A place making conference draws a new map for the city’s public life.
WHAT makes a “good” place? It could be a street where kids can safely chalk their hopscotch squares, a neighbourhood where you walk to the locally owned baker, or a public square that fizzes with action.
According to Gilbert Rochecouste, from Village Well, vibrant places such as these often connect high quality of life with low environmental impacts. They’re likely to reduce private transport and consumption, and encourage food production, green building and socially responsible business practices.
“The biggest thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint is to create affordable, accessible, amazing places,” he says.
The Melbourne Place Making Series conference will be held from Wednesday 27 to Friday 29 October. It is hosted by VicUrban, together with Village Well, Fed Square, City of Melbourne and the Department of Planning and Community Development.
The series has been running six months, including online discussions and forums for developers, financiers and the community sector. It aims to engage government, industry, planners and international experts on how we can make our city and our suburbs better places to be.
Mr Rochecouste says development too often focuses on hard infrastructure, such as roads, buildings and utilities, at the exclusion of less obvious necessities.
“Place making brings in the soft infrastructure, like the gathering places, the culture, the walk-ability and the daily rituals of living,” he says. “All the things that we yearn for and take for granted when we visit great places, like Europe.
“But we don’t get them here. We’ve taken our model from America and delivered it to disconnected places. We’ve separated living, working and entertaining. Place making brings it all together,” he says.
VicUrban CEO Pru Sanderson says the idea differs from normal urban design in its scope and holistic vision. “Place making cuts across a whole range of disciplines. It is about more than just design,” she says.
“It’s about creating places that are resilient and can grow and respond in a climate-challenged future. We want this to be the mindset for new developments and for revitalising older areas in Melbourne.”
The agency has brought a place-based approach to its Revitalising Central Dandenong initiative. It is transforming the main road, Lonsdale Street, into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard and creating areas for people to congregate. It’s also running community arts programs with the local council. “It is about nurturing the economy, culture and physical place all at once,” Ms Sanderson says.
Mr Rochecouste says the best changes are resident-driven, rather than design-driven. “We run participatory democracy sessions, so people are deeply engaged in the process. When you do it well, you get much better places – you get the x-factor,” he says. “People say what they want and how they want it, and we end up with a much more informed and inspired citizenry.”
In that forthright spirit, he says we shouldn’t wait for good places to fall upon us: place making begins at home. “The first physical structure is our household, and then our footpath, street and local shops. All these things are our daily narratives – the more beautiful they are, the more connected, the more people feel like they can say hello to their neighbour. They feel safer,” he says.
“Neighbourhood renewal, street parties and celebrations. All these details add to people’s quality of life. That’s place making.”