Increasingly in what could be termed community engagement vernacular we’re hearing the words well being, walkability and liveability used. From my perspective this is a very positive trend because it acknowledges the effects the built environment can have on people. My particular focus in this talk is place making and medium density city living.
I thought in talking about place that I should first talk about non-place. Marc Auge a French anthropologist coined the term non-place to refer to places of transience that don’t hold enough significance to be regarded as places.
So what makes a place significant? I’ll cover that in a minute.
What we know is that there are poor neighbourhoods where the people that live there have an affinity or kinship with their neighbours and a sense of place; and there’s rich neighbourhoods where no one knows or even wants to know their immediate neighbours.
Place making is an intentional behaviour, it’s about shaping the little bit of the world that is around you to enable choice and to lift the visible and invisible boundaries that determine a happy healthy life and it’s not confined to socio-economics. What is an important factor is that the intention has to include the people that will be living in that little bit of the world.
Clearly neighbourhood is an important marker for whether a person feels included or excluded or whether they even understand or care about either the process of creating neighbourhood or the benefits it creates. Obviously, then, neighbourhood based solutions are the next step to reduce the exclusionary process and start looking at identity. Identity is a key point and I mean it in the broader sense of the word, including the identity of place.
I want to give you one of my favourite quotes because it is something we often overlook.
“The significant problems we face can not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Albert Einstein
We have to change our level of thinking, especially when it comes to the built environment. It is an expression of culture; it influences human behaviour.
In plain language it is about respecting the past while looking to the future.
Christie Walk, Australia’s only CBD based eco-village was built with that culture in mind, as well as 10 guiding principles. 1. Restore Degraded Land 2. Fit the Bioregion 3. Balance Development 4. Create Compact Cities 5. Optimise Energy Performance 6. Contribute to the Economy 7. Provide Health and Security 8. Encourage Community 9. Promote social justice and equity 10. Enrich History and Culture.
I’ve lived at Christie Walk for 7 years now; I had my 10% deposit down for some years before that and the biggest thing I have learned is I now know what I want. I realise the importance of being connected to a place as part of my identity. At last, I get it. And now that I get it, I want to share it, because this knowledge doesn’t come easily; you need to have the right surroundings to be able to learn how to articulate this, particularly in terms of place making, community and inclusion, and therein lies the problem.
Its mind boggling how little time we spend on thinking for ourselves about what we want, imagining our futures. It’s as if we are a one size fits all society. We just seem to accept that this is the way it is and let the people with the biggest vested interests tell us what we want and value.
At Christie Walk just after the completion of all 3 stages we built a mural on one of the large walls. The mural represents a myriad of things At Christie Walk just after the completion of all 3 stages we built a mural on one of the large walls. The mural represents a myriad of things At Christie Walk just after the completion of all 3 stages we built a mural on one of the large walls. The mural represents a myriad of things At Christie Walk just after the completion of all 3 stages we built a mural on one of the large walls. The mural represents a myriad of things Bottom of Form.
I would just like to fill you in on one small example of creating significant spaces. Just after the completion of all 3 stages of construction at CW we built a mural on one of the large walls. The mural represents a myriad of things.
It depicts a man, woman and child living under those guiding principles I mentioned before, it also features a rainbow serpent, representing the culture of the first inhabitants of the land and the woman has a necklace made from bottles that were found on the site when it was excavated. In one way or another, all of the people who once lived here are represented on that mural, as are all of the people that live here now. That is a wonderful example of a community building process and it carries on to this day. It was further enhanced by the whole of the SW city community and beyond, taking interest in this project and feeling a sense of ownership. Now it’s a city icon and people have their photographs taken in front of it.
In research terms that’s called civic mapping, to me it is just plain old common sense.
So if you’re designing accommodation that’s meant to be inclusive and foster community, include the whole community. Universal access is not hard if you start with the end in mind. The same applies to creating community spaces that people deem significant, too often buildings are constructed and a communal space is allocated as an afterthought. It doesn’t work like that; you need spaces that are designed from the beginning, so that people bump into each other. We can design urban spaces that are sensitive to everybody, Christie Walk has done that, everyone has a place, everyone is valued. There are responsibilities in community living, we are responsible to each other, renters are as engaged as owners. We have beautiful surroundings, serene and full of nature and they belong to everyone.
There are between 42 and 50 people living there at any given time, of different ethnic backgrounds, different socio economic status and different capacities. Every decade age bracket is represented. The children grow up in a city environment where they know and have a relationship with their neighbours.
Remember the old ¼ acre house block? We have 2 of them with 27 dwellings. Not only that one third of our space is green, including Australia’s first fully functioning roof garden. It is a village in the true sense of the word.
I said before that I get it; I understand what it takes but always remember, begin with the end in mind.