Mapping “Access to Nature”

The fantastic Jo Fitzgibbons, UBC Sustainability Scholar, worked with me over the summer to complete a comprehensive look into Vancouver’s “Access to Nature”.

“Through the Greenest City Action Plan and other strategies, the City of Vancouver strives to provide residents with access to nature. However, access to nature is a subjective experience that is difficult to plan for and measure. This report proposes a definition and corresponding mapping protocol (the Restorative Natural Area Index) for measuring and monitoring access to nature in Vancouver, based on synthesized findings from a public engagement survey, interviews, literature review, and a policy scan.”

This is a fantastic step towards mapping access to restorative nature experiences in the city and will help us to identify gaps and opportunities.

The RNA index is a novel solution to the complexity and subjectiveness of the topic.

The report includes useful terminology which will help communicate the function of “access to nature” during community consultation.

I am very proud of how this work developed. I can see so much potential for the topic developing further.

Here is the full report:
Well done Jo!


Monocle Magazine – Quality of Life Edition (Aug 2020)

I’m absolutely overjoyed to be featured in the esteemed Monocle Magazine (July/August edition) and on their podcast The Urbanist!

It’s been a rather silly “career bucket list” ambition of mine to get a mention in Monocle, for the past decade since I found and fell in love with the publication. It’s been my go-to travel read and source of inspiration ever since.

VanPlay’s equity work brings me so much pride. I’m so happy that we are able to share it so widely.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Monocle and Kurt CulbertsonDesign WorkshopDave HutchMalcolm BromleyDonnie (Donna-Lynn) RosaShauna J. WiltonDoug Shearer and so so so many more!

Covid-19 Pandemic Reinforces the Importance of Spatial Equity approach for Communities

By Kurt Culbertson, CEO of Design Workshop and Katherine Howard,  Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation for

With COVID-19 changing our way of life, we are being told to stay at home, don’t travel too far from your neighborhood and try to enjoy being outside.  What if you don’t have a park nearby, if your home is tiny with no outdoor space and limited light, or what if your community is the people you meet through sport or at your local community center?

Lock downs and stay at home orders are highlighting the value of green open spaces in crowded cities, and also the inequities in spatial distribution of that space. Spatial equity is a complex concept which considers whether access to opportunities and freedom from risks (such as pollution or traffic) are equitable in their distribution. It’s important to note that ‘equity’ (fairness) is quite different to ‘equality’ (everyone has the same). Consideration goes beyond pure amount of park space available and should also consider how welcome people feel, the quality of that space and the quality of access to it (safe routes to parks, safe routes to school, parks that are accessible by public transit and bikeways).It is critical the planners and city builders focus effort on reducing those inequalities both through recovery efforts and in long-term planning policy.

Parks and open spaces are in more demand than ever – British Columbia’s parks are seeing more visitors than ever before – according to Google mobility data it’s an average of 40-50% more people in parks than would be typical at this time of year.

The spot light is on parks, in a way that it really has never been before. It’s time for parks and recreation to step up, provide people with critical services to keep us happy and healthy, and also to rebuild better in recovery.

One method of supporting this pursuit is the identification of priority areas or zones, those neighborhoods where planners should look first to locate new amenities, park space and provide services. By prioritizing these areas, over time and with deeper conversations, resource delivery can become more equitable. It’s also possible that this tool becomes useful in guiding quick responses to emergencies.  Cities including New York, San Francisco and Boston have mapping like this.

The Commissioners and leadership of the City of Vancouver’s Board of Parks and Recreation where certain that equity in provision of parks and recreation should be the core value of its new comprehensive city-wide master plan – VanPlay.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation is unique because it’s the only elected body of its kind in Canada. Its role as advocates for the provision, preservation and advocacy for parks, nature and recreation amenities is a special opportunity for leadership.

