Pyrmont is the most densely populated pocket of Sydney so a place where you can sit under mature trees, curl bare toes into lawn and see flowers blooming is a gift. The Goods Line, which opened at the end of August, is ostensibly a pedestrian link between Railway Square and Darling Harbour, but it is also park, play space, meeting point, outdoor work space and, in little pockets, garden.
It runs for 250m behind the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building and at the back of the Powerhouse Museum. On one side the area is backed by the undulating curves of Gehry’s crumpled paper bag building and the geometric waves of the Powerhouse’s tramsheds. On the other is an avenue of mature figs that overhangs the park with a welcoming sense of enclosure and valuable shade.
There are big expectations around rescued railway lines since the Promendade Plantee opened in Paris atop a 4.7 km viaduct in 1994, and the High Line opened in New York in 2009. The High Line, with sensationally complex and seasonally-changing planting by master plantsman Piet Oudolf, draws more than four million visitors a year to walk its 2.33km length, and has brought more than US$5 billion to the area in new development.
Leading designer of the Goods Line project Sacha Coles, from Aspect Studios, plays down comparisons with the High Line. Certainly this project is much smaller in scale, but it has different ambitions too. Coles sees it reflecting the history of the site; the Goods Line is part of the first railway built in Sydney and gave Pyrmont its heartbeat. But he also draws links to the innovation and creativity of the area. “We’ve treated it more as a cultural building; not just a landscape,” says Coles. He points out that Pyrmont is abuzz with innovation – it is home to the city’s greatest concentration of business start-ups, as well UTS and the ABC. The Goods Line is envisaged as a hub for conversation, connection and creativity. In ‘platforms’ off the track, people can meet, exercise, play with the kids in water and sand, eat together or work. Decks nestled into the canopy of the figs feature seats with power points: devices can be recharged while the trees recharge the humans.
One of the big lessons from the High Line is that plants, and especially flowers, change people’s behaviour. They slow down, they look, they hold hands, they connect, so though the Goods Line isn’t the High Line, I’m pleased there are flowers. The garden beds are fitted into the wedges and platforms where the railway tracks escape the path. The visual idea is of self-starting plants finding a home among the disused tracks. A line-up of more than 30 different exotics and natives has been chosen, all tough enough to cope with the heat. There are salvias and gaura, kangaroo paw and echinacea, lots of soft swishy grasses, and enough blue-flowering plants to keep the city’s bees happy. Right now the plants look marooned in the gravel, but once they settle the effect should be of something slightly wild and unkempt and appealingly full of flowers; an unexpected garden in the city.