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NORTH SYDNEY'S Dynamic education precinct

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Creating an education precinct and turning it into a thriving 'living campus' - that's currently the challenge facing North Sydney Council as new plans are finalised for this complex urban project.

A 100-page document detailing the project went on public exhibition last year. Now, North Sydney Council and educational institutions will begin the extensive implementation process for the living campus area that covers 26 hectares of commercial, mixed use and residential space located on the western edge of the CBD.

Education has been and continues to be a vital ingredient in the life of the area. The North Sydney region supports more than 17,000 students and, according to statistics from the council, the number is steadily growing.

Last year's Education Precinct Planning Study looked at ways of developing strategies to support the growth of schools within the education precinct while protecting the character of the local area.

North Sydney Council designer and strategic planner Emma Booth says the new precinct supports one-third of the area's total student population and takes in the combined campus areas of the Australian Catholic University, Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) and North Sydney Demonstration School.

There are also many other primary and secondary schools that will benefit from the living campus concept being located in North Sydney.

The education function of the area dates back more than 150 years, with the opening of the North Sydney School of the Arts on Mount Street in 1860.

"What is new are the plans to enhance the area's character, identity and function as an educational precinct by transforming the streets into valuable, civic spaces,' Ms Booth tells North Shore Living.

"I hope the improvements will make the area a much nicer place for students, residents and workers to be able to relax or engage in activities during the day and in the evening.”

The North Sydney CBD has long been the subject of attempts by successive local government administrations and community groups to encourage a more dynamic neighbourhood and lose the title of 'dead zone' when businesses close down at 5pm.

Over the past 15 years, although the education component of the area has been increasing, the area has been plagued with the exit of companies from the area, vacant shops and a lack of activity after hours.

Working groups have been established to try and rectify the situation. They agree the area would flourish with the encouragement of educational, mixed use and residential development, and would in turn create an area where people could work, rest and play.

The growth of weekend markets, street fairs and the Vivid Sydney Festival across the bridge has been instrumental in helping North Sydney Council achieve these aims.

Vivid Sydney now transforms the North Sydney CBD into a wonderland of light art sculptures and innovative light installations and projections. It uses the talents of artists, designers and manufacturers from Australia and around the world.

The Australian Catholic University, North Sydney Campus has more than 10,000 students, including more than 1,400 international students.

It has released a strategic plan for 2015-2020 that describes the institution as "world leading", and will continue to deliver quality programs and performance and service excellence.

The university is supportive of the living campus project.

The idea for an education precinct and living campus was first mooted by North Sydney councillor Zoe Baker. In February 2012, she took a motion to the council that looked at a study to develop strategies for the precinct, improving urban design and street landscaping. The plan involved liaison with educational institutions and other organisations like Mary Mackillop Place.

"I saw and still do see the schools as a vital part of our community and that engaging with them will provide us with many opportunities for social and cultural exchange," she tells North Shore Living.

"The area at the centre of the planning had real issues with traffic, parking and amenity impacts on the residents who live in the area and proper planning would ameliorate some of these negative impacts on residents," she confirms.

Ms Baker says the planning was undertaken in 2013, with a masterplan prepared, exhibited and then adopted by the council.

Implementation will take place in the 2015/16 budget year.

"This project is extremely exciting - not only will it deliver design excellence in the area but it ill also contribute greatly to the vitality of the area. This will be a model for future planning throughout the North Sydney local government area and beyond."

What is a living campus?

A living campus includes spaces that encourage people to stay in the area and also generate a sense of ownership and belonging. Key elements of the proposed North Sydney living campus include:

• A major function as an urban educational campus

• The area will be designed to better connect schools, people and places

• Tree-lined streets and well-preserved heritage buildings will contribute to the character of the area

• Safe, engaging and attractive spaces will be created within streets and laneways and open areas

• Spaces will be provided where students can interact with the local community and feel part of the local community

• There will be a focus on day and night time activity

• Transform the precinct into a popular, easy-to-reach destination in North Sydney

Emma Booth says the council embraced the idea because it recognised the similarities between North Sydney and the historic university towns in the United Kingdom, like Oxford and Cambridge.

"In these towns, campuses are integrated within residential areas

- however just on a smaller scale," she explains.

"But we did recognise that we have some modern-day problems - like the large number of vehicles using narrow, residential streets during school hours – and so in 2013, we embarked on planning study to look at this.

"During our many discussions with the community and schools, we have examined the best ways to protect the local community and the heritage and amenity of the area.”

A living campus area will bring a much-needed, need, dynamic atmosphere to the North Sydney area. It will become a gthering spot for workers and students in much the same way as university towns operate overseas.

 The council is adamant it will transform the area.

"The project will be delivered in stages as funding is secured, “says Ms Booth. "North Sydney will be known not just for its strong business and finance sectors, but a place that supports the education of our children and young adults".


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