Like many North American cities, Vancouver faces challenges including increasing demand from growing and diversifying populations, aging infrastructure, impacts of climate change to ecosystem health and budgets that can’t fully tackle the needed improvements to parks and recreation infrastructure. Most notably, and again like most cities, some parts of the city have been provided less over the course of the city’s development for various reasons (politics, prejudice, land use patterns etc.). With more than 1,000 acres of park space, the City of Vancouver needed more cohesiveness, more connection within its park system and a way to prioritize effort in a way that enabled work towards equity to become a part of every-day decision making.

In 2016, the City brought in the Design Workshop, an international landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm, to guide the Vancouver Park Board Commissioners, and staff in a master planning process to determine what’s important to the city, to create a bold long-term vision and to develop tools to make it happen. Approved in late 2019, the completed plan created tools which equipped decision makers to prioritize equity, access and reconciliation.

It was clear, through mapping analysis, that patterns of privilege and power aligned with areas of the city that had more park space, and more private open space. As previously mentioned, this is fairly typical for cities, especially those with any kind of industrial or port history. Areas that would have been historically on the fringe, subject to poor air and water quality are the least desirable. Over time and with the ongoing systemic impacts of political decision making favoring those with a voice and power, patterns emerge and are reinforced.

The VanPlay Equity Initiative Zones map, one of three “Strategic Bold Moves” in the plan, shows areas of the city that have historically been under-served (or marginalized) in provision of park space, recreation opportunity and green, leafy living environments. It is a map showing areas of the city that should be prioritized when making decisions regarding where to focus effort, direct resources or dive into for further investigation.


While geographic tools like this are not uncommon Vancouver’s is unique as it is centered on access to parks and recreation provision, and is structured around the acknowledgement that some parts of the city have been provided less over the course of the city’s development for various reasons (politics, prejudice, land use patterns etc.). This inequity is systemic prejudice, and contributes directly to the provision of opportunities and has impacts on health and well-being, social capital and economic development.

While “equity” is a deep and complex concept which has no easy or simple answers, acknowledging these patterns goes a long way in causing a shift and preventing continuation of damaging activity. The spatial equity tool introduced in VanPlay is powerful in its simplicity.

It’s helpful right now because it shows so clearly where priority needs to be. The areas of the city with low park space per person, that are less green, and that are calling out for more recreation opportunities (through low barrier recreation program registration) are the places where there are people living in small apartments, who don’t have private outdoor space like a backyard to quarantine in.

It’s transparent, it’s logical, it’s approved policy and it’s ready to be used to prioritize response to the pandemic.

Having VanPlay in place has meant that the Vancouver Park Board is ready to run – this vision for the parks and recreation system of the future which serves Vancouverites in an equitable way, which connects ecosystems, allows for robust flows of water through the city, helps people integrate recreation and physical activity into their daily lives, and which is supported by a comprehensive provision of amenities like courts, pools, and swings.

Having the vision is important because when asked to amp it up in response to a crisis the agency knows what we can do to make a big difference. As recovery funding flows in, as pilot quick responses like opening streets, and efforts to prioritize limited government spending it’s absolutely critical to be “shovel ready” and driven by transparent processes and well-articulated values.

Identifying amenity needs, prioritizing funding to areas of the city which have received less in the past and working to keep amenities open and available using an equitable model – are all ways that VanPlay, the master plan for parks and recreation for the City of Vancouver, is helping provide critical access to green space during this crisis.



Vibrant Activation! An Introduction to Space Activation and Placemaking

A valuable space for the community need not always be beautiful; the most treasured spaces are those that meet the needs of the community, places that people naturally use as part of their daily life.
Placemaking is an approach and an ethos, which places community participation at the forefront of creating vibrant public spaces that contribute to the health, happiness and wellbeing of that community.
Given that this ‘placemaking’ thing is buzzword of the moment in the open space and planning world I thought it would be valuable to introduce you to the language and ethos so you can join in the conversation!

