to the present day and the university’s graduates are envious of the students who have enrolled since the recent updates. Alex, a law and communications graduate expressed disappointment over the lack of outdoor areas to sit and hang out between classes when she studied there between 2009 and 2013. ‘‘There was nowhere to eat so we always ended up going to Dodgy Dumplings’’ says Alex. Officially known as ‘Chinese Noodle House’ the restaurant has become somewhat of an institution to the students of UTS for its hand-made dumplings and severe lack of competition. Current students are far more impressed with what the campus has to offer. Ben has been studying business at UTS since before the renovations were completed. A resident of beachside Manly, he regularly opts to hang out at The Goods Line because of the peaceful atmosphere and concentration of natural light, which he says is a rarity in Sydney’s CBD. At the time of interview, he was catching up with a friend who joked that this was the only place to pin him down for a chat.

The Biophilic Citizen

The importance of exposure to nature and natural light for urban residents and students has been studied extensively in recent years. It has been linked to boosted productivity and an increase in sense of wellbeing according to a study published in 2014 by Exeter University that spanned ten years of research. What’s more, in 2016 the World Health Organization has dedicated an online dossier to ‘The New Urban Agenda’, which examines how policies promoting ‘‘Equitable access to parks and green spaces [are] conducive to good mental and physical health for urban residents, and integral to the achievement of health equity in cities’’. This idea, often called ‘biophilia’ is supposedly linked to human evolution as we have spent such a large proportion of our history amongst nature.

The layered history of The Goods Line reflects Sydney’s every changing focus. The layered history of The Goods Line reflects Sydney’s every changing focus. | © NSWGR Archives (NSWGR Archives) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons In its current state as a linear outdoor space, The Goods Line has the potential effect of changing Sydney-siders’ pathways. This is in part because the area has not had pedestrian access since 1855. Until these more recent developments to the Southern CBD, connecting pathways were concrete, indirect and unwelcoming. Normally a highly efficient walker, journalist Emma Kate found herself detouring through The Goods Line in between appointments and despite being a resident of the city, had not realized how connected Ultimo was to the harbour. A fan of community nature strips and ‘guerrilla gardening projects’, Emma Kate was happy with the urban investment. Older residents will speak of Ultimo as having been a grungy no-go zone, despite being a relatively small suburb nestled between Sydney’s largest transport hub, Central Station and one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations.

Connecting North to South and Past to Present

Not only a conduit to several of Sydney’s touch points, the area has preserved and amplified a connection to the city’s history. In this respect The Goods Line itself has had an ever-changing impact on Sydney-siders over the past 150 years, from serving as train line for the movement of goods that is said to have been quite dangerous - not only from the resulting air pollution – but also for the railway workers who had to manually adjust the tracks for approaching trains. The remaining exposed tracks and machinery serve as a reminder of changing priorities as the city it becomes more focused on creating a healthier and more democratic urban landscape. This key feature reflects an emerging trend in Sydney’s more recent large-scale architectural pursuits. Sydney’s current architectural style has consistently delivered nostalgic executions to reflect on the progress as a city. Despite being a relatively new city when considered on a global scale, souvenir-like historical artefacts from Australia’s trade and maritime pursuits have been popping up all over the CBD. This not only provides insight into Australian modern history for visiting tourists, but anchors residents in their historic roots - a rarity for a city overshadowed by its colonial past.