Recycling – old design ideas 22.1.2011


There are a few old Herald articles about Civic Park and Laman Street worth another look. These follow the progress of Civic Park redesign suggestions.

One has a real sense of deja vu about the current ‘design framework’ and makes one wonder why we didn’t just use the 2005 document. I suppose we had to add the risk QRAP allegations.

Mike Scanlon on 25/7/2002 wrote ‘Avenue of trees posing a problem’

‘NEWCASTLE’S landmark avenues of fig trees in Laman and Tyrrell streets face an uncertain future, Newcastle City Council was warned this week.

‘Cr Barry Scully (Ind) told councillors that people should have known years ago that the council’s fig tree plantings were the wrong species for urban areas…

‘Cr Scully said root systems were causing problems for the council, other authorities and insurers.

‘ “Laman St, the whole street (outside Newcastle library) is now overwhelmed with trees,’ he said.

‘Laman St was originally designed to fit in with the Cultural Centre (library) but was now hidden behind trees.

`The hardest thing for us to (now) have to accept is that trees have their time upon this planet … we’ll have to try and educate the public,’ Cr Scully said.

‘Cr Scully’s comments came after talk about an urban forest strategy and the axing of an 80-year-old fig tree in Civic Park last weekend.

‘The tree was removed after council workers found its roots wrapped around power, water and telephone lines.

‘Councillors were advised cutting the roots was not an option and only likely to destabilise the tree…

‘But Cr John Fahy (Citizens Group) has defended the Laman St trees.

‘He said keeping any growing footpath trees was a constant problem because of vandals. If the council wanted to keep trees they might have to follow Goulburn’s lead and plant trees in the road.

‘Council arborist Phil Hewett said everyone now knew that the fig trees were bad for street infrastructure, but Tyrrell St today was `like a cathedral’.

 The next is ‘The Naked City’ by Mike Scanlon published on 8/8/2002.

”Today’s digital photo composite [not available in this search] by Newcastle Herald artists shows what the backdrop to Civic Park could become if Laman St’s famous, if ageing, fig tree `tunnel’ was removed.

Once the idea seemed simply ridiculous, as all the trees appear healthy.

But now the famous avenue is under question after recent statements in Newcastle City Council.

The comments are linked to an audit into the state of council’s 350 largest trees.

The audit was prompted by a public outcry over the recent removal of an 80-year-old Civic Park fig tree, on the corner of King and Auckland streets.

Soon after, Cr Yvonne Piddington (Citizens Group) warned that four similar fig trees, also in Auckland St, should be cordoned off as they showed `evidence of base rot’. [These trees are still standing.]

The tree was felled because of concerns its massive roots would soon cause `extreme stress’ to three 11,000kv underground cables laid in 1929, some low-voltage cables and fibre-optic cables, a Telstra main cable and a water main.

Cutting the roots was not seen as an option because it was feared this would serve only to destabilise the tree…

Coming in for particular attention near Civic Park will be Laman St and the similar `cathedral-like’ Tyrrell St.

The large fig trees, now claimed to be the wrong street species, are about the same age as those in Civic Park.

And Newcastle councillors are coming to grips with the fact that where slowly decaying trees and public liability is concerned, trees must come second to public safety.

Novocastrians love their trees and especially those in and around Civic Park. There was a massive public outcry in 1970 when the council decided to remove two of its Laman St fig trees.

Queen Elizabeth II was expected to visit Laman St. It was feared the trees, `saturated with starlings’ might cause Newcastle national embarrassment in the few seconds she took to pass underneath.

Traps and mist blowers had failed to dislodge the birds. Finally, sky rockets and a handy umbrella saved royal dignity and Newcastle’s reputation.

But now, old age may remove many of the landmark trees.

The council’s past tree lopping practices have now been discontinued. They are now thought to promote silent decay over a period up to 15 years before discovery. [Could someone give me a reference for this? These trees have been lopped since the 50s. Send me a comment. CR.]

Newcastle Lord Mayor John Tate (Ind) entered the debate recently by warning residents that trees lived shorter lives in the city.

Cr Tate said a tree which might thrive for 400 years in the bush would be lucky to last 80 years in an urban environment.

He said that in the past two years, three fig trees in the city had fallen over and a huge Kaffir plum also `took a dive’…

Council group manager city services Janice Walsh said recently that trees, like people, had a limited life.

