The other evening, I was out walking, when down the footpath came a large old koala wandering down the street on his way to somewhere. He stopped and looked at me and carried on by, just another member of the local Kensington community out for an evening stroll.
Not growing up in Australia, I am still amazed whenever I see the local fauna out and about, especially in an urban situation. My encounter, with our marsupial resident, started me thinking; why is it such an unusual or exceptional event to see koalas or other indigenous animals in our suburbs and why can’t we take a more fauna-centric view towards our cities. Perhaps, if we want our cities to be truly liveable and sustainable for all, we should cast our thinking wider than just the city’s human inhabitants. Is there a benefit to be gained by designing for wildlife in the city? Not simply form the point of view of curiosity, but from an ecosystem wide perspective.
When we add wildlife as a measure of success within our cities we start to add a new level of performance to the planning and design of our urban environments. For example, a measurement of bird species is not simply a count of animals. The type and number birds in an area can also represent the diversity of tree species, habitat quality and extent of urban woodlands in the city. Similarly, the number of koalas in the urban environment could signify the quality of habitat corridors and vegetation, whilst frogs could reflect the health and distribution of the creeks and water bodies. By using animals as a performance measure in our cities, we start to move away from the usual ‘function’ defined outcomes for infrastructure, especially green infrastructure (our creeks, wetlands and open spaces). If we are aiming to create liveable cities, perhaps a more diverse approach to design and planning is needed to allow us to achieve liveable and sustainable environments where bird song, koala sightings, bee hives, butterflies and frog spawn are measures of success rather than the usual social and economic indicators we use today.
Perhaps next time you are out in the suburbs try listening for the bird song and look around you. Does the amount of birds reflect to quality and quantity of trees around you as well as the shade and amenity of the street? Or consider this, if a street has no song, what amenity does it provide for people. How sustainable and liveable is that street?
Accidental Urban Designer – Warwick Keates – Director WAX Design
I have lived in Adelaide all my life, spent most of my holidays on the south and eastern coasts; love the dry hot summer and fresh winter chills (not so much, the droughts)… my first trip to Far North Queensland some five or six years ago was a moist, dripping green culture shock. The visit was a quick one: Sasha Grbich had invited me to run a two-day workshop with her for the Tanks Art Centre as part of ANAT’s Portable World’s education program. I remember the plane trip was frustrating – cloud cover the whole way – no view, no physical sense of the place I was approaching… remember the song playing as it tipped into descent (I think it’s from Sarah Blasko’s Planet New Year) ‘Waking with the birds, they’re falling from the sky’ causing some subtle anxiety that fell away as the clouds broke and the plane sank into colour: turquoise blue/green sea deep green blanketed mountain fringe; remember the heart-dropping/breath-held moments as the plane banked the bay: the beautiful liquid shock of it.
I believe that the debate about street art is unnecessarily combative. It’s just paint on a wall- it doesn’t hurt anyone. Funnily enough I think that the people who clean the walls and the artists who paint them have the same intention, to contribute to and beautify public space. The two sides just have different aesthetic values. Generally we are becoming more accustomed to street art and its not as scary as it was a while ago, and that’s a good thing. Some artists have an elitist approach, they want street art to remain intimidating and edgy. I think that’s important too but there’s plenty of room for both approaches. When I started making street art it was ridden with angst. I soon realised that doesn’t draw anybody in. Angst only attracts more angst. The best thing about this art form is that it makes you observe the public space differently. Through a dialogue between the audience and the artists you begin to realise that public space belongs to all of us. It’s ours to play with and, above all, have fun!
Peter Drew Street Artist