This week sees Newcastle playing host to the Creating Spaces: Community Renewal Conference. I’m looking forward to acting as facilitator for a number of the sessions throughout the conference program, and hearing from a range of people who are in the business of conceiving more creative and liberating ways of activating spaces within communities.
Creating Spaces Conference will bring together regional-based community leaders from across Australia who are passionate about renewal and creativity, and interested in reactivating spaces within their own communities
The notion of activating spaces links strongly to the concept of ‘placemaking’ and taps into the connection with places which human beings build through culture, awareness and a range of practices; from sustenance to faith.
What is Placemaking?
From the Heart of a Community
Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small-scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to public spaces and the people who use them. – http://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking/
It’s apparent to me that a key element in these processes is engagement with the user. Activated spaces add value when they provide something which is valued not only by the direct user, but for the affect which is provided within the community and wider ‘place’ for all.
So, just what sort of places should our schools be?
Our schools are, as critical ‘places’ within our communities, no less deserving of attention and yet, sadly, we often ignore the place that wider engagement can play in designing the places we call school, and retreat to a formula of nostalgic hankering to ‘put it back how it used to be.’
It will be interesting to see just how willing the policy makers are, as they continue with a mantra of local schools and local decisions, and ’empowering local schools’ to enable and provide permission for genuine community and student engagement around exactly the design thinking needed to activate any other space. If we are to get the best use out of what we have out there in the form of massive investment in places, then it is way past the time when we need to be much more serious and focused on asking some fundamental questions: What is the intent of having this space and; how can we make sure that it, too, includes:
looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations.
and then, demonstrating a real commitment to enable the realisation of these needs and aspirations.
That is what planning school is all about.