Q1: How long has ACC been involved with PLA? Does the association pre-date your arrival at ACC?
PS: No, we joined a couple of years ago - appreciating that whilst Adelaide has great bones and great public places, in order to take Adelaide forward, we need to think about the city from a people perspective. Our new strategic plan talks about “one city, many places”, and it’s really saying that a great city is made up of many different places that are well-connected and provide many different experiences; offering places to live, places to work, places to study, places to be creative, places to make and meet friends and so on. So our focus in the last couple of years has really been on place making and it therefore made great sense to join PLA and learn from the other members about how they were achieving their own place-making objectives.t
Q2: Which ACC project do you think has benefitted the most from your PLA membership, and in what ways?
PS: Having inside knowledge and hindsight regarding similar redevelopment projects in East Perth, as well as the renovations for Melbourne’s Federation Square (which have benefitted tremendously from being part of PLA), has helped us with the revitalisation of our own central square - Victoria Square. For example, Fed Square is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary, and so one of the questions we posed to Kate Brennan (CEO of Federation Square) was, in looking back, what would be changed if you could return to the beginning? Lessons learnt in looking very carefully at the retail mix and the ways in which different tenants work together, as well as the entire financial set-up, are gold for us, because in the planning of these types of projects, you don’t have the wisdom of hindsight at the outset. With our PLA relationships, we access the wisdom of hindsight from other great places around Australia, before we embark on our own projects, as well as during their development.
Q3: Which PLA initiative or support mechanism has had the greatest impact on ACC objectives and outcomes to date?
PS: I really like the site visits, and the CEO network for full members allows me to talk with other CEOs at various stages of place making. You can read about projects, of course, but to actually go and physically walk around a place, with the people who’ve made it, gives you first-hand knowledge and insights that enable you to bring the learning home and apply it in your own city.
Q4: Council’s ‘Splash Adelaide’ sounds like an exciting and innovative idea – what does it involve and how did it come about?
PS: With Splash, we’ve essentially adopted the principles of a New York-based community advocacy group called Project for Public Spaces (PPS). One of their central values revolves around trialling lots of ideas that are “lighter, quicker and cheaper”. That way, you find out what works, before you invest large amounts of capital. So we set aside a small amount of money, and we got a full delegation of council members to waive any policies or procedures that may otherwise have prevented us from activating the city. Splash targets different places where we think there could be a better experience for our citizens, and we ask the business leaders, business owners, tenants and residents what they’d like to see happen if they could wave a magic wand. So we’ve implemented things like full and partial street closures with a range of entertainment, and for the past 6 months we’ve given free range to vendors who want to sell their food in the city, without having to pay a permit fee. We set up a central bicycle hub for 3 months, and also popped up entertainment all around the city, such as outdoor cinema, table tennis tables, pianos – just to activate dead corners in particular spaces. It’s been a fantastic trial and we’ve had great support and encouragement from the business community and the public. As expected, we didn’t get everything right – and that’s the beauty of it. None of our mistakes were fatal because we made sure that everything we changed could be dismantled in a day. For example, we were criticised for removing two disabled parking spaces temporarily. We were previously unaware that we had regular users of these spaces in that part of the city, so that sort of learning was great for us.
Q5: What other ACC initiative/s or undertaking/s in place management are you most proud of?
PS: One of the things I’m most proud of, separate to individual projects, is the cultural change taking place within the community. Things like Splash have begun to create a positive shift in mindset, taking council away from its public perception of being a place full of rules and regulations, and instead allowing it to be seen as an enabler of great places in the city. In terms of projects, one of the wonderful things we did for engagement with our strategic plan, was to develop a smart phone app called Picture Adelaide. The app is essentially a map of the city – people can visit places, take photos, and then post comments about their experiences which are then pinned to the relevant places on the map. It’s a great opportunity for people to tell us what they like and don’t like about Adelaide; what’s working and what could be improved. Normally in community consultation, we might get the usual suspects of 100 or so people who are happy to voice their opinions (typically in the form of long submissions!), but this time we accessed a whole new demographic of 24-35 year-olds. Around 1500 comments were posted in a very short period of time.
Q6: What, in your experience, are the main benefits of becoming a full member of the Place Leaders Association?
PS: For ACC, it’s that the peer networks are operating at all levels within the member organisations – not just at the CEO level. There’s a special network for my design team and a special network for my planning team and so on. The thing that binds these networks is that we’ve all got a passion for place making. We can all clearly see the value proposition in place making and we share a common goal to create great places with a wow factor; places that can be changed and refreshed over time. The networks and the sharing of successful practices are invaluable to everyone, and that’s what binds the PLA organisations together. If people think it’s expensive to join PLA, the money would otherwise be spent on consultants and wouldn’t provide anywhere near the same value.
Q7: In addition to your many responsibilities within ACC, you are also the Director of Professional Practice for the Place Leaders Association. What does this role involve?
PS: It’s a function of the Board that I really wanted – the essence of which is the transferring of place-making knowledge. We currently do that via the website and our online forums, but I’m also looking at how we can physically share expertise. In the next 12 months, the Board will be investigating ways to enable the physical placement of PLA members in secondment opportunities with other member organisations. All of us have place-making projects in which we’re desperate to find the right people, so if we can physically share some of the expertise we will be fully realising our potential to learn from each other. This would take the PLA network to the next level, and I’d be absolutely delighted if we could set those wheels in motion over the next year.
Q8: What is it, in your opinion, that makes a public place great?
PS: Place making is all about people. I love the PPS view on this – they talk about the power of ten. This essentially means that you’ve got to have ten things to do in any one place at any one time, in order to attract a diverse array of people. Ten seems to be the magic number – people will visit places if there are ten things to do. For example, shopping is just one of ten things you can do in a shopping mall. Some of the other nine things could be watching a movie, having a meal, surfing the net, visiting the library, drinking a coffee and so on. Successful places have ten things going on so that there’s something for everyone. There are many examples of classic projects around the world (we even have our own example in Adelaide’s North Terrace Cultural Precinct), where a lot of money was spent on the public realm aspects, but not a lot of money or thought went into the activation plans once the realm was up and running. In our own case, we’re going back to address activation issues with North Terrace; creating an outdoor cinema space, setting up deck chairs for people to sit and read a book, bringing in food vendors and so on. We finished the building work three years ago, and then the space lay dormant for a couple of years even though we’d spent millions on the project. It’s a constantly evolving process. Another crucial learning, for me, is that community leaders need to be actively sought out and consulted – because they know the place far better than government ever will. If you get behind them, it’s easier to create a great place.