“A great public space cannot be measured by its physical attributes alone; it must also serve people as a vital community resource in which function always trumps form. When people of all ages, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can not only access and enjoy a place, but also play a key role in its identity, creation, and maintenance, that is when we see genuine Placemaking in action.” – Project for Public Spaces

Public places are the little joyful moments of cities; they are where we gather to sit in the sun with friends, meditate over a coffee on the way to work, meet our neighbours, birthday parties are held, run to shake off the days frustrations, retreat to when it’s hard at home, learn to play cricket and pass on skills to our children. Not limited to parks, public spaces typically include streets, laneways and the “front porches” of places like the library or post office, although anywhere people can go has potential to be a “place”.

Place activation is the goal of the placemaking process and it impacts all aspects of park planning, development and ongoing management.

“Place activation is defined as planning for diverse human activity in a place. When planning new places, the focus of place activation is on ensuring the needs of all potential users are met. This will provide for the natural, organic and sustainable use of places by people as part of their daily life. In turn having a place full of people will attract more people.” – Place Partners

A space that is buzzing with people is an active one. I’ve been know to exclaim “Wow, look at all this activation!” in response to a park brimming with people chatting, exercising, playing chess, picnicking, dancing, reading and eating, “This place is so activated!”

Activation is caused by placemaking and the result of the following concepts.


Community participation in open space planning:
The difference between the traditional method of developing public spaces and placemaking is all in the process.
Placemaking offers a way to strengthen the connection between people and the places they share. Community ownership of the project from the beginning sets you up for success in creating a space that people will adore.
In a space that already exists this presents an opportunity to re-imagine a place they already know and see new potential. In new spaces it can facilitate building community by connecting people and creating shared value. In the placemaking process the community is the expert and your main source of ideas and help.
The collaborative process is as important as the result. It’s possible to change how the community use a space with little more than some great conversations. If the goal is to create a ‘place’ then a landscape design will not be enough. Sure, making the space more comfortable and pretty will certainly help but it’s the relationships that make the fundamental change. Partnership with the surrounding businesses and community can build a strong sense of community, and eventually a valuable, vibrant place.

“What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people” William H. Wyte

“Lighter, quicker, cheaper”:
Everyone appreciates the little wins on the way towards something great and placemaking is no different. The great thing about placemaking is that it doesn’t have to be a huge, expensive undertaking. You can start slow, test out new concepts, stimulate some new ideas and start conversations with a small investment. As the Project for Public Spaces say; “Start with the petunias”, planting some cheap, colourful, flowers that brighten a space immediately, and they must be cared for which demonstrates that someone must be looking after the space. Seeing actual things happening on the ground, no matter how small, encourages the cynics among us to get on board with change, it’s not just another strategic plan that won’t show impacts for years.
Some of the most sustainable, valued and authentic places are those that where created through a slow, step-by-step process, cemented in the community. These incremental improvements infiltrated the way the community think of the space and before long became much more than the sum of its parts.
A great example is the proliferation of gorgeous public art, which has been appearing all over Perth. This ongoing ‘PUBLIC’ project by FORM truly transformed spaces with nothing more than a mural.

Tactical Urbanism:
Sounds like some kind of SWAT team right? Tactical urbanism, sometimes called Guerrilla urbanism, is a term used to describe any technically unauthorised project undertaken by the community to improve a space. Whilst it’s technically vandalism, it’s all in good fun and with good intentions. People have painted in cross walks, used pot plants to mark out bike lanes, installed free library boxes in parks, and built new parks in parking lots to name just a few. One example, which has been increasingly supported by councils, is the Parklet. These miniature parks on parking bays, which started out as protest demanding more green space in cities have now become a popular permanent fixture in main streets. There is even an international “PARK(ing) day” to celebrate it!
Tactical urbanism is a demonstration of community ownership and value of a space, these rouge actions show what people care about, and what they need from their space.


