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.

fremante-youth-plaza

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.

melbourne-placemaking

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?).

Triangulate:
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.

Programming:
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.

paley-park-nyc

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 (www.pps.org) 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.

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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 (www.dsr.wa.gov.au > 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 (Www.dsr.wa.gov.au > Support and Advice).

The online resource www.parklandwa.org.au 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

Function

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.

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Maintenance

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.

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Water

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.

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Comfort

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!

 

 

This is a great little animated video about the role of green infrastructure in cities.

We can create an integrated network of green spaces which provides residents with beautiful streetscapes and public spaces whilst manageing water, reducing heat and providing habitat. Integrate the green through street trees, green roofs, gardens, and parks. Be flexible and think outside the turf grass oval.

Invest in Green Infrastructure is produced by the Landscape Institute – UK. It is aimed at inspiring local decision-makers and communities to make the most of their land, while helping wildlife to flourish, reducing flood risk, providing green open space for all, and delivering a wide range of economic, health and community benefits.

Find out more at landscapeinstitute.org/gi

Invest in Green Infrastructure from Room60 on Vimeo.

The Landscape Institute – ‘Investing Green Infrastructure’

Farmers Marketing

I thought I’d share with you an excerpt of a paper I wrote at uni in 2008 about the role farmers markets in community building, alongside some photos of mine from various farmers market adventures.

“People like to go in at a leisurely pace – they might stop for coffee and listen to the entertainment, there’s a real social component to it. And more than that, the appeal is that the vendor is actually selling products they’ve made or grown. People are more and more concerned with how things are made and at farmers’ markets; you can talk to the vendor and find out exactly what has gone into it. That’s important to people.”     (P. Wilkes of Alberta Agriculture Food and Rural Development in Dey, 2008)

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Food forms an integral part of the social, environmental and economic fabric of human society, and where our fare comes from matters just as much as what we do with it and how we share it with the people around us. With the spotlight firmly on ‘sustainability’ there has been a renewed passion for local and organic products to replace the unsustainable trafficking of goods over huge distances and the use of environmentally damaging chemicals and pesticides.  As any good chef will tell you, the foundation of any sensational meal is the quality of the ingredients, as celebrity chefs the world over promoting the use of locally sourced, organic and top quality ingredients, it is no wonder that consumer’s interest in sources of these products has grown substantially. Farmers markets provide an opportunity for urban dwellers to find locally grown, fresh and often organic produce, and enhance the local economy by providing a revenue stream for small farmers and supporting tourism (Tiemann, 2008) (Hinrichs, 2000) (Halweil, 2002). Can these casual meeting places also provide a space for the community to reconnect, both with each other and the source of their provisions? Could they be a source of social capital, and a community support structure?

Farmers markets, as used in this discussion, can be defined as any gathering of stalls in a temporary or semi-permanent arrangement (which is not open for the majority of the week) purveying products sourced from the surrounding region and so includes both fresh fruit/ vegetables and valued added, locally made, products such as jams, pickles and honey. This definition can also be extended to include collections of street food vendors, or any market adjacent permanent restaurants/cafes and even associated art and craft stalls/galleries.

The market structure dates back to Ancient Rome and Greece where these areas where just as much about purchasing supplies as they were spaces for informal association, social interaction and forums for political debate (Wilkins & Hill, 2006). Informal association, according to Hugh Mackay, is an important aspect of human society;

‘Humans are herd animals, and we cut ourselves off from the herd at our psychological peril…This is a society in which we have rediscovered the importance of the community… It’s a society in which we have worked out how to live like modern, urban and suburban villagers. We’re eating out more, as we recognise that grazing with the herd is an important step towards reconnecting with the herd; coffee shops and cafes have become meeting places for incidental as well as planned contact. We’re creating and using more communal space in the manner of a European plaza, the local park has become a kind of village green.’ (Mackay, 1999 p xxxIII)

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Parks and public spaces serve as a place to observe the positive aspects of public life and space,  develop civic pride, social contact, skills of association, acceptance of diversity, sense of freedom, and even common sense (with respect to aesthetic standards and public taste)(Tiemann, 2008). Markets can act as mediators, to introduce people to public spaces thereby raising their awareness, and perhaps leading to increased appreciation of location, identity and pride (Hinrichs, 2000) (Tiemann, 2008). Shared places promote feelings of ownership and hence occurrences of vandalism and antisocial behaviour decrease as people define an area as “theirs”, people are more considerate when consuming spaces they will visit again (Archer & Beale, 2004). As farmers markets only a occur one or two days per week the space may have other uses,  this encourages many different people to take ownership of a space and appreciate community’s complexity,  as the space is utilised by a mixture of different groups (Tiemann, 2008). In the context of planning; one of the Western Australian Planning Commissions  ‘Liveable Neighbourhoods’  objectives under ‘Community Design’ is to enhance the context of development , strengthen local character and identity and promote a sense of community (WAPC, 2000).

