01/04/2014 - 14:36

Placemaking at forefront of urban design

01/04/2014 - 14:36

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Planning practices are evolving to put people first as Perth redefines itself as a modern city.

Placemaking at forefront of urban design
CUTTING EDGE: The Perth Cultural Centre’s potential as an events hub has been unlocked through the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority’s commitment to place-making principles. Photo: Bohdan Warchomij

Planning practices are evolving to put people first as Perth redefines itself as a modern city.

It has been six years since a decision by the East Perth Redevelopment Authority heralded a seismic shift in the way Perth’s public spaces were planned.

In 2008 EPRA, which has since become the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority, commissioned Fred Kent and Cathy Madden from New York’s Project for Public Spaces to help make Perth more accessible, engaging and ultimately liveable.

The authority embraced the concept of ‘placemaking’, which according to Mr Kent can transform a neighbourhood from a place you can’t wait to get through, to a place you never want to leave.

MRA executive director for place management, Veronica Jeffery, said one of the fundamentals of placemaking was putting people first by getting them to engage with a particular place.

Other fundamentals include making sure the space is comfortable and sociable, which in turn encourages people to want to meet there.

“Place-planning isn’t just a few elements,” Ms Jeffery said. “It’s about events, landscape, infrastructure, but also really crucial is cleaning, security and maintenance.

“It’s great to have all these great spaces but if they are not maintained and people don’t feel safe in them, they just don’t work.”

The concepts have since been rolled out in several precincts, but the litmus test for the idea was the redevelopment of the Perth Cultural Centre.

Ms Jeffery said the PCC was a largely lacklustre environment in 2008, until the state government spent $11 million on better landscaping, retail pods, performance spaces, heightened security and the ubiquitous big screen television that dominates the space between the State Library and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

The changes established the PCC as the cultural hub of the city, hosting events such as the Fringe Festival and Perth International Arts Festival, which have become highlights of Perth’s arts calendar.

At the same time, the MRA set about revitalising the William Street shopping precinct in Northbridge, with a specific focus on encouraging Western Australian businesses, including clothing stores and cafes, as well as small bars.

“People really want to be part of the authentic, so we looked at what’s unique about Perth and what’s fantastic about Perth to make people come in and enjoy it,” Ms Jeffrey said.

Place Match director Carla Chatzopoulos said the adoption of placemaking principles had resulted in a rapid transition for traditional planning practices.

“It’s really about putting a commercial hat on right from the beginning,” Ms Chatzopoulos said.

“We are really focused on defining who will use the place and what they will do there, and building experience layers through uses and activities and planning for iterations.

“Some of the projects we are working on now are not going to be delivered for four or five years, so it’s about understanding how Perth is going to change over that time.”

She said her firm, which is involved in the planning process for Elizabeth Quay and coordinated a transformation of uses at Curtin University’s Bentley Campus, had been able to apply placemaking principles to a range of different contexts.

At Curtin, Ms Chatzopoulos, said Place Match recognised the potential for placemaking existed beyond commercial and city centres.

“That involved us identifying a series of destinations within the academic core that we could physically transform,” she said.

“For Curtin it was around bringing in the unexpected, and really providing a space and environment that is fun.

“It was also simple things. We put together Perth’s first food truck program, and it was around providing places for people to sit and providing pop-up parks.

“Curtin recognised that leads to better academic performance and better student retention and attraction.”

Architecture and design firm Ee’kos has demonstrated that placemaking principles such as pop-up parks, or ‘parklets’, can also be used to revitalise a lagging main street environment.

Ee’kos architect and director Michael Spartalis said implanting a pop-up park in a main street was a cheap and easy way of testing different ways of using a space.

An Ee’kos pop-up park was installed on Albany Highway in Victoria Park earlier this month, providing a new place for people to sit and relax and generally enjoy the area.

“For the benefit of adjacent businesses, the more opportunity you give pedestrians to sit and dwell in an area, catch up with someone and gossip, the more opportunity there is for businesses to capture those people,” Mr Spartalis said.

“From a council perspective, they want to see a place hum and they want to see a vibrant space because it is good for their rents and it’s good for their ratepayers.

“With little initiatives like integrating parklets or high-quality design or high-quality public space into an area, people are drawn into that sort of thing.”

Taylor Burrell Barnett managing director Lex Barnett said the adoption of placemaking principles had also resulted in dramatic changes in the planning process for large residential subdivisions.

Mr Barnett said creating sites for development was formerly a matter of estimating what the required area was and determining an efficient size for a shopping centre or commercial development.

“It’s definitely a much more complex process now,” he said.

“It involves more of the planning-related disciplines up-front, so in addition to the statutory planner you have the urban designer and you have the architect, you have the landscape architect and sometimes you will have a place-making specialist and a community engagement specialist as well to bring all of these together.”

Mr Barnett said the planning of public spaces had become increasingly important as Perth’s residential density increased, shrinking backyards and making public spaces much more important for recreation and socialising.

But more importantly, he said, creating a sense of place and community could add value to a residential development.

“You need up-front aesthetic appeal,” Mr Barnett said.

“Creating those sorts of places of aesthetic appeal will attract people to think about locating there, and you have to provide enough encouragement for people buying in at the first stage to develop homes of a reasonable standard, because they are the things that cumulatively create the urban design of an area that will then sell the area to other people.”

“If you get it wrong in the first place, then all you do is create diminishing appeal and diminishing value.

“Developers now understand that value of creating a sense of place.”

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