Power of 10+:
There are many aspects that contribute to a successful place, and I’ll go into this more in a future article but I’d venture that the three most important things are; that the space is comfortable to be in, there are places to sit and that it’s welcoming. If you get those three things right you are well on your way.
The ‘power of 10+’ concept is a tool for identifying why people would be attracted to a place, and to ensure there are an adequate number and variety of things to do in one location. The idea is that if a neighbourhood has 10 places that each have 10 different things to do, then that neighbourhood is on the right track; but if that city then has 10 neighbourhoods of this nature, everyone will be guaranteed access to excellent public spaces.
Places thrive when there are lots of reasons to be there, all layered together. For example; people go to a park to sit, play in the playground, listen to music, walk a trail, buy a coffee, meet people, have a picnic, play sport, watch the ducks, or walk the dog.
Think big (the overall character of the place) and small (where will people sit?).

Through clever design you can create a whole that is a lot great than the sum of its parts. Triangulation, when applied to the design of space, means to place items in such a way that the use of one increases due to use of the others. For example, a playground, café and rest rooms would get used individually but all three together will naturally attract more activity.
Sites with multiple, different but related functions grouped together create opportunities to triangulate, connect with people and a reason to talk to strangers and build relationships.

Place Management:
Creating an award-winning beautiful place is just the beginning (sorry!). It’ll never become a truly valuable community place unless it’s well managed. In fact, apparently about 80% of the success of any public space can be attributed to its ongoing management.
Places change and you need to be around to see that and respond to it. Having the ability and flexibility to make changes, which support its ongoing evolution, builds places with strong physical, cultural and social identity.
You’ll notice that more and more councils and organisations are hiring ‘place managers’ to take on this role.

A large proportion of a place manager’s role, other than ongoing maintenance, is programming. Any event or organised use of the space that is designed to attract people to the space can be considered “programming”. It serves many purposes such as; an introduction to the space for newbies, to demonstrate that someone is in charge and looking after the space, to create activity ‘social buzz’ and build momentum, and/or to build social capital.
These programs can be run in collaboration with local community groups, businesses or institutions such as schools, libraries, or farmers markets. It’s the perfect way to make a great first impression; perhaps they’ll fall in love with the park whilst perusing the citrus at the farmers market and bring their book and picnic rug next weekend.


There is a wealth of information available about placemaking, and now you know some of the language so you’ll know what to look for! The New York based Project for Public Spaces can be considered the epicentre of the movement and their website ( is full of great articles, case studies and resources on the topic.

All images courtesy of the Project for Public Spaces, NYC.

Perth Transport Plan – Open for Comment

The Western Australian Department of Transport has released a new draft strategic transport plan for the Perth metropolitan area – it’s open for public comment until October 28 2016.


I’m in the process of reviewing it and will put together my thoughts and post them here when I’m done. An indication of my early thoughts?… disappointed.

Firstly there is no acknowledgement of streets as vital community places or any movement towards protecting/enhancing those important main streets that have functions much greater than transport.

This plan has the ability to manage traffic flow in a way that enables Complete Streets. In fact, the proposal for an additional river crossing at Heirisson Island may even put more pressure on Albany Highway through Victoria Park which really shouldn’t be a highway anymore.

The Green bridges for active transport are a good start but in light of the rest of the document’s focus on over-sized, expensive road infrastructure, they seem like an after thought.

The plan proposes a tunnel/bridge interchange proposed on Langley Park at the end of Plain Street – in the center of Perth CBDs waterfront parkland. With the aim to “create opportunity to close Riverside Drive with remaining traffic using Terrace Road, enabling activation of the Perth waterfront”… hmm… not sure that has been fully considered. A huge new intersection involving two tunnels connecting with Terrace Road, a residential street, does not spell good design to me.

Their idea of “sustainability” appears a tad biased. for example: Principle 4 of road network planning is”Sustainability: The road network strives to avoid impacting land that is not already reserved in the MRS”.So, to avoid this impact on reserves they are proposing 10 new tunnels instead, some of which run underneath the most environmentally sensitive area in the central Perth area. I would argue that sustainability would be making better use of the assets you have, reducing pressure on them, avoiding the environmental impact of building new tunnels under the river and planning to use the road network less overall.

I’d like to see a triage process to reduce demand for the road network system starting with a focus on active transport infrastructure, public transit networks and then, if absolutely necessary, new roads.