Council staff have already acknowledged that Newcastle could be facing arboreal crisis because it had so many large mature trees.

And while some Novocastrians point to huge, apparently thriving trees in Sydney’s Hyde Park, council staff say the problem is not unique to Newcastle, with Sydney also facing a tree crisis.’

Fast forward to 2005.

‘Open Vision for City Park’ by Neil Keene on 2/11/2005:

THE look of Civic Park and the surrounding area will change dramatically if a Newcastle City Council-commissioned vision for the site comes to fruition.

Representatives of Sydney-based consultants PSB, hired by the council to review the Civic Park plan of management, proposed last night a raft of changes to the inner-city precinct bounded by Laman, Darby, Auckland and King streets.

The most radical, and the one likely to cause the most controversy, is a plan to close Laman Street to traffic, remove the fig trees in front of the library and art gallery and create grassy, tiered platforms in front of the buildings, descending to the park.

A “gateway” to the park would be built on the corner of Darby and King streets, with trees planted along the Darby Street boundary.

Under the proposal presented last night, which deputy general manager David Crofts said was not a final draft, many of the park’s trees will gradually be removed to create larger open spaces for festivals, memorial services and other events.

The boundary with the church in the south-west corner of the park will be opened and a former station master’s cottage on the church grounds would be used as a cafe or community building.

Consultant John O’Grady also suggested moving the palm trees in Wheeler Place to the eastern side to reveal the Civic Theatre’s ornate side wall and provide shade to the easternmost cafe.

Mr O’Grady said a retractable water feature could be built into the pavement to activate the site.

Also suggested was a “semi-permanent” performance stage at the back of Wheeler Place, paving that mimicked the layout of the mine shafts under the area and the planting of a “rainforest” environment in the western part of Civic Park.

Mr O’Grady said the proposal could be rolled out over 10 to 15 years, though he did not estimate its cost.

The consultants’ plan will be fine-tuned before going on display to the public possibly early in the new year, pending council approval.

‘Park ideas draw divided opinions’  also by Neil Keene written on 3/11/2005:

PLANS for a major revamp of Civic Park, Wheeler Place and other parts of Newcastle’s cultural precinct have been met with a mixed reaction by some of the city’s leaders.

PSB, a Sydney-based landscape architecture firm hired by Newcastle City Council, proposed the overhaul to give a clearer focus on the cultural precinct around City Hall.

Included in the vision were plans to strip the fig trees from Laman Street, close the street to vehicles and create tiered, grassy terraces leading into Civic Park.

Previous plans to relocate the park’s three war memorials were abandoned after community consultation.

Cr Tate said yesterday he supported the idea of linking the art gallery and library with the park, “but I’d like a bit more detail on those steps going down. They could be very dull and boring, I think, if you’re not careful”.

Cr Keith Parsons (Greens) predicted a serious community backlash if the Laman Street figs were removed.

“I can see an argument for improving the views of the buildings, but at what cost,” he said.

“I think it’s interesting they backed off from moving the war memorials because of the perception that there would be community outrage if they moved them, but they’re talking about removing an avenue of trees that most people would regard as pretty sacred.”

Under the PSB plan, many of the park’s other trees would be removed to create larger open spaces, and a formal park “gateway” built on the corner of King and Darby streets.

“If you stop and have a good look at some of the trees in that park, there are some there that are pretty scrawny,” Cr Tate said. “You wouldn’t just go and rip them out, but as they lose their quality I wouldn’t have a problem with removing them.”

Consultant John O’Grady suggested a rethink of Wheeler Place to create a more lively and popular space.

He said palm trees lining the plaza should be moved to the other side of the square and a stage installed at the back, close to the council’s administration building.

The council is expected to decide early next year whether to exhibit the plan.

‘The People’s Civic Park’ was the editorial on 3/11/2005:

A CENTRAL park is often one of the most cherished and frequented features of major cities. But while New York’s Central Park and Sydney’s Hyde Park fall into that category, Newcastle’s Civic Park does not rate highly as a place to visit.

A Hunter Valley Research Foundation survey this year into how Novocastrians spent their leisure time had 65 per cent of respondents saying they never went to Civic Park. This was the same percentage as in a broader survey by Newcastle City Council last year of residents’ interests, with many people saying that fear of hoons and gangs made them reluctant to visit inner-city parks.

