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A section of the outside area og The Grounds.

A section of the outside area of The Grounds.

Sitting around the water feature.

Sitting around the water feature.

Yesterday I went with some friends to ‘The Grounds in Alexandria.’  Many of you have probably been, but it was the first time for me.  This is an enormously popular place & no wonder.  The food is great.  Prices are reasonable.  You can eat inside at a table or ‘take-away’ to eat outside in the extensive garden area.

Part of the outside signage.  Cute.

Part of the outside signage. Cute.

This post is not a restaurant review – though my meal was great.  What I am writing about is the site & what they have done with it.  The complex, located on the corner at 2 Huntley Street Alexandria, used to be the Four ‘n Twenty pie factory & had been so since the early 1900s.

The Grounds is in the heart of Alexandria’s industrial estate, where the street trees are really tall & the parking horrendous.  Once you walk through the entrance, all is forgiven, as the grounds are an utter delight.

On the left is the restaurant, easily found because of the line-up of people patiently waiting for a table.  In front & scattered around are barrows selling organic breads, tarts, coffee, cakes, fresh lemonade & other drinks, strawberries, nuts & even gelato.  The kiosks are beautiful, as are the displays of food.  Prices are well within the range of impulse buying & quite satisfying because of the quality.

To the left of the entrance is the ‘take-away’ food eating area. I should say areas, because the more you wander, the more the environment changes & you can sit anywhere to eat.  A massive pergola & clear roofed section with a few walls made out of recycled timber create an indoor/outdoor seating area.  Tables of all kinds are scattered around & people were everywhere.  Friday lunchtime was buzzing & I am told it is vibrant every day.

There are interesting tables made of industrial trolleys on steel wheels, complete with giant hooks that obviously dragged the trolleys through old factories.  Cleaned up, these look great & very chic.  There are places to sit in the sun, around a large water feature, under grape vines, in the shade & around raised garden beds.   There is even a glasshouse covered in vines with a large table inside – perfect for a group of 10-12 people to have a ‘private’ party.

They do wedding functions here, which is not a surprise to me at all.  I thought the place was extremely pretty.  Everywhere you look there are interesting items hanging from the ceiling, attached to walls or scattered around on the ground.  The set up is chic & colourful with real flowers growing in industrial containers all throughout the area.  I think you would notice something different each time you visited, simply because of the enormity of visual stimulation.   I also suspect the displays change with the seasons.

One of the many raised garden beds that grow produce for the kitchen.

One of the many raised garden beds that grow produce for the kitchen.

Surrounding & intermingled are raised garden beds filled with herbs, flowers & other edible produce, which is used in the kitchen.  The Chef must pick what he/she needs for that day.  ‘No food miles’ is really sustainable & quite impressive for an industrial area in the inner city.

There is a florist onsite with an appealing selection of flowers.  Tucked in amongst the flowers are organic skin products & displays of industrial, vintage & other interesting items.  To their credit no plastic bags are used onsite.   I didn’t stay long enough to find the chickens & the resident pig – Kevin Bacon, but I am told they are there.  Apparently there is also a children’s playground area.

It’s part farm, part factory-like, part country & the mix is great.  Even outside on the street frontage they have planted gardens & shrubs, as well as strung ropes with Chinese Jasmine growing along the ropes.  Hanging pots dangle from signs or wrought iron scraps.  So much has been repurposed.

It’s obvious that great care has gone into the design of The Grounds.  It is not just a restaurant/café – it’s an experience & importantly, a green functional space in the inner west.  Who would have thought that an industrial complex could be transformed into a place where people can have a nature fix, as well as well as eat good healthy food?

It is their gardens & they way The Grounds have set up the area that prompted me to think that this could be the way of the future for our cities & our living spaces.

Right now it is known that businesses in green leafy environments generate 11% more income than those located in a mainly concrete/asphalt environment.  The fact that you can eat at The Grounds is just one of the functions of the complex & I can easily see something similar to The Grounds concept as part of any high-rise housing development.

