Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being. As outlined by the Project for Public Spaces [PPS] there are a range of basic principles underpinning placemaking. [Wikipedia]
"Take into account inputs from the community for which the public space is intended. They are likely to have useful insights into how the space does - or should - function, as well as a historical perspective of the area, and an understanding of what does and does not matter to other members of the community. [PPS]"
Of all the examples of placemaking in action in natural areas, there are none more illustrative than those of Aboriginal Places.
The Gully Aboriginal Place at Katoomba is cared for by The Gully Traditional Owners in collaboration with Blue Mountains City Council. In 2011 a major project commenced at The Gully Aboriginal Place.
This needed to give effect to The Gully Traditional Owners wishes to create a space which could embrace their community memories and help them to share these with both their children, grandchildren and future generations to come. For many decades from the 1870s up to the late 1950s, The Gully was a place refuge and community as Aboriginal people made their home there. This community life was devastated by their eviction c. 1958 in order to construct a short-lived motor racing track around The Gully.
The challenge of getting the balance correct in terms of inviting everyone to share in The Gully community's memories (such as they chose to share), while also allowing for quiet places of reflection to be created was the essential precondition of the project. This centred around the creation of a 1km interpretive trail around the central hub of the Aboriginal Place.
Even down to matters such as the colour of the ochre colour palettes to be used, the precept that the community wishes and aspirations were the sole determinant of the project outcomes was pivotal.
In 2018, Healthy Land and Water launched a project to restore a creekside section of the Three Mile Scrub at the end of Davidson Street in Newmarket. The project featured helping the community to enjoy its surrounds through enhanced accessibility. Nature Tourism Services assisted in this process through the design of the interpretive trail facilities.
From the beginning, Healthy Land and Water determined that a key element of the project was community consultation and involvement.
The 2017 Healthy Land and Water Report Card found that 31 per cent of residents living in the highly-urbanised Lower Brisbane catchment were interested in using their local waterways on a weekly basis, but only 30 per cent were motivated to protect them.
They decided the most effective way to establish an emotional connection between the revitalised creekbank and the community was to include local residents in the design of the restoration project.
Community workshops were held in Corbie Street Park allowing residents to share their ideas on how to improve the creek and explain what the local environment meant to them.
Local schools were then involved in developing and sharing stories about what the regenerating creekside habitat meant for them. View the video of the opening here...
"Placemaking requires not just good venue design, but most importantly good connections to key a given venue into the overall visitor experience on offer. The intent is to establish a cohesive unit that is more than the sum of its parts." [PPS]
This approach is in evidence along the Ballina Coastal Recreation Path as it runs through the East Ballina Aboriginal Place on the NSW North Coast.
This location commemorates an 1850s massacre site. It is a place of great sadness for the Aboriginal communities that care for their Country around Ballina.
Developing nodes and installations that allowed for small groups of Aboriginal people to gather and engage in cultural sharing and learning was a crucial part of the placemaking response undertaken over several years around 2017.
These facilities also needed to welcome and inform all users travelling along the major new cycle path that ran through the Aboriginal Place to link Ballina with the town of Lennox Head some 10km to the north.
A crucial need for this facility was to ensure opportunities to engage with users along the path were provided in a safe and engaging manner. Orientation signage referenced custom artwork from the local Aboriginal community. Thereafter step aside nodes were established along the introductory section of the path through the Aboriginal Place to invite users to pause and reflect on the significance of the area they were travelling through.
"Partners for political, financial, and intellectual backing are crucial to getting a public space improvement project off the ground." [PPS]
The creation of the Furneaux Geotrail on Flinders Island in Bass Strait over 2018-20 demonstrates the power of collaborative enterprise.
This is a true ground up initiative powered by community effort on the part of both island residents and supporting local and state government agencies.
Underpinned by a modest government grant, the project attracted major in kind support from a wide array of sources to deliver a resource way in excess of actual dollar investments.
Mineral Resources Tasmania was central to this with its input of local geological knowledge and expertise. Nature Tourism Services was also part of this process with our interpretive work making significant pro bono contributions. Our signage colleagues Screenmakers also played a central role in engineering our bespoke signage designs, manufacturing these and then shipping the ten units across to the remote island location.
Finally the very major challenge of installation was undertaken By Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife with local Council providing the concrete footings. The launch of the Stage 1 works in July 2019 was a simple, though memorable event.
"Observe how a public space is used. Assess what activities and amenities may be missing from the space. Even after a public space has been built, observation is key to properly managing it, and evolving it to better suit the community's needs over time." [PPS]
A feature of the Falls Creek Alpine Resort in the Victorian High Country is the way in snow is allowed to remain on the roads in winter and oversnow vehicles are used provide transport around the village.
Lack of supporting infrastructure however created unpleasant user experiences such as the open air bottleneck at Slalom Plaza (top).
Rather than just describe their observations of problems like this to us, the Falls Creek management team got us in during the winter peak season to observe this first hand.
Collaborative enterprise approaches such as this were crucial to the delivery of the new resort signage system we helped to roll out over 2015-16.
A new bus shelter / gathering place node was a major investment undertaken as part of this project. Ongoing assessment on the part of the resort management team thereafter made adjustments to finesse the operation of this resource.
"A placemaking project needs a vision to succeed. This vision should not be the grand design of a single person, but the aggregate conception of the entire community." [PPS]
The creation of the Mungo Meeting Place in 2010/11 was the culmination of over five years planning and project development work in relation to how to share Mungo's 20,000 year old human fossil trackways with visitors.
Comprising the world's largest collection of ice age human footprints, the location of the trackways (now covered by a protective layer of sand) is kept secret. An alternative to people visiting the actual site was hence required.
