I recently spent time in New York where once again, I marvelled at the ongoing success of the High Line. Every time I visit New York, I walk the line and am impressed by its popularity and ongoing contribution to the city. It is a superb example of placemaking.
During my time on the High Line, I was struck by the many ways in which people use the space- as a way to reconnect with nature, a quiet respite for lunch, plein-air art gallery, source of employment and exercise track. Its ability to reuse and adapt an older space for the benefit of future generations is wonderful. It's often cited as one of the best examples of placemaking globally- and I agree, it is. But that also prompted me to consider why that's the case.
I think the success is partially due to the need of green amenity. Of course, New York has a fantastic green space in Central Park, however, that is highly concentrated in one area. The High Line has added nature to a city that really needed it. That need and its response has created a love for the space, which is evident in every local imploring you to visit the High Line. New Yorkers are very proud of this space!
So, what does my hometown - Sydney - need? We have abundant green space and outdoor amenity by comparison (although I'd like to see more rooftop gardens like New York). I think what Sydney is crying out for is more connection to uniquely Australian culture - and by this, I don't mean galleries and art venues (although they are critical to a city's soul). Sydney needs placemaking that reconnects us to our rich aboriginal heritage and future. Rather than just place names (Woolloomooloo, Barangaroo, Bennelong etc), we need public art and narrative that better connects us to our greatest cultural 'asset'- our indigenous past, present and future. For anyone that has spent time with our first people, you know how much we are in cultural deficit by allowing marginalisation to continue. Sydney as a truly global city could (and should) lead the way by integrating and celebrating our aboriginal roots.
Imagine walking tour apps that highlight places of significance; indigenous plants and their benefits; historical recreations. Or possibly sculptures and signs that celebrate the sophisticated agricultural management of Indigenous Australia; signage detailing stories of creation; indigenous astrology points; significant elder narratives; seating that highlights important viewpoints; signage that attempts to explain kinship and obligations; sound art of what may remain of the Gadigal language and other local languages; and celebrations of our contemporary Sydney Indigenous leaders.
Building this cultural knowledge and embracing it through art, signage, and way-finding would be a welcome addition to Sydney. By integrating this important cultural knowledge across our city, we would inevitably enhance our position on the world stage and take an important step towards inclusivity and cultural richness.