More thoughts to come!


Green, Vibrant and Well Loved

Strategic planning for public open space networks that make the world a better place

Parks Week 2016 - Alpaca

I think we can all agree that taking the time to think strategically is generally a great idea, no matter the topic. This is especially important when the implementation of any vision is likely to be conducted in a piecemeal manner.

It is via local open space strategy and policy that the greatest impact on park provision can be achieved.  Open space policies and strategies have the capacity to guide how public open space is distributed to establish and protect a parkland network which enhances sense of place, ensures a balanced provision of sport, recreation and nature functions, retains significant environmental and cultural features; and realises opportunities for achieving efficiencies and sharing of infrastructure.

Crucially, Public Open Space (POS) strategic planning is important for making the absolute best use of limited resources; like your water for irrigation budget! It’s an opportunity to consider all available integrated water cycle management information such as district/regional water management strategies, water supply strategies, water license availability and/or storm water management planning in coordination with the Department of Water, and fit it in to how we meet the sport and recreation needs of the community.

We’ve recently developed a step-by-step online resource to guide local governments through the process of developing a POS strategy. It is available on the Department of Sport and Recreation website ( > Support and Advice). It outlines eight steps to take on your journey to creating a POS strategy (or the POS section of another strategic document) and includes lots of spin off information, examples and references along the way.

Here is a quick and dirty brief of the eight steps we think are crucial in thinking strategically about creating an open space network which meets the sport, recreation and access to nature needs of the community in the most equitable and resource efficient way.

Step 1 – Committing to Action

A project champion is vital but without full local government/council uptake early on you’ll be pushing uphill when you get moving. A Public Open Space Strategy needs to incorporate input from all divisions of the Local Government, as it will impact on all of the Council’s activities.

A great way to begin the journey is to pull together an internal working group with representation from all divisions should be established. Ensure that the people who come along are able to make commitments on behalf of their branches or directorates.

At your first gathering of the internal working group the first order of business should be the vision and objectives. It is essential that the strategy reflect the Council’s vision for the future. It should be aligned with the Council’s overall values and objectives as articulated in its Strategic Community Plan. There are some great examples on the website to get your word smithing started.

Step 2 – Scope and Context

The next discussion to have is how to make your vision come to life. What does the strategy aim to achieve? What is its sphere of influence? What aspects of POS planning will you focus on so you get the most impact for your efforts?

Something that may seem obvious but actually isn’t; how you define ‘Public Open Space’. In land administration terms the definition is somewhat clear but limits you to discussing land that is created through the subdivision process and excludes many of types of open space which is publically accessible and provides beautiful space for sport and recreation pursuits (like some types of bush land reserves, national parks and regional open space).

The Classification Framework for Public Open Space offers a potential definition for your consideration:

“POS refers to urban green spaces: parklands, play areas, playing fields, bushland, greenways and other similar spaces people use for recreation, sport and social interaction.”

Classification Framework for Public Open Space (DSR, 2012)

The strategy should also consider the relationship between public open space in its district and that within neighbouring Local Governments and spaces that operate on a regional scale. On that note, what is the scale of the strategy? Some in the past have teamed up with other local governments or regional councils to take on a broader scale; others have narrowed their focus to precincts or activity centres.

How it will link to other strategies and policies within the organisation and at a regional and or State level? What will give it teeth and status? It’s important that the strategy is integrated with other council documents and aligns with other similar documents like the Council’s Strategic Community Plan and/or Local Planning Strategy. It is important to identify all Local Government plans and activities that may influence or be influenced by this new strategy. Check out all the potential areas of overlap or conflict and be ready to work with them or blow them out of the water!

Decide whether the strategy should stand-alone and form part of a suite of strategic documents alongside, for example: a housing strategy, economic development strategy and environment strategy. If you go with this structure the relevant strategies and priorities would then be captured in the Council’s Strategic community Plan, Budget, Local Planning Strategy and other key Council documents.