Thus, safety is one aspect of Civic Park that must be addressed in a review of the council’s plan of management for the park. But that alone will not be enough to make the park more user-friendly.

It is interesting that some of the proposals for change to the park and environs included in a consultants’ report to the council go back to concepts that were adopted by the council when the expansion of the park from a modest plot opposite the City Hall to the size we have today was being considered in the 1940s.

There was to be a civic square in the middle of the park, between where the Captain Cook fountain and the war memorial are today, and the landscaping was to complement that of the then planned cultural centre (now the city library).

‘The present consultants have recommended that many trees in the centre of the park be removed so that it can be used as what they call “an outdoor city hall”. The tiered gardens on the southern side of the park would be replaced by grassed seating, in line with this change. Lawn would be laid in what is now the section of Laman Street behind the park and the trees in front of the library would be removed to make the building an extension of the park precinct.

‘The tree-removal proposals almost certainly will be the most controversial element of the changes if they are included in the draft revisions to the management plan that the council expects to put on public display early in 2006.

‘It certainly must be hoped that the seemingly radical ideas will encourage people to look at the proposals and put their views on them to the council.

‘Civic Park might be smaller than many urban parks but that makes decisions on how it is managed and what features it should have even more vital. The 65 per cent of people who say they don’t visit the park need to let the council know what would attract them to it.’

And the following year ‘Redesigning Civic Park’ written 7/12/2006:

‘NOBODY could blame cash-strapped Newcastle City Council if it put the redevelopment of Civic Park on hold, especially now that the proposed revamp’s price tag appears to have hit $12 million. Most people would agree that there are many more urgent spending priorities in a city where significant pieces of public infrastructure are in serious decay.

‘Apart from concerns about the health and safety of some of the bigger and older trees, Civic Park doesn’t suffer from many problems that require immediate expensive attention.

‘Newcastle City Council has identified Civic Park as the open space centrepiece of its proposed civic and cultural precinct and redesign planning must revolve around this assumption. Ideally, the park should enhance the diverse architectural elements on its boundaries: the classic City Hall, the art deco-inspired Nesca House, the dignified and pretty St Andrews church, the modern “round-house” city administrative centre and the Laman Street grouping of the art gallery, library and the brooding but interesting Baptist Tabernacle.

‘Safety issues notwithstanding, it must be recognised that the heavy green canopy of leaves provided by the massive old figs in and near the park is in itself an aesthetic asset which should not be lightly sacrificed.

‘Civic Park is, perhaps, the city’s most symbolically important formal park and it has for decades been the focus of many important public activities. This is changing, however, and it seems likely that the Foreshore much loved for its superb scenery and appealing landscape design will continue to attract events and functions away from the smaller, more formal park. This trend is something that those wishing to redesign the park will have to consider.

It is true that Civic Park has suffered from many years of ad hoc planning. It is also true that many of its built features are a little jaded and would benefit from a facelift. But the park is so important to the city that nobody should regret it if financial circumstances mean the job can’t be done rapidly or all at once. Better to take it slowly and get it right.’ Home


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One Response to “Recycling – old design ideas 22.1.2011”

  1. Saving Our Trees Says:

    This is a really interesting post Caity. Well done.

    I want to comment about the layout of parks in general. It seems to have been in vogue for many years to only plant trees beside central pathways & around the periphery of the park & leave great expanses of grass in the middle. Worse, vast areas of pavement or tiles where people are supposed to gather for ‘occasions.’

    Parks designed like this are empty for most of the time, except for people in the playground or walking through. The vast areas of grass are left alone because it is too hot & only ever used when there is some sort of community event. On these occasions, people huddle under the trees & the Council brings in temporary structures to provide shade.

    As for the only shade trees being around the periphery, you wont usually find many people sitting in a park under a tree next to the road unless they are waiting for a bus. People go to the park to get away from the traffic & noise, not to sit close to it. The few parks that have trees all though the park are busy parks filled with people who actually use the park, not just walk through.

    Landscape design has moved in great leaps forward in the last few years with some enormously beautiful, people & urban wildlife-friendly community green spaces created. With respect, if I were NCC, I would be demanding a design that took Civic Park into the future, not recreating what has been done again & again. Besides, global warming & associated urban heat island effect is going to insist that outdoor spaces are shady & cool if they are going to have utility beyond once or twice a year events.

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