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