Step 3 – Audit of existing POS

Show us what you’ve got! Lay all your cards on the table by conducting an audit of all the Councils existing POS assets. This forms the basis for determining how well current needs are being met and what is required to meet the future needs of the community.

Detailed information on these assets should be collected including:

  • Ownership (facilities and land);
  • Land administration information such as leases/licences/easements on the land;
  • Its purpose/function;
  • Facilities and infrastructure;
  • Current condition;
  • Usage;
  • Cost/revenue;
  • Cyclical maintenance requirements; and
  • Upgrade, replacement and redevelopment intentions.

Also, it is important to consider what is provided in surrounding areas that may also be meeting the needs of the community (i.e. regional playing grounds, parks and facilities). Thinking in terms of catchments is useful here, for example; a park with regional scale sporting facilities is likely to attract people up to 2km away, whilst smaller sites generally attract only the locals.

Step 4 – Current and future needs analysis

What is an adequate provision of public open space? What do your community want now and what are they likely to want in 10 years time? Understanding the community’s recreation aspirations helps identify and implement strategies to enhance the opportunities, experiences, benefits and the quality of life for the community.

Defining what an adequate provision of POS is, will form an aspirational standard delivery model and a clear baseline. The POS provision requirements in State Government planning policy (Liveable Neighbourhoods) are a good (and required) standard however Local Governments can develop a more thorough and locally significant definition. Seek help from best practice guidelines such as the Public Parkland Planning and Design Guide (DSR, 2014) especially for matters that are not covered in state government policy such as facility provision and development of POS.

Changing community needs may generate a demand for new or different facilities. Struggling to tell the future? Consider that these changes could occur due to population growth, a changing community (e.g. ageing, diversifying culturally or becoming more or less affluent) and/or a general shift in community attitudes.  For example, increased appreciation of natural and conservation values has increased demands for the retention and protection of land with landscape and environmental values.

A great place to start is to get out and talk to the community. A comprehensive ongoing program of research, profiling and consultation is the best way to gauge changing needs. Ask them these sorts of wonderful questions; which of the existing recreational provision works well and must be protected and strengthened? What recreational opportunities need fixing and how might they be fixed? What will ensure the community has access to the activities it would like to pursue?

Step 5 – Gap Analysis

And now we compare notes! A comparison between what is currently available (Step 3) and the current and future needs of the district (Step 4) will allow you to see the gaps in current provisions or areas where there might be an oversupply.

This is not going to look like comparing two maps – you’ll have quantitative and qualitative information to consider in the form of ideas from the community, data from facilities and catchment mapping, to name only a couple! Mapping is a great place to start though because you’ll be able to analyse the existing open space supply in terms of how well it meets various needs. Needs are met through good access to functional spaces. The basis of this is the location, distribution and connectivity of the network of open spaces (with each other and with other key destinations and spaces of interest in the neighbourhood).  However, also consider other impediments to using spaces including physical, geographic, financial, social and cultural barriers.

Step 6 – Strategies, opportunities and priorities

Now this is the tricky (exciting) bit! How do we go about filling those gaps? Step 6 is the opportunity to determine how best to implement both adequate and aspirational POS provision.

There are a number of great ways to meet gaps in provision. Such as;

  • Better use of existing spaces (efficiency measures)
  • Converting or adapting existing space (change of use)
  • Strategic land acquisition to improve linkages or increase capacity of existing space;
  • Integrating and colocation with other services/users;
  • Using new technologies and enhanced design (installing lighting to extend times that facilities can be used, using artificial services to reduce maintenance costs and time);
  • Providing more indoor facilities that can be used throughout the year rather than being subject to weather or seasonal vagaries;
  • Rationalising facilities by identifying poorly used and/or located spaces; and
  • Providing detailed, locally appropriate guidance (supported by planning instruments) to developers on site provision and development.

