Journal entry 07 – Growing without pains

    A vision for a better Central Coast.

    The Central Coast is a very attractive, interesting yet complex urban environment. It is a unique and delightful place to live in, surrounded by water, with a privileged climate, and a stone’s throw away from Sydney.

    Yet, it is a region that feels a bit stuck in the past with an urban environment that is not yet appealing or fully formed. The region still has a feeling between a casual mid-century holiday town in some areas and a dormitory suburb of Sydney in others, instead of being a vibrant and attractive coastal environment in its own right.

    With the current population of 330,000 expected to grow significantly in the near future thanks to its desirable lifestyle, its proximity to Sydney, the increase in job opportunities in the area, and the rise of flexible work arrangements, it is time to reimagine the Central Coast and create a region with a unique character and a thriving urban environment independent from Sydney. A renewed Central Coast capable of hosting this population boom without losing any of the lifestyle qualities and unique characteristics it has.

    This renewed urban environment should bring water and the natural setting of the area back to the centre of the region’s daily life, something that is currently lost.

    It should be an integrated urban environment that embraces the existing conditions and makes the most of the infrastructure already in place. At the same time, it should be an interconnected, fluid and flexible environment based on relationships and connections, a diverse and dense environment with no hierarchy but a multiplicity of options and opportunities.

    Rather than simply mimicking Sydney or Newcastle, it should be a new type of urban environment aimed to support a new and more sustainable way of living. It should be an urban environment designed to attract young industries and entrepreneurs, an environment focused on fostering and supporting innovation and creativity

    We should forget about traditional urban centres, retail malls, industrial parks, holiday resorts or coastal retreats. We should create an exciting integrated environment where nature and city are intertwined, where facilities and infrastructure are spread evenly, where there is a mix of uses everywhere, and where 1 million people can live in close proximity to the water and their jobs. That is The Central Coast we should aim for.

    But we are not there yet. Though the area itself is wonderful with incredible scenery, water views, natural parks, great beaches, good restaurants and all the commodities and amenities you can think of, from cinemas, to hospitals, shopping malls and more, the reality is that it has been developed without any overarching plan or vision for the region, resulting in a disconnected environment that is not easy to use or fully enjoy.

    Overall, it is a disjointed urban environment with random development patterns and poor urban design and architectural qualities. Such is the urbanscape we find today, and it will only get worse as the region grows if we do not prepare for it and actively work in reimagining the coast with a clear vision and a well-developed strategy. So we need to act now.

    Though Gosford is the main town in the region, there are not many people many people currently living there. It is just a largely defunct hub with a lot of underutilized industrial lots, a stadium, a big commuter car park, and the train station.

    This, coupled with the fact that the town sits between Brisbane Water bay and the surrounding hills, makes for a very awkward urban environment, where infrastructure takes over the town. The main road and the railway constrain the possibilities of the town and also limit its access to the water.

    The bigger holidaying spots, like Terrigal or The Entrance, have been developed in very singular geographic spots seemingly with no future forecast in mind and with no consideration for infrastructure at all, resulting in traffic nightmares and unpleasant experiences in peak season.

    Places like Ourimbah, Wyee or Warnevale just feel isolated and disconnected.

    The reality is that the Central Coast is far from your traditional regional area one with a big town in the centre and a series of supporting residential areas around it. Instead, due to its geography, the region is made of several hubs dispersed around water bodies; transport hubs in Gosford and Wyong, industrial parks in Sommersby and Tuggerah, retail hubs in Erina and Tuggerah, and an endless stream of residential suburbs nestled in between nature. Commercial and institutional elements are scattered with no discernible pattern throughout these hubs.

    Instead of denying this reality and trying to push for a traditional regional Hub with a clear hierarchy, featuring a central node with all the infrastructure and amenity, and a radial configuration, we should embrace the coast’s unique context and make it the starting point of any future strategy moving forward.

    Instead of a traditional centre or CBD, we should focus on creating two “urban rings”, one around Brisbane Waters and another one around Tuggerah Lake, with a diversified and balanced layout with retail, commercial and institutional buildings spread at regular intervals throughout the water edge instead of the current concentration of a particular use in one spot.

    Due to its location and its characteristics, The Central Coast has the potential to become a unique world class region able to complement Sydney and provide the space and the infrastructure that Sydney can’t. We should be pro-active in our planning and development in a way that Sydney hasn’t.

    We should leave behind obsolete concepts like town centres, retail hubs, residential suburbs, coastal retreats, or industrial parks, and develop an innovative and integrated urban environment designed to address the demands for a denser, friendlier, more connected and more diverse urbanity that would provide the necessary framework for a reimagined thriving region.

    We should develop an environment that makes the most of its natural setting, an environment that brings our focus and attention back to the water. We should turn Brisbane Waters and Tuggerah Lake into our plazas, into our social spaces, into our communal living rooms.

    We should create a dense and diverse urban environment around our water bodies and provide the setting for a true “coastie” lifestyle.

    A lifestyle where nature, water and urbanity are intertwined.

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