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This paper reports on a studio-based project which developed and tested a framework for assessing the legibility of Western Sydney Parklands (WSP) in Australia and preparing proposals to enhance its visual coherence and imageability. Comprising 5280 contiguous hectares (over 13,000 acres) of public land and 27 km (about 17 miles) long, the WSP is a significant recreation resource and an important greenway corridor in the urban ecology of the Sydney basin. Despite its size, the WSP does not register in the mental maps of most Sydney residents, including many who live nearby. This is explained in part by the complex array of land uses within the WSP, the range of social and ecological values associated with it, and the generally weak legibility of the landform and its dispersed vegetation cover. Combined with the extraordinary amount of area the WSP covers, these factors contribute to the poor imageability of WSP in people’s minds, and have led to a weak relationship between the parklands and its urban context.

The Western Sydney Parklands Trust faces a major challenge in making this significant greenway corridor more legible. Strategic planning for the WSP focuses on attracting increased visitation and use while at the same time distinguishing it from adjoining urban development. The current Plan of Management for the Parklands (the main instrument for directing design and development within the parkland) addresses the establishment of a cohesive image for the Parklands (WSPT 2010) as one of several objectives focused on improving recreation and parkland infrastructure. The image issue is a high priority for the WSP Trust and has led to several design-focused initiatives, including a design manual and a community art project.

A third and ongoing initiative is focused on developing design proposals to enhance the identity and awareness of the boundaries of the WSP. As a preliminary step in developing the brief for this initiative, a pilot study was undertaken in collaboration with the Landscape Architecture Program at the University of New South Wales. The study was structured as an interdisciplinary, elective studio in 2012 called ‘Legible Landscapes,’ which adopted a landscape-based approach to theories and concepts of legibility, coherence and experience to generate design proposals. This paper reports on the value and significance of the process and outcomes of this pilot project, for both the students and the WSPT. We reflect on and assess the relevance of the selected theoretical frameworks, and the relevance of employing the resultant ‘blended’ frameworks as a basis for increasing greenway visual coherence and imageability in the metropolitan context of Western Sydney.



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