Step 7 – Implementation

This is where it all takes shape; take all those strategies, opportunities and priorities from Step 6 and create a plan of attack. Your comprehensive implementation plan, in addition to identifying responsibilities and timing should also consider:

  • Input from, and integration into the activities of, all divisions of the Local Government
  • Integration into the Community Strategic Plan and Corporate Plan
  • Facility management, programming and services
  • Statutory planning instruments
  • Funding opportunities
  • Budget pricing and charges plan

Step 8 – Monitoring and review

Of course, any good plans comes with some way of determining if it’s been successful or not, and a plan to realign with its goals in the future.

A great idea is a plan to keep the data collected in the auditing stage up to date into the future.  A curated database can come in handy at budgeting time.

Keeping an eye on how the community feels over time via periodic surveys can monitor and gather feedback on performance of the strategy and track changes in demand. Set up regular opportunities to talk to people who use the parks – casual users and those who have a more formal relationship like a lease arrangement for a sporting facility.

Ready to do it all over again yet? The strategy should commit to both comprehensive review (say a 7-10 year cycle), and interim or ad hoc reviews if there is a major change in the planning context (for example if the State or Federal Governments provide funding for a major new facility which changes the supply context). Just when you thought you’d got to the last step!

For much more thorough guidance on this topic please visit the online Public Open Space Strategy Guide for Local Governments, available on the Department of Sport and Recreation website ( > Support and Advice).

The online resource is a wealth of information on various aspects of POS planning including example POS strategies, academic articles and guidance documents to both support your argument for undertaking POS planning and help you through the process.



Bringing Parks to Life – Development of Public Open Space

Parks come to life with playgrounds, turf, footy goals, BBQs and benches. A quality public open space is welcoming, vibrant and provides space for the community to play, socialize, exercise and explore. The development of public open space provides the opportunity to create valuable places for the community. With infrastructure a space goes from being a patch of green on a map to being an AFL oval, a nature play space, a skate park or an urban plaza.

It’s about creating places, not just spaces.  The Project for Public Spaces describes successful places as having four key qualities: “they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place: one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit.” (PPS, “What Makes a Successful Place?”)

In new suburbs, putting the “stuff” on the ground is usually the responsibility of the developer, it is a condition of subdivision approval that they must develop the open space to a minimum standard and maintain it for at least two summers. Once established over two years the local government takes over responsibility for its ongoing maintenance.

Many local governments have local planning polices or guidelines to facilitate what ends up on their parks but often the quality of the resulting park is the outcome of developer lottery. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you’re left in the dirt.

Deciding what goes on the ground on a public open space site is a multifaceted, often technical conversation which is sometimes skimmed over in the hurry of getting a landscaping plan out the door, but it’s a great one to get involved in. There are a few key issues which come into play; I’ve loosely grouped some ideas around the themes of function, maintenance, water and comfort.Fleming Reserve


What the space is for is as important as how much of it there is. For planning purposes the plethora of different activities people use public open space can be clustered in three categories; sport, nature and recreation. Sport spaces provide an opportunity for the community to engage in formal organized sport, nature spaces give residents a chance to connect with and explore the natural environment, and recreation spaces provide a venue for casual exercising, socializing and play.

Nature sites are an opportunity to conserve native vegetation but can sensitively be developed to add value to the community for example; walking trails, boardwalks, interpretative signage, bird hides and look outs. These delicate upgrades encourage people to visit and engage with the space.

Sport sites rely on infrastructure being provided to be functional. A soccer pitch is not purely a rectangle of ground; its turf, goals, club rooms and equipment storage too, without which the site could not host a competition. There are minimum standards to apply for the type of sport you are accommodating whether it’s a tennis court, oval or swimming pool.

Recreation is a bit more flexible and can cover everything from walk trails to playgrounds. It’s space to walk to dog, hold a picnic, go for a run or tire out the kids. As such the development should consider the recreational preferences of the community; do you need playgrounds, running routes, a skate park or a duck pond adjacent bench, or perhaps all of the above?

