Observations of Parramatta

Parramatta, whose name comes from the Darug word Burramatta, “the place where the eels lie down”, is the putative capital of Western Sydney, it is almost Saint Paul to Sydney as Minneapolis, Fort Worth to Dallas, Oakland to San Francisco. It was once the capital of the colony of New South Wales, and hosts the original Governor’s house. It is upstream on the Parramatta River (which widens into Darling Harbour) by about 25 km from Sydney CBD (farther than St. Paul and Oakland, closer than Fort Worth). It is the less glamorous, much ignored little sister.

Church and Phillip Street, Parramatta
Church and Phillip Street, Parramatta

However Western Sydney is growing (since the equivalent Eastern Sydney is in the Pacific), and the distance of the average new resident to downtown Sydney grows with it. You can use transport to bring them into the city faster, or you can bring jobs to the residents. Current transport links between the CBDs are at capacity during peak periods, in particular both roads and Trains (the T1). The strategy is to do both. The currently under construction WestConnex, the vaguely planned West Sydney Metro, and promised trains to the Airport at Badgery Creek are examples of transport spending. Decentralizing government from Sydney to Parramatta, as well as general market forces work toward the latter.

There are plans for a Parramatta centred light rail network to help local circulation, though these have been scaled back to avoid duplication with the mooted West Sydney Metro.

It is expected Greater Parramatta will grow from about 50,000 to 100,000 jobs over the next two decades. (It is not clear how much is CBD, which all depends on how you define CBD). In contrast other CBDs  are roughly sized as follows: Sydney is about 175,000, Minneapolis is about 130,000, St. Paul is 40,000, Dallas is 112,000, Fort Worth is 30,000, San Francisco is 291,000, Oakland is  30,000 … all from Demographia.

Church Street is the main axis, connecting Parramatta’s train station, through its historic core and the Parramatta Square area, to the Parramatta River and Parramatta Park along the River, across the River to North Parramatta and the northern suburbs of Sydney. The first few blocks emanating from the train station are extremely pedestrian-oriented, starting in a plaza, and it becomes a more typical urban shopping street as the River is approached from the south. The town is far more urban than I imagined, and the local street network is a grid, indicating notions of intended city status, rather than curvilinear and dendritic, suggestive of accidental urbanisation.

Parramatta Park is very large urban park, containing historic site of the colonial government as well as several cricket ovals and the under demolition/reconstruction Western Sydney Stadium (seating 30k) where the Western Sydney Wanderers FC and the Parramatta Eels NRL teams played, and will play again.

Not everyone agrees that growth is good, or at least that this growth is good. A critical view of the changes taking place can be found in this article: Making what happen? The fate of Parramatta Park, with the choice quote “Parramatta, it seems, is at risk of an enforced vibrancy, which gives the people what the government says they need”

Other developments include Parramatta Square, which will include a 68-story tower (because the 90 story tower original proposed ran afoul of the aviation authorities).

While Parramatta is certainly growing, I have a hard time believing anyone outside of Australia will ever hear of it. Development in Western Sydney is, and will remain, far more dispersed than that in the CBD, and other towns in the west (Liverpool, Penrith, etc.) are competing to be hubs. Even sports teams call themselves “Western Sydney” rather than “Parramatta”. If state government actually fully relocated here, things might change some, but baring catastrophe the urban core will remain the Sydney CBD for a long time.

My Photos of Parramatta show the walk I took through the city on April 30, 2017.