Panuku Development Auckland

11 July 2015

I know I’m not going to get very far through this one without sounding like a girlie swot – so hold onto your field notebooks. This is where placemaking gets its Watching and Listening anoraks on.

To put it in grown up terms - successful placemaking is intensely pragmatic. After thinking deeply about where you are and where you want to go, the next step is to make sure you truly understand the place with which you are working. That’s right – placemaking is all about the place! We’ll get on to content later, but this is where we take stock. As someone like Picasso said (sort of) you have to know the rules before you can break them.

So we go out and start watching. To prove the point and sound pragmatic, the first step in addressing a given space or situation is to observe and research the situation.

In our field lunchbox we pack questions like:

  • What is the physical space?
  • What is the perceived problem or gap?
  • Who is here?
  • How do they use the space and what do they need from it?
  • Who is not here?
  • Who used to be here and why aren’t they here any more?
  • Who is planned to be here?
  • What are the surrounding networks and contexts (eg transport, community, amenity, cultural)?
  • What are the long-range goals?

By way of example, for the Jellicoe Precinct, research meant looking at:

  • The identification of available public space
  • Identification and understanding of local business and residents
  • Future plans
  • Relevant zoning especially with regards the marine industry
  • Heritage factors (heaps of them)
  • Identification and understanding of Aucklands event and creative industries, and their needs and aspirations
  • GIS research with regards the space, surrounding areas, and local populations
  • International trends, success stories and failures around public space management in high profile areas.

Further to this direct observation, for a space like the waterfront that was going to be under fairly intense public expectation (and for those of us for whom Happy Days is an accurate representation of the 60s) it is also useful to understand:

  • What is cool?
  • What is no longer cool?
  • What is about to be cool?
  • What should never have become uncool?

From here and only here, we are ready to formulate a set of ideas – to design an approach. Be they interventions, activations, communications, events, constructs etc – you start to build a response with an aim to engender change, attachment, enjoyment etc. 

A new question: what small steps could be taken to start moving towards long term goals?

Then, you Get On With Doing.

And lastly (well, not lastly as you will note it sounds a lot like where we started…) start watching. If it’s working, great. Leave it to get on with working. If it’s not, start researching again, then design, then deliver, then observe.

And lo – the “Virtuous Cycle of Placemaking” has begun.

If this all seems a bit simple or obvious might I suggest you go out and give it a crack – spend some time people watching. Give yourself time to watch them sit, play, talk, fight, rush, get lost, spend money and so on. Once you understand how people use a place, you are in a good spot to help that place become better for those people.

And after all, it is people that we are buidling all these places for, isn’t it?

FRITH WALKER, Place Manager
Frith Walker is Place Manager for Waterfront Auckland, creating a space that continues to surprise and delight - we like to call her "the keeper of the vibe".  

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McConnell Property is making excellent progress with civil earthworks, drainage and roads due for completion by May 2017.


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