A currently controversial development proposal to build a 16-storey residential tower next to the Marrickville Railway Station on Station Street is angering a considerable number of local residents.  See – http://bit.ly/18dbumc   As I understand it, the developer is offering a ground floor area for community use, half of which is under an awning, so he can get permission to bypass the eight stories limit that the Marrickville Local Environment Plan (MLEP) imposes for this site.

This was spoken of by some Marrickville Councillors as a boon for the community, as it will offer a space to just hang out or be used for weekend markets.  My guess is people will still prefer to go to the Sunday Organic Growers Markets in the very green & leafy Addison Road Centre Marrickville.  This place offers a nature fix leaving you with the feeling that you have been somewhere away from concrete & asphalt.

Flower displays like this one were scattered all over the place.  There was an emphasis on creating beauty.

Flower displays like this one were scattered all over the place. There was an emphasis on creating beauty.

In my opinion, all new high-rise housing developments should include green space, not just a tiled or concreted area with a seat or two & some token landscaping that is likely not to last the distance.  The Grounds has shown what can be done to create a great space that significantly increases the livability of an area & is valuable to the community.  It is much, much better than what is currently & has been on offer with development across Marrickville LGA.  Incidentally, The Grounds also has monthly markets on the first weekend of every month.

As Sydney gets more populated, our parks are going to be equally populated.  Marrickville has the Cooks River & already many families travel great distances to come to the riverside parks.  As time goes on, these & other parks will become busier, so we need to have other spaces that double up as green space & recreational areas.  After yesterday’s experience, I can easily see how new housing/shopping developments can offer more.

The proposed new Marrickville Library is also a prime opportunity to step outside the box of what has been done for decades & provide something as innovative & useful as The Grounds.  This would see us into the future in a way that is environmentally sustainable in a people way, not just about water use, air-flow & the like.

Marrickville municipality has the dubious honour of having the least green space in Australia, so new developments really need to be different & provide green space, even if mixed with business, to ensure a sane population in the future.  That Marrickville was identified as the unhappiest suburb in Australia also bears mentioning.   Improving livability needs to be at the forefront of architectural design.  The more confined people’s living arrangements become in the future, as more & more apartment blocks are being developed, the more people will be needing open natural space close to home.

I’ve said enough.  Well done to The Grounds in Alexandria.  They pushed the gauntlet in a very successful & beautiful way.  Go visit their website.  There is heaps going on, including workshops in coffee roasting & gardening.  http://groundsroasters.com/

One of the barrows in The Grounds.

One of the barrows in The Grounds.

One of the many seating areas.

One of the many seating areas.

The Glasshouse

The Glasshouse

Everywhere you look you seen green.

Everywhere you look you seen green.  This is good for people.

 

 

 

 

Tilman Park Tempe has some lovely features & some beautiful tall trees, including a Fig. Boulders are placed under the Fig so you can sit in the shade & watch the park.

Today I came across a wonderful article from the website The Conversation – “an independent source of information, analysis & commentary from the university & research sector.”  The article was written by Jason Byrne – Senior Lecturer/First Year Advisor at Griffith University & published 9th January 2012.

Bain Playground Stanmore has lovely mature trees & a great streetscape.

“Jason Byrne is an urban geographer by training. He undertook his PhD at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) where he was a fellow in the Center for Sustainable Cities. Jason is also a Senior Fellow with the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies. He has previously worked as a town planner & environmental policy officer with the Western Australian government. Jason’s research interests include: urban nature parks & green-space planning; equity & fairness in planning (environmental ethics & justice); open space & healthy cities; ecological modernisation & sustainability; & climate change adaptation & urban resilience.

Because the The Conversation allows this article to be republished I thought it best if I did just that, rather than write a description with the web-link.

This article is very relevant to Marrickville LGA.  It’s great for me to be able to share what an expert thinks about the value of green space, especially in high-density urban areas & increasing urban consolidation. The use of bold is my emphasis.

“What is green space worth?

