The Ultimo Dream is a project generated by a group of Ultimo locals (Jesse Adams Stein, Liam Ryan, Kitty Ray, Erin Riley, Maria Gabriela Muñoz, César Albarrán Torres), which was submitted for Joni Taylor’s speculative urban action project, DIY Urbanism (part of the Right to the City exhibition).
DIY Urbanism presented The Ultimo Dream project in summary form, but we would like to re-present it here, to show you a little more detail about what our proposal entailed.
The Ultimo Dream: Local Ideas to Revitalise a Dead Zone
Realised / Unrealised:
Unrealised - But a dream, to provoke discussion and move us beyond a rigid planning mindset
Harris Street, Ultimo, between Fig Street and Ultimo Road, Sydney, NSW 2007
Ultimo locals Jesse Adams Stein, Liam Ryan, Kitty Ray, Erin Riley, Maria Gabriela Muñoz, César Albarrán Torres
As Ultimo residents, we have often wondered about what’s wrong with our suburb, why we seem apologetic about it when discussing it with friends. Why does most of Ultimo[i] seem somewhat devoid of the ‘life’ of other Sydney neighbourhoods?
There are multiple reasons for this perceived lack. Poorly designed (mostly Meriton) apartments turn residents inwards, away from the street. Broadly defined ‘Residential-Business’ zoning produces a distinct lack of street legibility. These, and other factors contribute to the perception of Ultimo as grey, banal - “nowhere in the middle of everything”.
How can we radically re-imagine Ultimo in a way that is sustainable and makes a lasting positive impact on the diverse local community? Many ideas came to mind,[ii] but as we sifted through the possibilities, we kept returning to the main problem:
The chief blight on Ultimo is its role as major Sydney traffic funnel.
Ultimo is full of fast-moving vehicles. They zoom past, producing a disjointed suburb with little street-life, narrow footpaths, underdeveloped retail activity and unsafe spaces to walk and cycle in. Since the 1990s, freeways have carved through the middle of Ultimo, overshadowing its terraces and industrial heritage, creating bleak concrete black-spots and poor pedestrian amenity.
Harris Street – Ultimo’s ‘Main Street’ – is a key traffic artery for Sydney. It moves vehicles from the Anzac Bridge into Regent Street, and from Sydney’s CBD into the Western Suburbs. Harris Street is 5-lanes wide in Ultimo, with fast-moving traffic for about 6 blocks.
Importantly, most of the traffic in Ultimo is notlocal. Car use and ownership in Ultimo is very low, by Sydney standards.[iii] Add to this the fact that Ultimo has relatively low-income households in high-density living, and we have the perfect ingredients for a sustainable suburb, if we play our cards right.
While small changes – such as cycleways and community gardens – might help Ultimo feel more ‘liveable’, the most effective way to transform Ultimo is to give the people back their Main Street. A successful Main Street is the cornerstone of a booming urban community and Sydney is full of excellent examples. But Ultimo’s Main Street bows low to traffic.
What could save Harris Street? The answer is simple: genuine priority must be given to pedestrians, to local businesses and to cyclists. Ultimo residents need to reclaim their Main Street.
This is where our allegedly ‘radical’ strategic design comes in.
A suggestion from the locals:
Transform Harris Street from a 5-lane road to a 2-lane Main Street, with wide plaza-style pedestrian footpaths, specific ground-floor retail zoning, a 40km p/h speed limit, pedestrian crossings, and a two-way cycleway.
The 501 bus route would continue to run along Harris, while through-traffic would be re-routed through a non-residential area (see below for details). Wide footpaths would allow for businesses to apply for Footway Usage Approvals, and give the embattled trees along Harris Street space to breathe. These wider footpaths would also be the home to new garden spaces, seating areas, market stalls, and on-street parking (to facilitate the growth of local retail businesses), parking that does not convert to clearways at peak hour.
Hurdles / Constraints:
Where does all the traffic go?
Relatively small-scale roadworks could produce a traffic diversion that re-routes through-traffic around Ultimo, via Allen Street and Pyrmont Street, onto the under-utilised Darling Drive (see map). Darling Drive runs around the back of the Sydney Entertainment Centre alongside the tram tracks, and hence increased traffic in this area will not adversely impact residents or businesses (as none exist here). Traffic can then rejoin the final block of Harris Street at Ultimo Road, and we suggest increasing the number of left-turn lanes from Ultimo Road into Harris Street (adjacent to the ABC).
We know this proposal makes life a little harder for drivers, but frankly, creating a few discouragements to driving in Sydney is fair play, in these days of congestion and carbon awareness. We expect traffic engineers will suggest that connecting to Darling Drive is unworkable. However, in these days of extensive intersecting ramps and tunnels, we feel this challenge is manageable. We envisage a ramp from Pyrmont Street onto Darling Drive, which would also include a pedestrian / cycle path, thereby improving residents’ and workers’ thoroughfare between Ultimo and the CBD.
Obviously, the idea of reducing a major traffic artery (Harris Street) into a quiet, two-lane road may not be received very well by the RTA, or even by the City of Sydney Council. It is worth noting, however, that this proposal fits with the Council’s own policy: they made it a priority in the 2007 Local Action Plan to “transform Harris Street into a true ‘High Street’”, revitalising its “village” feel.[iv] Arguably, this has succeeded at the Pyrmont end of Harris Street, where most traffic is local. The Ultimo end remains bleak, and will continue this way, unless a radical stance is taken against car dominance in Ultimo.
As an idea to throw out for discussion and debate, the budget is nil. As an actual project – calculations would have to be made by the RTA and/or Council.
Ideas: Ultimo locals Jesse Adams Stein, Kitty Ray, Erin Riley, Liam Ryan, Maria Gabriela Muñoz, César Albarrán Torres
Words: Jesse Adams Stein
Graphic Visualisations: Liam Ryan
Photographs: César Albarrán Torres
With thanks to Barbara Adams and Joni Taylor
[i] We refer to most parts of Ultimo, aside from the heritage zone adjacent to the Lord Wolseley Pub (near Bulwara Road and Quarry Street).
[ii] These ideas included: community gardens, an improved pedestrian network, public art projects, wall gardens, high-tech compact parking garages, community composting, creative re-use of crumbling warehouses instead of redeveloping them into apartments, and night markets. Some of these ideas are already coming to fruition, and would complement our Harris Street dream very well.
[iii] In the 2006 Census, 36.6% of Ultimo households owned no car at all, 35.6% of residents walked to work, and another 26.8% used public transport to get to work. We are fairly sure the 2011 census will show even more dramatic figures regarding a lack of car use by Ultimo residents.
[iv] City of Sydney Council, 2007 Local Action Plan, City West: The Villages of Pyrmont and Ultimo, Sydney 2007, p. 8.