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.

 

 

The Landscape Institute – ‘Investing Green Infrastructure’

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.

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)

  fm1fm2 fm3

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)

fm4 fm5 fm6

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.

fm9 fm8 fm7