Recent patterns of residential development in Australian cities are threatening to overwhelm green space in our urban cores. Policies of urban consolidation have concentrated medium to high density residential development in inner ring suburbs where green space is comparatively scarce. And the zoning & development regulations of many local authorities actually allow a reduction of green space for higher density development – usually without any justification. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07293682.2010.508204

The Poplar trees along the Cooks River near Mackey Park Marrickville South make this a lovely cool & shady walk. There is always lots of bird song & when there is a breeze the leaves make a beautiful sound.

Everyone likes parks, but we may be greatly undervaluing their importance to our health & wellbeing, & to the wellbeing of other species. Rather than losing our green spaces, we should be assessing the evidence on their value & making informed decisions about how much green space we need.

To the casual observer, urban parks & green spaces might appear commonplace. But even a cursory examination of green space distribution within most cities shows that urban green space is neither uniformly accessible nor equitably distributed.

Generally the older & denser parts of many cities, which often were developed during the industrial revolution, tend to have relatively poor park access. But suburbs that have developed since the late 1950s have comparatively better access to various types of green space.

The spatial pattern of urban green space distribution reflects diverse factors linked to urban land & property markets, changing land use planning philosophies, histories of settlement & development, & in some cases, institutionalised racism and elitism.  http://phg.sagepub.com/content/33/6/743.short

Before the development of formalised park & recreation planning systems in the late 1800s & early 1900s, park & green space planning in the United Kingdom, United States, & Australia was relatively haphazard.

Some cities, like Adelaide, are park rich due to visionary administrators. In London royal parks were opened to the public, a product of elite benevolence.  Other cities, like Canberra, grew while new ideas about park planning gained popularity.

But some cities are park poor. Inner ring residents in Los Angeles for example, have less public park space per 1,000 residents than the size of a suburban backyard.  http://www.springerlink.com/content/g1277273381828l7/

So can we put a value on urban green space?

Research by John Henneberry, a Professor of Town & Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield, suggests people in Sheffield may be willing to pay sizeable sums to access high quality urban green space. http://www.shef.ac.uk/mediacentre/2011/public-willing-to-pay-more-for-greener-urban-spaces.html

This should not come as a surprise. From their early origins in the UK & US, parks were known to raise property values & people were prepared to pay a premium to live near them. Frederick Law Olmsted & Harland Bartholomew openly acknowledged this when they developed Central Park in New York.

Studies by John Crompton & others have found widespread evidence supporting the notion that proximity to green & open space pushes up property values.  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13606710500348060  But reducing the benefit of parks & green space to a line on a ledger sheet can be both misleading & inaccurate.

Beyond an economic calculation, researchers have discovered that urban green spaces provide a wide variety of benefits. You don’t have to use these spaces to benefit from them. Parks can improve physical & mental health, ecosystem services & urban biodiversity.

Public health researchers like Ariane Bedimo-Rung http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379704003046 & Billie Giles-Corti http://jech.bmj.com/content/62/5/e9.abstract have found that living close to urban green spaces like parks & trails can increase urban residents’ levels of physical activity & reduce the likelihood of being overweight or obese. This reduces the risk of diabetes & several types of cancer.

Frances Kuo http://eab.sagepub.com/content/30/1/3.short & her colleagues have found that proximity to urban green space can lower the incidence of domestic violence, stress & depression & may even mitigate attention deficit disorder in children.

Ecological economists including Bolund & Sven Hunhammar http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800999000130 have found urban green spaces also provide a range of free ecosystem services. They reduce noise levels, lower pollution, & reduce flooding.  And some ecologists have also found that urban parks can harbour rare & endangered species & promote biodiversity. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866706000732

We need strong evidence to support the density imperative, evidence that we presently lack. Until we can accurately gauge the green space needs of higher density residents, it may be folly to blindly pursue policies of urban consolidation.

In a time of economic uncertainty, when local councils are looking to develop “surplus” land assets such as “underutilised” park spaces, we need to carefully evaluate the true values of these spaces, before they are sold off to bolster ailing municipal coffers. To do otherwise could be more costly than we might imagine.  http://theconversation.edu.au/content/4703/tracker

The link to this article is here – http://theconversation.edu.au/what-is-green-space-worth-4703

Because there is shade Wicks Park is a great place to be on a hot day.

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