In the introduction to their book ‘City Limits’ authors Jane-Frances Kelly and Paul Donegan comment: ‘Australia is a nation of city dwellers. Many of the joys of Australian life-its energy, optimism, culture diversity, good food, green spaces and passion for sport and the outdoors-are found in cities. Many of its problems are as well.’

It’s also predicted, according to Infrastructure Australia, that by 2034 our population will grow by 24% to reach 31 million and that three-quarters of this projected growth will be concentrated in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Not only will most of us live in cities, but they will be the powerhouses of our economy.

It’s perhaps then not such a surprise that our cities and how they are planned, developed and managed comes in for a lot of attention. Sometimes good and sometimes not so good.

However, with these few, but critical points in mind, I wanted in a very practical way to focus on just two Sydney developments to help demonstrate how much positive progress has been made in just 20 years towards creating great quality urban developments.

To do so firstly let’s establish a few very basic but essential benchmarks for how cities best work, and how individual projects contribute. After all cities are very much a collection of individual developments built and delivered over time. Pieced together like a massively and hopefully coordinated jig-saw.

All of the various parts of a city its homes, schools, offices, shops and factories, its community and cultural buildings and developments need to work so that they connect people with jobs and with each other, so that they create communities.

Housing markets also need to give people options, a choice of location, the kind of home and the choice to buy or rent and invest.

When new developments are established, they should aim to have good access to transport and jobs and an array of facilities and services and gaining all of these, in particular in a land-starved city like Sydney, can often be associated with new developments in established areas.

It’s for that reason that over the next two weeks I’ll look at Paddington Green, in Paddington (1999-2000) and Newmarket, Randwick, (currently on market) as two projects that I think demonstrate great quality and development credentials.

They also neatly show how developers have catered to the greater maturity in the housing market and in particular the high and medium density markets, that have grown so rapidly over the last two decades.

Paddington Green

Firstly, Paddington Green was a large-scale, inner-city redevelopment of the former Royal Women’s Hospital site located two kilometres east of Sydney’s CBD. A unique aspect of the site, and something in common with Newmarket was the fact that the development comprised several (seven) precincts. These comprised a mix of terrace houses and apartment buildings designed by three different and highly regarded architectural firms.

Construction started in 1999 and included 5-6 storey residential apartment buildings with basement parking (common across the entire site) and a pool. Plus, there were a variety of small mainly two-level, apartment buildings and the adaptive reuse of one of the existing 1905 free-standing hospital wings.

There was also office space and retail premises and a plaza fronting Oxford Street and in the final stages a large new park on Glenmore Road. In total Paddington Green delivered some 130 dwellings ranging across 1 to 3 & 4-bedrooms.

The intention of the developers Stockland was to deliver a modern interpretation of the surrounding Victorian terraces alongside the new apartments and with varied scale.

To this end, each individual ‘terrace’ included three large bedrooms, north facing living areas, passive solar design and underground car parking, all features that remain in demand today as we see greater demand for 3-bedroom apartments and town houses across inner-city locations.

Most apartments and terraces also had deep covered verandas, granite kitchen and some walk-in pantries, again a popular feature in today’s bigger apartments. Other features that have now become very popular included study/media areas, timber floors and partly ducted air conditioning.

Parking 20-years ago was more common and double lock-up garage plus lots of visitor parking throughout. However, at the time common facilities were much more limited, with an indoor swimming pool and sauna.

External to the apartments, extensive landscaping which, included the retention of several large species trees and the addition of a park is a popular feature of Paddington Green and Newmarket.

Paddington Green is located just 200m from a supermarket, shops, cafes and restaurants of Five Ways most of which have also been re-generated and up-dated over the past 20 years.

However, today I think that greater activation of the building’s plaza fronting Oxford Street would have been given more prominence as is happening with the Newmarket project that I’ll detail next week. Along with a summary of the outstanding credentials both projects have demonstrated over two-decades of mixed-use development.