Recently I’ve been dipping into Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. A few of his ideas have really resonated with me, one of them is his tip to forget the old cliché about writing ‘what you know’ and instead ‘write what you like’. He says:
Reading this made me think of the street picnic-themed chill out space that I curated for Creative Maylands as part of the Maylands Street Festival a couple of weeks ago. The idea for the space – to offer festival goers a welcoming and unique place to relax, converse and connect – came from my own experience of wandering around street festivals searching in vain for a comfy place with some shade, seating, and a bit of character, to put my feet up for a while and soak up the festival vibe.
At its essence, the street picnic place that the team of volunteers and I created was the place we wanted to have at our local festival, the place we wanted to hang out in on the day. And it was a hit! Our ‘likes’ were the spark for the idea and then we applied place making knowhow to really make the place a success.
We transformed this empty car park…
… into a lively, people-friendly place for everyone to enjoy. Here’s some of the place making strategies we used to do it:
1. Mix it up
Uses and activities are the basic building blocks of a great place. Basically, the more things there are to do in a place, the more people will use it. We layered as many uses and activities onto the space as possible in order to appeal to different people. These included: old skool games (quoits, carpet bowls, hopscotch and marbles); historical photos from around Maylands; a photo booth; a community engagement activity to map Maylands’ special places; flyers promoting local creative and cultural activities; and a dog bowl for thirsty pooches.
Throughout the festival, people were drawn into the space by all of these things. If we hadn’t offered such a mix of activities and uses we definitely wouldn’t have had as many people enjoying the space.
2. Break it up
We were lucky enough to have quite a large space to work with so we took the opportunity to create a number of smaller ‘rooms’ or areas that offered different focal points and made it comfortable for a number of groups of people to hang out in the space at the same time. We also designed in movement spaces to allow people to circulate through the space easily (without having to step over picnic rugs, walk through the bowls game, etc).
3. Make it comfortable
In public spaces, it’s people that attract people so we wanted people to stay awhile in our space. The best way to do this, not surprisingly, is to give them somewhere to sit. We offered people a range of different options for seating – from picnic rugs to park benches to comfy chairs – and because they were all moveable people could tailor the space to suit their needs. Shade is a godsend during spring street festivals in Perth, so we made sure around 50% of our space was in shade during the day.
4. Make it readable
Good places are highly accessible. This includes having good visibility into the place and making sure it’s easy for people to ‘read’ the space and work out reasonably quickly what it’s used for and who’s welcome. We made sure we had a clear invitation to ‘make yourself at home’ at the front of the street picnic space to let people know what it was about and that it was available to everyone. We also had other signage through the space to highlight different activities.
5. Keep it real
In everything that Creative Maylands does, we want to celebrate and build on the ‘place essence’ of Maylands, the special qualities of our neighbourhood. Jon Hawkes* says it well when he suggests that cultural development should “concentrate on ensuring that the cultural manifestations in a community have a direct relationship with the culture of that community [his italics]”. We chose a vintage style for our street picnic space because it links to both new and old elements of our suburb – the growing number of vintage-inspired shops and cafes on the popular Whatley Crescent strip and the suburb’s rich heritage as represented by the historical photographs that we sourced from Maylands Historical and Peninsula Association for inclusion in the space.
* Jon Hawkes (2001). The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: Culture’s essential role in public planning. Common Ground Publishing in association with the Cultural Development Network, Victoria. p 15.