In addition to this requirement, the project also needed to establish a place where Aboriginal people from the three language groups who care for their Country at Mungo could gather when on site. It also needed to develop ways in which the legacy of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man could be recognised and shared with visitors while also supporting the role of Aboriginal guided tours in delivering the detailed interpretive content on site.
Guided by these considerations we advocated the creation of the Mungo Meeting Place as a setting wherein 3D scanned replicas of sections the trackways could be shared with visitors. The idea here was that rather than interpreting these messages within the adjacent walls of the visitor centre, they should be communicated in the open outdoor spaces of the now dry Mungo lakebed.
This approach was the cloud seeding around which the latent planning and ideas of years past could condense. The centrepiece of this approach was to ensure the Aboriginal custodians had full control and ownership over the venture. This was reflected on the occasion of the Meeting Place opening on a very cold day in July 2011.
"A placemaking project does not happen overnight. Do not be discouraged if things do not go exactly as planned at first, or if progress seems slow." [PPS]
The most remarkable example of patience in relation to placemaking projects in our experience comes in the case of the redevelopment of the Stringybark Creek Historic Reserve in Victoria in 2017/18.
This is the location where on 26 October 1878, three policemen were shot and killed by a group of four men who thereafter became known as the Kelly Gang.
The site was the subject of a major landscaping and signage intervention in 2008 when it was incorporated into a Ned Kelly Tourism Trail. This was done in a manner that took no account of its importance as a memorial site to the three policemen who died there and the one surviving officer whose life was crushed forever by the event.
Outraged by this development, the descendents of the policemen embarked on a campaign of first awareness and thereafter action to redress this issue. The story of how the Stringybark Creek Site Redevelopment Project eventually became a funded reality in June 2017 is a long narrative in its own right.
Thereafter, our work on the interpretive work and landscaping refit in conjunction with Victorian DELWP required a slow and step wise process to ensure that the needs and interests of all stakeholders (including Kelly descendents) was considered fairly and properly this time around.
This process also involved the public display of the proposed plans and interpretive material. The eventual opening of the new venue in line with the 140th anniversary of the Stringybark Creek ambush was an occasion which brought out the police honour guard and included three riderless horses being led into the venue. The project stands as a testament to the patience and resilience of the policemen's descendents.
"This is the strategic placement of amenities, such that they encourage social interaction and are used more frequently." [PPS]
Triangulation in natural areas is the strategic development of assets to deliver desired visitor flows and experiences.
This is especially evident in the case of the Mungo Pastoral Loop. At Mungo National Park, the 1880s heritage woolshed (top left) is a major heritage feature located immediately alongside both the visitor centre and the Meeting Place. Here the temptation was to develop the woolshed interior into a multimedia exhibition space.
This however would have undermined the still ambience of the building that was such a compelling part of the visitor experience. Instead a simple freestanding interpretive sign tableau was installed in order to keep the space as untouched as possible while still allowing visitors to learn about the shed's fabric and social history.
In support of this approach of treading lightly in the Mungo Woolshed, the park then developed a new visitor experience by way of the Pastoral Loop Walk linking the Mungo Woolshed across to the Zanci Woolshed (left middle and lower) some 4km to the north.
This building is of much more recent origin than the Mungo Woolshed and lent itself to a more intense development in terms of delivering visitor content.
The key thing here in terms of the triangulation motif is that facilities were established to develop desired visitor flows / experiences and to thereafter ensure that the product delivered on the promise being made when enticing people out on the walk.
"Just because it hasn't been done doesn't mean it can't be done. What it does mean is that there are few people, in either the private or public sectors, who have the job of creating places." [PPS]
The biggest placemaking challenge at Falls Creek was how to provide a quality environment for summer visitors when all the signage was geared to the needs of winter users. Making a true dual season resort meant delivering bespoke dual season infrastructure.
The alpine resort rose to this challenge by embracing an ambitious and innovative design solution that could develop bespoke, switchable summer and winter signage. It did this by working collaboratively with both us and our signage colleagues Screenmakers.
The central idea here was that the offseason signage was effectively stored inside the sign unit rather than having to be offloaded and packed away separately.
Simplicity and efficiency of the cross over was central to its success as was millimetre-perfect precision in the construction process.
The cutting edge breakthrough here came when Falls Creek management worked out an approach of centrally hinging the sign panels to ensure that its staff didn't need to use elevated work platforms to turn around the 20kg sign panels.
The resultant effect is seen here in operation at the bike hub. The green season summer signage is changed over in late May to the blue season winter operation mode. Here it then stands ready for the first snows to fall.
"A public space's form factor should be formulated with its intended function(s) in mind." [PPS]
The major trailhead installations needed for the Great Victorian Railtrail project present a classic case of how the functional needs of a locale can inform and direct the design response.
Every element of this unit was a bespoke production. Things started with a generic awareness that the trailhead should mimic the sense of arrival and departure one has of leaving a railway station in a remote open area.
These provide a point of constriction in a vast open landscape and the arrangements of the units opposite each other creates a corridor mimicking this feature.
Thereafter the major signage unit needed to provide a sheltered location where users could gather and orient themselves prior to setting out.
The needs of horseriders also needed to be considered and the height of the unit provides adequate head clearance for mounted riders in this regard. Additionally the style of the unit mimics that of a railway semaphore to anchor the location in its railway heritage.
The seat opposite the entry shelter also had to take account of the need to provide bike rack functionality in its design.
The idea here was to limit the overall clutter and fussiness of the installation and the bike bays on the rear of the seat attend to this. All of this design is made possible by the precision of modern CNC router cutting operations now used in signage production.