Being inviting and encouraging people to stay a while is an important part of creating a valuable public space. Providing multiple functions at one location means that people of different ages will visit at different times of the day for different reasons. For example, providing a playground and picnic area together is a common one which is always more popular than one or the other on their own.  Valuable sites are so cherished because they serve many people’s needs.



Parks with just grass and a string of bollards around the edge are easy to mow and are pretty bland, at the other end of the spectrum, a park with a whole lot of expensive, beautiful infrastructure is sometimes difficult and costly to maintain.  A reality of developing anything is, of course, ongoing maintenance costs. There is no need to stop doing fantastic, innovative things, as long as the whole of life costs are considered. Engaging with park maintenance crews when designing a space will prevent a park that can only be hand watered, is a nightmare to mow and/or features a deck that needs oiling every 6 months.

Using locally native plant species in landscaping and limiting turf grass in areas not used for sport, demands less water, preserves local character and also keeps maintenance costs low. Seek out local resources and materials that are robust, recycled/recyclable and environmentally sound.

Some battles to reduce maintenance costs can be won early in the planning process, by matching the purpose of the site with a location with the right soil/water conditions, for example, choosing a sandy, well-drained location for the playing fields. Common sense of course, but when you design without knowing your site it’s an easy mistake to make.



Some areas of Western Australia are subject to very limited water availability, some have a troublesome abundance and everything in between. New development in the Perth Metro area must be conscious of its limited water availability and respond through innovation, rather than limitation.

Landscaping with water-wise and locally native plants and maximizing retention of existing vegetation on public open space reduces the need for irrigation. Hydrozoning, being the grouping of vegetation types into categories with similar water requirements and locating them adjacent to each other, enables more efficient use of irrigated water. Where irrigation is required, conversations about alternative, fit-for-purpose water sources encourage innovation and problem solving.

The uptake of Water Sensitive Urban Design has resulted in many parks being used to manage storm water; noticeable when done badly and barely noticeable when done well. Where water management infrastructure it should be integrated into the landscape and contribute positively to the aesthetics and function of the site. Water sensitive design can provide water where it’s needed, keep landscapes green for longer, and create living streams and frog ponds for kids to splash in.



You’ve got a space, it looks great and provides opportunities for sport, nature and recreation; how do you get people to come, stay and play? Make it comfortable and create an experience.

Make it a refuge by providing shade from the heat and protection from the rain. Make is safe by providing adequate lighting and preserving sight lines from the street and overlooking residents to enable causal surveillance.  Lighting is especially important in the North of WA where people are more likely to play sport and go for a walk in the evening to escape the heat of the day.

Encourage people to walk and cycle to, from and through the site by connecting all the footpaths together in a system, connect it internally but also externally to the wider network of paths going to schools, facilities and centers.

People appreciate a variety of different seating opportunities; benches, low walls, tiered embankments, and logs all provide places to perch and watch the world go by. A successful place is welcoming and engaging for people of all different age groups, abilities and interests. How would you see your local park though the eyes of a 7 year old? How about a 70 year old?

Public open space development is a mixed bag of issues interacting with each other and this provides many innovative and fun problem solving opportunities.  Working collaboratively and actively participating in the conversation will result in valued places to play, explore and enjoy.Leigh Hamley 1

The Entertainer – City of Vincent’s lifts ban on Icecream Trucks

Keep an eye out for the City of Vincent’s draft ‘Mobile Food Vendor’ policy over the coming weeks!

Last night (2nd December 2014) City of Vincent Council considered the draft and agreed it was ready to go out for public comment. Hurray! The Food Truck take over is alive and strong.

Two major changes as far as I can see, the first being that they will lift their current ban on “itinerant vendors” AKA Ice cream vans! Watch out Vincent residents, soon the delicious sound of impending soft serve will be tinkling gently through your house on a sunny sunday afternoon.

simpsons icecream truck

The second change being that they have identified a few car parking bays throughout the city where licenced food trucks can park and trade.

Here is the  City of Vincent 2 Dec Agenda, the pages concerning the new policy if you fancy a look. I’ll be having a closer look when it comes out!

Congratulations City of Vincent!