As Australia’s population continues to surge upwards and higher density living becomes the norm, many architects and urban planners are focussing on ways to ensure that urban areas feel like real communities instead of concrete jungles.
This movement, which is known as “placemaking” is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces which aims to create public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being.
Not surprisingly, it is a subject of increasing importance to developers because it can greatly affect buyers' perceptions of a development.
According to international consultants Urbis, the influence of Placemaking can now be felt in all the traditional areas of place development, including masterplanning, urban design, social and economic development, community engagement, retail planning, arts and culture and sustainable development.
“The creation of authentic places in new communities is certainly challenging, but it’s all the more important in new communities than in other places because you are effectively starting from scratch, as opposed to remaking or reinventing an existing environment,” Urbis Director Glen Power wrote recently.
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“New communities also offer some unique opportunities to integrate best practice and innovative thinking, because in some ways, designers are less constrained than when planning around existing environments.”
The home of the modern placemaking movement is in the US, where New York's High Line (pictured) has become a popular poster child for Creative Placemaking.
Mr Power says that one of the things that stands out from his own work in Australia, is the importance of delivering public amenities early even if a project is delivered in stages.
“In the very first stages of developments, we are making sure that there are really great green spaces and environments that people can feel ownership of, and that most importantly, have relevance to that community,” he says.
“Traditionally, the combination of developing green space, education and retail has always been planned separately.”
$500 million Darling Quarter mixed use placemaking project in Sydney.[/caption]According to Mr Power, the latest trends in placemaking include a growing emphasis on advanced, nature-based and adventure-based children’s play areas and equipment.
"There has always been an acknowledgement through the inclusion and design of playgrounds that children’s play is important to building a community space,” he says.
“Somewhat surprising is a current trend that incorporates controlled ‘risk’ into these community spaces. We believe this trend came about through the Queensland Government’s roll out of all abilities playgrounds throughout the state.”
Another important trend is the sharing of facilities which means that you won’t have an enormous tract of land that’s been locked up and not really being used effectively.
“After all, there is nothing that says a traditional school oval has to be a school oval all the time,” Power says.
“It can be a park for weekend markets, or more publicly accessible at other times of the week when it isn’t actually used as a school field.”
According to Urbis Director Jane Homewood, the increasing trend toward highrise living has meant that placemaking needs to adapt to a vertical environment.
"Historically, cities have been horizontally organised systems, comprised of plazas, streets, buildings, blocks, and parks," Ms Homewood says.
"They all play an integral role in shaping the image of the city and set the stage for a vibrant public life. High rise buildings, are mostly singularly programmed, disassociated from the surrounding urban context providing little added value to the urban community.
"We need to consider the inclusion of vertical gardens adjacent to lift wells, accessed through a series of internal atriums. Adjacent to these atriums, a wider diversity of public activities are needed, where for example childcare, dental, medical and allied health services, cafes and restaurants and convenience stores could be clustered."