Tag Archives: Perth Cultural Centre

A father’s day visit to Northbridge

My dad is an avid ‘people watcher’. He likes to get out amongst it and soak up the ‘goings on’ of his community. It was only recently that I made the connection between this interest of his and my own interest in helping to create and sustain lively community places through place making. I like getting out amongst it too and helping there to be more in Perth to get out amongst! Could it be that place making is in the genes?

So for father’s day this year I decided to pass over the standard presents of socks, chocolates and wine; wanting instead to share with my dad some time out in our local community, exploring together some recent place making developments and (hopefully) getting a bit of a dose of cultural vitality. I chose Northbridge for our Sunday afternoon place making adventure. It was to be a bit of test really: would there be enough going on to keep us amused on a father-daughter date?

Well, we wondered down William Street through Chinatown, ran our eye over the construction of the State Theatre building, peeked in the window of The Bird bar and sampled a little rocket and lettuce from the Perth Cultural Centre’s Urban Orchard. My dad passed on the options of checking out an exhibition at the Art Gallery of WA, the ‘A Day in Pompeii’ exhibition at the WA Museum, browsing in the State Library bookshop or attending a contemporary theatre performance at PICA that were all on offer. He also wasn’t quite game for a traditional chinese massage from my favourite masseuse on James Street. Instead we wandered down to the Northbridge Piazza to soak up the dying moments of a footy final showing there on the big screen. (Did you know you there’s a daily TV guide to what’s screening that you can check online? You can also find Northbridge Piazza on facebook.)

Northbridge Piazza, place making

Watching the footy at Northbridge Piazza

Northbridge Piazza, place making

A relaxed Sunday feel at the Piazza

From a place making perspective, there were some positives to be seen at the Piazza. Community places thrive on having activities and uses to pull people in. It’s evident that the footy final screening had attracted a range people to the space – groups of friends, couples, families, people who’d come prepared for the event and others who’d obviously just ‘stumbled on the fun’. The cafe is also working as a drawcard for people. Now, imagine if there were another 5 activities on offer in the space – an interesting artwork that kids could play on, some board games that you could rent from the cafe, free wireless internet, a roving street performer, or a long table lunch served up by Valentino’s Restaurant across the road perhaps?  Additional activities and uses would help to attract more people to stop by and stay awhile at the Piazza and these people in turn would attract others who just want to soak up the vibe of a buzzing place. I’m hopeful that we’ll see more and more activities and uses layered onto this space in the coming months.

Northbridge Piazza, place making

Another father-daughter date perhaps?

And so the final verdict on our father’s day visit to Northbridge? Whilst my dad and I certainly weren’t overwhelmed by the life and activity on the streets, I was pleased to find there were a variety of activities on offer and enough to keep us happy on our sunny Sunday afternoon sojourn. Things are getting better in Northbridge – why don’t you explore for yourself sometime soon and write a comment letting me know your thoughts on current place making developments in the area.


What I meant to say on radio (or how small bars and other great places can help solve the world’s problems)

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.

Mrs Brown

Mrs Brown

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.

Bringing the beat back into Perth’s cultural heart

If you’ve spent any time in the Perth Cultural Centre recently, you’ll know that the public open space in this key cultural precinct is desperately underutilised. For a site that includes many of Perth’s most significant cultural institutions the number of people who choose to spend time in the space daily is depressingly low.

The Cultural Centre should be Perth’s cultural heart. It should be one of the city’s major destinations. It should be the place you bring the family on weekends because there’s always something going on. It should be one of the Perth community’s ‘cultural watering holes’ – one of those significant places from which we can draw nourishment and ‘fill up’ on a sense of community vitality, connection and shared values.

As it is, many Perth people don’t even know that the Cultural Centre exists. The activities of its cultural institutions don’t reach out into the public space that links them and the only regular programmed activity is a small weekend market. Many of the spaces within the cultural precinct are consistently empty of people.

So what’s needed to breathe life into the Cultural Centre, and soon?

The good news is that there are simple steps that can be taken right now. We can look to successful places like Federation Square in Melbourne for clues. Many people experience the buzz of ‘Fed Square’ and assume that the secret to its success as one of the city’s major destinations of choice lie in its distinctive architecture and design. What they don’t see is that there’s a team of people who manage the public space and oversee a diverse program of activities and uses that provide the magnetic pull for people. And then these people attract more people.

The same can be done for the Perth Cultural Centre. When you look past the 1980s architecture, bland public artwork and street furniture that desperately needs an upgrade, you start to notice that within the centre’s public space are a number of diverse and interesting smaller areas. Like different rooms in a building, these spaces could be venues for a range of programmed events and activities designed to attract the whole of the Perth community to one of the city’s key public places.

How about morning Tai Chi on these steps once a week?

How about morning Tai Chi on these steps once a week?

A weekly book market could happen here on Saturday mornings

A weekly book market could happen here on Saturday mornings

Could this be an outdoor cinema?

Could this be an outdoor cinema?

The amphitheatre could be used for daily performances

The amphitheatre could be used for daily performances

There are some promising moves on this front, with Artrage Festival events, the Earth From Above exhibition and a laneway festival livening up the Cultural Centre through November to February. But more needs to happen to ensure this isn’t a summer festival season aberration. One of the keys to the Cultural Centre’s revitalisation is to create a permanent, funded team dedicated to managing, promoting and encouraging community use of its diverse outdoor spaces. Regular programmed activity, both daytime and nighttime, could be complemented by making the Cultural Centre Perth’s biggest free outdoor Wi-Fi hotspot, providing movable seating and tables for flexible daily use and encouraging food vendors and street performers.

Any improvements to the physical design of the Cultural Centre will take time. The formation of a Cultural Centre management team can and should start immediately. A broad place making process should be scheduled for early 2009 to engage the community and other key stakeholders in creating a shared vision for the Cultural Centre that will then provide the blueprint for its ongoing management.

Let’s bring the beat back into Perth’s cultural heart. Starting right now!