The Local Government has sector has identified that people and places will be central to its future. They are often important components of existing Community or Corporate Plans. But then what? What do you do? How do you make it happen? They are questions we have been asked many times. Here are some ideas we think can help.
1. Shifting Mindsets in Government and in the Community
Governments are facing increasingly more complex problems, such as loneliness, loss of trust in governments and institutions, social isolation, public health, climate change and economic disruption. Traditional management approaches have limited effectiveness when faced with complex problems. Conventional approaches simplify complex problems into what are considered to be their constituent parts and manage them through often piecemeal interventions, layered one on top of another (Working with Change Systems: approaches to public sector challenges: OECD 2017). Project for Public Spaces has identified that:
“Governance is (generally) not set up to create great places. Indeed, the current culture and structure of government and civic infrastructure may actually be the greatest obstacle (more than money, ideas, talent, infrastructure, etc.) to successful Placemaking. Currently, no department or community organization is in charge of creating good places. Even when everyone is doing their job masterfully, great places generally fall outside of everyone’s mission and goals.”
A business as usual approach will not only not address the issues, it may exacerbate the challenges to be met. We need to adapt and change. For places, it means that:
- Simple answers (or silver bullet solutions) like “free parking!” are bound to fail
- The expectation that governments can or should “fix the problem” won’t work. Governments should do less and enable more
- We need to think of places as complex systems
- Prioritise actions and “quick failures” rather than preparing static masterplans or expecting “someone else” to do it all
- Empowering people to act and have a go should be the new norm
- Place is a key organising principle and a place-led approach is a pragmatic method to improve the system
- Placemaking as both an ethos and a practical, quick and relatively cheap means of creating change should be ‘core business’
The biggest change will need to be a change in mindset from a “Service Delivery Mindset” to an “Enabling Mindset, summarised in the graphic below.
2. A new approach of working with, not just for the community
“This declaration rests on a belief that the state of the nation and the health of our society depend on community-driven action in the neighbourhood, not just decisions made in parliaments or boardrooms.
Our present ways of thinking and governing are neither coping with the pace of change nor meeting citizens’ expectations. There is an urgent need for a fresh approach and responsive leadership.
Many Australians are losing faith in our basic democratic institutions and withdrawing from active participation in civic and cultural life. Our reputation as an inclusive, tolerant and compassionate society is under threat.
It’s time to explore a new model of governance, one based on a re-energised civil society that draws on the strength and resourcefulness of people working together in diverse local and regional communities – a localist response.”
For more on this subject, also read this article on How Governments Can Achieve More by Letting Go.
3. Building Relationships and Partnerships
“The town teams and the City (of Vincent) enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The City engages directly with each town team on a variety of issues that are specific to the respective town centres and the town teams are able to effectively communicate issues, solutions and ideas to the City through their respective Action Plans. The City works collaboratively with the town teams to deliver locally based activities/events, physical improvement and economic and community development initiatives.”
City of Vincent Town Centre Place Plans Volume 1
The town team model encourages businesses, landowners and residents to work collaboratively with governments to create great places. They provide vision, leadership and are catalysts for positive change in their local area.
4. Understand the ‘Place Toolkit’
Placemaking, Place Management and Place Activation are terms that are often used interchangeably. It is important to understand the differences as well as the similarities between the terms.
Placemaking is both an ethos and a practical approach to improving places.
As both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region, Placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community. Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, Placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value. More than just promoting better urban design, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of use, paying particular attention to the physical, cultural, and social identities that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.
https://www.pps.org/article/what-is-placemaking The term placemaking is used in many different contexts and means different things to different people. Different professions also have different definitions of placemaking. Project for Public Spaces created the term in the 1970’s, and therefore its original meaning should be the starting point of our understanding. It focusses on collaboration, communication and connections and mutual responsibilities. By definition, placemaking can’t be done by individual people or a department of government working in isolation. Placemaking does not just involve experts and professionals. Everyone should have the opportunity to be involved. It promotes changes to culture and thinking as much as physical outcomes. Both are important. Placemaking also works on the hardware and the software of a place concurrently.
Place management can be defined as:
A coordinated, area-based, multi-stakeholder approach to improve locations, harnessing the skills, experiences and resources of those in the private, public and voluntary sectors.
http://www.placemanagement.org/ Place management is one the approaches that can help to address the challenges and ensure that the place thrives in the future. A place management approach starts with appointing a place manager or leader, empowering that person or team and making them responsibility for coordinating, managing and improving the place. The Victorian Government has an excellent summary of place management available here.
Place activation is the goal and (hopefully the) outcome of the placemaking and place management processes. http://www.parklandwa.org.au/news/30/vibrant-activation–an-introduction-to-space-activation-and-placemaking A place must have people in order to be “active” or activated. How to make a place active can be explored through the place making and place management processes. As the Project for Public Spaces says; “Start with the petunias”, planting some cheap, colourful, flowers that brighten a space immediately, and they must be cared for which demonstrates that someone must be looking after the space. Seeing actual things happening on the ground, no matter how small, encourages the cynics to get on board with change; it’s not just another strategic plan that won’t show impacts for years. People will not have trust and confidence in placemaking until they see results. The Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper approach to place making, focussing on getting quick wins to build momentum. This approach can assist place activation. The most cost-effective and powerful way for local governments to be placemakers and activate places is to allow it to happen rather than making it happen themselves. This means local governments and communities need to be clear on their vision and goals. If the event or activity delivers on the placemaking goals, it should be approved as quickly as possible.
5. Define Success
Work out what success will look like. What are the key ingredients you need to enable? Here’s what we think they are in the diagram below.