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Lucinda Hartley with a few rules about making places work

Sunday Streets in Docklands.
Sunday Streets in Docklands.

It seems there’s a vast appetite for making Melbourne’s neighbourhoods better, with 91 applications flooding in for Round 2 of CoDesign Studio’s The Neighbourhood Project.

Practice co-founder and chief executive Lucinda Hartley says the proposals came from individuals, resident groups, community groups and local retail traders.

There were many wanting to create local gardens, green streetscapes or find new uses for vacant land in their area. Some local traders are seeking to improve their street in order to boost business prospects.

Other proposals are around social enterprises, such as youth-led containerised cafes in vacant spaces. There’s folk wanting to undertake place-making street art projects, others looking for “programmatic” uses of spaces, such as closing streets off for events or pop-up play spaces.

“There was a lot of ambition and diversity in the proposals,” Hartley says.

The challenge now for the studio is to pick just five. The successful projects will be invited to participate in the Neighbourhood Project Bootcamp, which kicks off this September.

The Bootcamp includes between three and six months of mentoring from CoDesign and community leaders, access to materials, and the opportunity to pitch for a share in $100,000.

Lucinda Hartley

The initiative is supported by the Myer Foundation, Resilient Melbourne and the Municipal Association of Victoria. Ultimately the aim of the three-year initiative is to create a scalable model for community-led placemaking that can be used by councils and communities anywhere.

The first round of the project last year has already delivered a lasting legacy across the project’s three focus areas of people, places and process, Hartley says.

Here are the highlights:

A dog park in Brooklyn is now permanent

For example, a trial dog park at Brooklyn in Hobson’s Bay has now been made permanent by the council. The council has also formed a new Place Team.

Hartley says the project is also a “social innovation research tool” for the studio, and lessons from the first year are already being applied to other projects it is undertaking in South Australia and Tasmania.

How people interact with space, and the ways councils manage interacting with people in terms of places are two major elements of the insights.

Another positive outcome, she says, is the studio now has a “set of tools and processes” they can use to help clients organise with communities, traders and neighbourhoods in a way that lasts beyond the immediate engagement with the studio.

Often consultants are brought in, but when the consultant leaves, the community is not equipped to keep things going.

Hartley says the new approach is to leave a “long-term legacy in terms of social architecture.”

That means people connect with each other and form groups, and the project model is resilient so they can then continue to organise their own projects into the future.

Place making needs to be longer term and not ignore small spaces

“Place making is often criticised for having a short-term approach.”

There are two other aspects of place-making that are being challenged. One is that many place-making plans ignore small spaces. Another is that place-makers often “overplan and over-program” them.

The problem in the city is that while the talk is about “places for people” the main input is coming from sources external to the community. It’s what a designer or planner’s idea might be.

“A place’s unique value proposition is about its footprint and its character – and you can’t plan that. You have to let it evolve.”

Community-led placemaking means allocating spaces, and then enabling flexibility in how they are used so the community can contribute.

“Flexibility allows people to engage.”

Then spaces emerge that are locally relevant and that involves people. Collingwood is a good example, she says, with its street art, small cafes and public spaces.

The big Docklands experiment:­ it worked

Docklands by comparison is without that “fine grain detail”, so there are fewer opportunities for people to engage.

The studio recently undertook an experiment in conjunction with City of Melbourne that attempted to challenge this. A pop-up play space, Sunday Streets, was installed at Docklands.

Hartley says the space was “packed”. Families who lived in the same building and had never met made connections because the children in Docklands all came out to play.

“Catalyst projects help people to connect.”

The studio has also been working with City of Yarra on its Pavement to Parks program. A temporary trial park was installed in Charles Street, Collingwood.

Hartley says the concept was “heavily contested” by some locals over concerns around traffic impacts and anti-social behaviour.

A community working bee was held to create the pop-up installation and Hartley says 200 people turned up.

The pop-up enabled “user testing” of possible designs for the park. This then created an evidence-based proposal that City of Yarra has now approved the budget for the construction of a permanent park on the street.

University of Tasmania goes for a big project

A very new project is working with the City of Launceston, University of Tasmania and the community of Launceston on place-making and engagement aspects for the $1 billion development of its downtown campus and the broader precinct.

Hartley says the studio’s role is to ensure it offers “positive social value” for the neighbourhood.

There are a lot of urban places currently going through transitions, Hartley says. Changes such as new social housing going into an established area have an impact, but they also create an opportunity to gain new businesses, and new life and new opportunities in that area.

“It’s about how we can make sure there is a net social gain.”

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