Friday on my mind: The workers avoiding the CBD
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Friday on my mind: The workers avoiding the CBD

Staff incentives fail to fire with workers as NSW State Government gets a jump start on the weekend

Tue, Sep 26, 2023 11:08amGrey Clock 2 min

Massages, pilates classes, free food and beverages and discounted parking have not been enough to lure office staff back to the CBD, a commercial property expert said this week.

Head of research at Ray White Commercial, Vanessa Rader said despite best efforts by employers, staff have been less inclined to come into the city on Fridays, prompting calls for the introduction of a four-day week.

“While office owners and employers are doing their bit to encourage staff interaction in the office by way of perks and experiences such as massages, pilates classes, free cannolis and iced lattes, occupancy levels remain subdued,” she said. “Now Transport NSW has weighed in, Sydney’s public transport prices are set to increase next month, weekly caps however have remained unchanged and Friday is now considered a weekend.”

Head of research at Ray White Commercial, Vanessa Rader

Last weekend, NSW Transport announced that weekend fares will also apply on Fridays, providing all-day travel for no more than $8.90 for adults on metro, train, light rail and bus services.

“However, half-price trips after eight journeys will no longer be available when the fare change comes into effect,” the statement said. “Fewer people are travelling five days a week, resulting in lower uptake of the half- price trips benefit, which has dropped from 24 percent pre-Covid to 14 percent in 2023.”  

City office vacancies are at their highest rates since the late 1990s, with Sydney and Melbourne recording 11.5 percent and 15 percent respectively. Ms Rader said there were several factors keeping occupancy rates consistently low.

“The prolonged historically low 3.7 percent unemployment rate is a stumbling block for many businesses, the lack of quality talent leading to employers having to provide greater flexibility to secure quality staff,” she said. “Hybrid working models allow remote working, be it from home, in regional areas or even interstate with limited need for “in the office” interaction continuing to be commonplace.”

However, data released by CoreLogic last month showed the desire for regional areas has cooled, with key areas such as the Richmond-Tweed, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands in NSW and Ballarat and Geelong in Victoria experiencing falls in values between -10.4 percent and -20.4 percent, indicating a return to city areas.

In the meantime, Ms Rader said the case for a four-day week to entice workers back to the city while maintaining work-life balance is growing.

“The mandating of staff back into the workplace for a four-day week, would do much to stimulate the office market’s demand for space, while promoting better work/life balance, reduced stress and growth in health benefits,” she said. “(This would) leave the three-day weekend to explore Sydney on public transport at a discounted rate, or travelling across toll roads, growing family time and healthy lifestyle habits.”


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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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