The social interaction between shoppers at farmers markets is much higher than at traditional shopping centres (Sommer, 1985), it is estimated that people have 10 times as many conversations at farmers markets than they do at supermarkets (Halweil, 2002).  These spaces aid in the creation of social capital; connecting and developing networks of trust and reciprocity across social groups, developing casual association, and acceptance of diversity (Gasteyer et al., 2008) Urban consumers are more likely to visit a farmers market for the atmosphere and entertainment rather than strictly to purchase food (Gasteyer et al., 2008) which leads to a relaxed and friendly atmosphere amongst shoppers.

Sense of community is not only an matter for patrons of the market but also for the producers. For the farmers the market gives them a chance for escape from their solitary work in the field, to develop informal relationships with others in the industry, and a chance to reconnect with the herd (Tiemann, 2008). This would not be the case if the market where to be open every day of the week, as the sense of novelty would be lost and it would just become part of the daily grind. The market atmosphere provides a forum for casual association between producers, networking opportunities, sharing of knowledge and may also breed a healthy competition for quality and presentation of produce (Hinrichs, 2000)(Tiemann, 2008). Having a casual opportunity to sell produce allows small scale producers to remain financially viable, adding an aspect of solidarity to the community’s economy (Sommer, 1985) (Gasteyer et al., 2008). Money spent at locally owned, run and produced products stays in the community for longer, thereby raising incomes and creating jobs (Halwiel, 2002). Local employment opportunities are another important aspect of the ‘liveable neighbourhoods’ concept (WAPC, 2000). Remaining economically viable also allows farmers to stay on the land and reduces the pressure to develop rural land for residential or industrial purposes, therefore preserving open space and vegetated landscapes providing clear environmental benefits especially in city environments (Mender & Goldsmith, 1996).

Alongside ‘supporting local farmers’ and ‘buying from the community’, ‘the connection with the Earth’s seasons’ was one of the most common responses to the question ‘ What is your favourite aspect of the market?’ in a survey of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market (North Carolina) in 2002 (Tiemann, 2008). The produce which is available at a farmers market changes from week to week as what is grown locally evolves with the season and so consumers stay in touch with the world outside the urban disconnected environment. This is an issue which speaks to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City design that incorporated a glass-covered, open-air market in the centre of the city (Clarke, 2003). Garden cities where specifically designed to reduce the alienation of human society from nature and dissolve the divide between town and country (Clark, 2003).

While millions of farmers have vanished from the local landscape since the 1940’s, generations of consumers have completely lost touch with their food supply. Today’s average consumers have little knowledge of how or by whom their food was grown.’(Mender & Goldsmith, 1996 p426).

The face to face interactions and the security the comes from knowing the source of, and production method of the food you consume is lost when products are shipped over long distances and are separated from the landscape (Halweil, 2002). This does however limit the diversity of goods offered to consumers because only what can be produced locally (with restrictions of climate and water supply) and with the available infrastructure is available (Mender & Goldsmith, 1996) (Hinrichs, 2000). In a society accustomed to having all things available at all times this has the potential to become a restraining factor for farmers markets (Halweil, 2002) (Mender & Goldsmith, 1996). However, research conducted by Govindasamy et al. (1998, p4) found that the most common reasons for not shopping at farmers markets where: ‘no farmers’ market around’, ‘did not know about them’, ‘not convenient’, ‘no time’, and ‘supermarket is convenient and offers good prices’. Whilst the convenience of super market shopping was mentioned, no direct association between markets and lack of choice was cited.

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Pop up with a leg up?

I just read this article on WAToday about the uncertain future of a very popular food truck frequenting a Perth beach. Apparently a neighbour(s?) is complaining about a loss of amenity. The City of Freo are in support of food trucks and pop-up ventures generally and so I’m sure will be doing what they can to ease the concerns rather than tell the purveyor of delicious mexican treats to move along, plunging the quiet beach back into solitude.

Leighton Beach

I’ve been thinking recently about pop-ups and wonderful transient things like food trucks, they are such a fantastic placemaking tool but is it something that we, as planners and placemakers, can actively influence? How much interference is possible before it becomes contrived and forced. These things are so beautiful because they occur naturally.

In the situation at Lieghton Beach the major compliant is that the generator makes a buzzing noise (probably not the actual complaint but “get off my lawn!” isn’t a viable one). Perhaps the City of Fremantle could install some power access at the beach, with a key for access to be provided with the health/licensing permission as required? No more noise. Happy Mr Neighbour? How about some more rubbish bins? Just to make it as easy as possible to leave no trace.

For Local Government Placemakers a light touch is crucial. Too heavy-handed and you’ll get board entrepeneurs and residents complaining. Provide gentle encouragement, make it easy and open, be available. People want to perch on a ledge or sit on the grass, businesses want to be creative and push the boundaries, it’s what makes it fun.

Don’t plan for un-plannable things. That is what makes them so valuable to making great places.