Jurisdiction: New South Wales

How do we build confidence in the community to use public spaces to support economic, social, cultural and environmental recovery, whether in response to Covid-19, or other disasters such as recent bushfires and floods?

The Challenge:

This problem statement seeks to find solutions that support our ‘ROAD TO RECOVERY’ public spaces approach. We are interested in understanding how we better utilise public spaces as an enabler for community resilience, and economic, social, cultural and environmental recovery.

In late 2019 record-breaking temperatures and months of drought fuelled a series of bushfires that in NSW affected more than five million hectares of the State. In March 2021 floods across NSW saw communities evacuated, with extensive damage to homes, infrastructure, as well as natural environments and public space. And, in early 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic meant we were not able to leave our homes apart from essential reasons for extended periods, with ongoing outbreaks disrupting the way of life for so many.

What we have also seen around the world is, a heightened awareness of the value of public space for community resilience. Public spaces are helping people to stay healthy and physically distanced in their local communities. They play a critical role in supporting local businesses and economies, and disaster-affected communities, to bounce back; and in fostering a renewed sense of belonging and place attachment.


Quality green, open and public spaces are important to everyone. They are our free and publicly accessible parks, gardens and sports fields, walkable shady streets, libraries, museums and galleries, which form the heart of our communities. Our public spaces make life more welcoming and accessible. They delight and connect people. They support our health and well-being, environmental resilience and prosperous local economies. They’re at the heart of everyday life.

Public spaces are all places publicly owned or of public use, accessible and enjoyable by all for free. They include our open spaces, public facilities (e.g. libraries, galleries, museums) and streets. The quality of public space is a combination of its physical form, the activities that occur in the place and the meaning people associate with the place.

The NSW Premier’s Priority Greener Public Spaces (the Priority) is to increase the proportion of homes in urban areas within 10 minutes’ walk of quality green, open and public space by 10 percent by 2023. To monitor the impact of the Priority we measure an increase in homes in urban areas that have improved access within 10 minutes’ walk (800m walking catchment) of a new or improved public space.

To achieve the Priority, we are taking a “more, better, activated” approach, along with emphasising the resilience of public space as playing a key role in the “road to recovery” from recent disasters and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

• MORE: identifying areas with lower access to public space, the Priority will target strategies that provide access to new quality public spaces in these areas
• BETTER: identifying areas with high access to public space, the Priority will target strategies that improve quality of public spaces in these areas
• ACTIVATED: in all areas, the Priority will target strategies that increase activation
ROAD TO RECOVERY: Since 2019 we have also focused our work on the importance of public spaces in the resilience of communities to disasters such as bushfires, floods and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Evaluation Tool for Public Space and Public Life, is the first resource in the new online Great Public Spaces Toolkit. It is a user-friendly resource that allows anyone to assess the quality of public spaces, its positive attributes, as well as areas for improvement. The NSW Public Spaces Charter is another key resource. The Charter, currently in draft form, can be used to guide planning, design, management and activation of public space. The Charter will be a resource for individuals, organisations and agencies responsible for public space.

Additional Information:

On our webpage you will find more information about the Priority, along with current grant programs, case studies, ideas and opportunities for different types of public spaces -

Department of Planning, Industry and Environment data:

Our advice would be to think broadly and creatively about how DPIE’s data can be used. For these problem statements we don’t always have data that will provide the answers, and we use other forms of information, including reports and surveys when hard data is not available.

Public Spaces location GIS layers on the ePlanning Spatial Viewer – this dataset helps to understand the provision of public space in a given area. Click “Public Spaces” layers on in the legend on the Viewer to show the location of known open spaces and public facilities across NSW.
ePlanning Data Portal – a one stop shop for a whole range of open data relevant to public spaces, including NSW Urban Vegetation Cover; Principal Planning Layers such as land zoning; Natural Hazard layers; Green Infrastructure layers including: NSW Heat Vulnerability Index; NSW Urban Heat Island and more. These datasets can be viewed alongside the Public Spaces layers on the Spatial Viewer within the Portal.
Government Property Index – is a new resource that means you can now search and view NSW Government-owned land and property online. The index is available spatially as a layer via the Spatial Viewer. Information on government owned Crown Land is also available as layers on the Viewer.
Public Spaces Streets as Shared Spaces Engagement Report – includes results of survey aimed to provide the NSW Government with insight into the changing uses of public spaces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Draft NSW Public Spaces Charter – developed to support the planning, design, management and activation of public spaces in NSW. It identifies ten principles for quality public space, developed through evidence-based research and discussions with public space experts and community members.
Great Public Spaces Toolkit – including the Evaluation Tool for Public Space and Public Life can be used by anyone wanting to better understand a public space’s strengths or areas for improvement. The Great Public Spaces Guide, introduces the meaning of place and the elements that contribute to creating a great public facility, open space or street.

Other Government agency datasets that may be of relevance:

The other advice we would provide is that, more, better and activated public space is a cross cutting issue for the NSW Government. We have found that we often utilise other agency’s open data sources when we are looking to understand need and value of public space.

• Spatial Services NSW Point of Interest (POI) web service provides the identification and location of a feature, service or activity that people may want to see, know about or visit.
• Office of Local Government Time Series datasets, including data on Population per hectare of open space.
• NSW Health HealthStats, including on topics such as Physical Activity Levels.
• Transport for NSW Open data portal
• NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Crime Statistics data.
• ABS 2016 Census products, including Mesh block counts on population and dwellings, and Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA).
• National Recovery and Resilience Agency disaster-related datasets, including for the March 2021 floods and 2019-20 bushfires.
• Greater Sydney Commission Greater Sydney Green Grid – The Green Grid connects communities to the landscape. It is a long-term vision for a network of high quality green areas.
• Greater Sydney Commission documents including the Greater Sydney Region Plan, Women’s Safety Charter
Public Libraries in New South Wales Directory

Presentation at the New South Wales Connections Event:

Conversation with Vanessa Gordon (Director of Place from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment)

Image credit: Centennial Park during COVID-19, Damien Carroll, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

Entry: Challenge entry is available to all teams in Australia.

Dataset Highlight

NSW Public Spaces Charter Report

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National Recovery and Resilience Agency disaster-related datasets

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Census of Population and Housing: Mesh Block Counts

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NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Crime Statistics data

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NSW Health HealthStats - Physical Activity Levels data

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NSW Office of Local Government Time Series datasets

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NSW Great Public Spaces Toolkit

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NSW Point of Interest (POI) Web service

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NSW Public Spaces Streets as Shared Spaces Engagement Report

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NSW Government Property Index

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NSW ePlanning Datasets

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NSW Public Spaces location GIS layers

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Challenge Entries

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