I’ve recently had the opportunity to talk on radio about two of my passions – place making and community gardens. A bit of a radio novice, I’m still getting the hang of identifying what my ‘key messages’ are and making sure I get them out on air. Coming off an interview with Graham Maybury for Radio 6PR’s Nightline show recently, I realised that I didn’t get a chance to say one of the things I really wanted to say about place making. Whilst Graham got me talking about what makes a lively community place and how to improve Perth’s laneways, he didn’t ask, and I neglected to address, what to me is the really pertinent question about place making at the moment i.e. what’s the point?
These days there’s lots of talk about livening up Perth, the need to enhance the waterfront and to get the Cultural Centre cranking as it should. If you’re a place maker like me you’ll be excited by the increasing attention being paid to Perth’s public spaces. However, at some point you might also stop and ask yourself (as I’ve done): in these challenging times of environmental and economic crisis that we’re currently experiencing, should ‘more small bars’ and ‘lively cultural precincts’ really be a priority?
Well, I think we can say a firm yes!
When we’re grappling with environmental issues of the scale of climate change and peak oil and also dealing with economic challenges, it’s clear we need everyone’s best ideas to plot ourselves a course towards a bright future. It’s absolutely critical that we pull together and, for that, we need places that build connections and where innovation and creativity can grow and develop.
In his worldwide study of innovation, Richard Lester from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified four conditions for innovation to flourish.* Not surprisingly, one condition is to have talented people with ideas. Crucially, he also identified the necessity of having places for these people to meet, to get together and to share ideas. That’s where lively community places come in. Whether we’re talking about town squares, main streets, community centres or local cafes, the thing that all great public places have in common is that they bring people out of their private worlds and into connection with each other.
When I see people meeting in one of Perth’s new small bars for instance, I don’t just see people sharing a drink. I see people sharing their hopes, their dreams, ideas and aspirations. I see bridges being built between people, creative endeavours sprouting and a healthy engagement in public life. I see good things happening! Good things that will help to secure our future.
So having more small bars in Perth is still important, phew. My new favourite is Mrs Brown, 241 Queen Victoria Street, North Fremantle. See you there soon so we can chat, connect and solve the world’s problems.
Do you have an experience of how a lively public place strengthens community? If so, post a comment and share it with all of us.
*Thanks to Carol Coletta from CEOs for Cities for drawing my attention to this work during her visit to Perth (hosted by FORM) in 2007.