Today over half the world’s population lives in cities; this despite the fact that cities occupy only about 3 per cent of the earth’s land surface. Urbanisation has provided valuable economic, social and cultural opportunities, but are our cities at risk of becoming soulless? Might we be in danger of making our cities places where business goes on as usual but life in its real sense is lost ?
This blog aims to start a conversation about how can we work together to create more liveable creative cities. How can we improve the design of our urban spaces to enhance our well-being: to be more sustainable, more creative, and more viable? Our cities and urban spaces must fulfil many needs, from making us feel secure, to enhancing our sense of identity and belonging, to giving us the space to play and socialise.
What in particular is the place of art in the city? Is its function to celebrate, to reflect or to challenge our perspectives? Is it to help us dream and renew our imagination? What meaning does it add to our lives and public spaces? Thinking Through The City welcomes your comments and contributions.
This is a blog for everyone. We hope it will attract comments from people – citizens – of all ages, cultures and professions. What is it that you love about this city, or indeed any city? What’s missing? What would you change if you had the opportunity? Follow our conversation threads or add some of your own, either way, feel free to scroll down the page to add your comments or reflections.
Remember, you don’t have to live in Norwood Payneham & St Peters to have your say!
Recently Georgia and Laura form 3D Radio conducted a vox pop for Thinking Through The City on what young people wanted in Norwood Payneham and St Peters. The program went to air on October 13 … and the verdict…? Youth were keen to see more of a vibe generated in the city through live music and events. Culture and creativity are the glue that create meaning and enrichment in our lives, and today the term creative communities is being used far and wide, but the challenge remains how to truly generate opportunities for individuals to be creatively engaged as active, creative citizens. Allied to the notion of ‘artistic citizenship’ comes the idea of ‘cultural sustainability’…
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
My role was to oversee the redevelopment of Dunstone Grove – Linde Reserve from concept to detailed design and final delivery. I am really pleased how the design objectives have translated into reality. It is a real oasis – away from the adjoining roads and traffic – a really pleasant place to be that enhances the community’s enjoyment of the environment. We naturalised, as much as possible, Second Creek and created artificial rock pools to allow for the natural habitat and fauna to re-establish and the community to interact with it. Already there has been an increased number of ducks; three families of ducks have been raised since the pools were established – even during construction works! Further we have been advised that frogs have returned to the creek. They have been heard at night and bubbles are frequently seen here.
I could talk for hours on the reserve’s many inclusions such as stormwater harvesting for reuse to irrigate this reserve & beyond, artworks, environmental sustainable design initiatives + more. I’ve already booked my son’s first birthday party here, that’s how proud I am of the finished product.
Sam Dilena NPSP Asset & Special Projects Manager
Further notes on new and innovative models for thinking about increasing the sustainability of creative practice (on not neglecting the business)…
(further to an earlier post and in response to the conversations and presentations made at Thinking through the City’s first forum: Incubating Creativity)
One major problem in my mind with the gallery model of engaging with contemporary art, is the convention – appropriate when the main audience for a given show is the group of potential collector/investors, but in-appropriate in the case of much contemporary practice – of supplying free food and drink to all-comers. Openings are fun, and a good chance to catch up with friends, or to network, or to celebrate together the culmination of a lot of thinking, care and physical effort, but often they are packed wall-to-wall and the worse of occasions to get a real feel for the art itself, which may require solitude, or at least some space for a worthwhile engagement. It often strikes me as bizarre that it is taken for granted an artist will put up the time, labour and material cost to make the work, and then in effect, is also expected to pay (to otherwise entertain) their viewers.
This convention is a habit rather than a necessity I am sure, and one that several Artist Run Intitiatives (Feltspace and Format in Adelaide for example) are dispensing with, supplying wine and/or beer at a cost rather than handing it out. No one seems to mind.
There are other models too that combine different notions of sustainability with relaxing over a drink or meal, alongside an art experience:
Crate59 in Cairns supports emerging artists by sub-leasing a portion of the gallery space that fronts their complex of studios to an iconic local business ‘Billy’s Coffee’ (which shifts from its home at Rusty’s Markets weekly on the days the markets are closed). Great coffee and a rich mix of curated and high rotation artist run shows creates a relaxed and inviting way to spread the ‘opening’ out, to sustain and give a platform to a diversity of local artists and to extend the invitation to people that might not venture into a gallery otherwise – as their website says “Art + other = good”!
It is really important that we create an environment where young people and artists can express themselves.
If we don’t afford them this opportunity our young people will move to other places and our city will lose much of its dynamism and creativity. We will be the poorer for this loss.
Michael Hickinbotham, Managing Director Hickinbotham Group
When Teresa Crea invited me to the Thinking Through The City Incubating Creativity Forum for the City of Norwood, Payneham and St. Peters, she suggested that I might like to be a provocateur. I like rocking the boat as much as the next person, but I felt that what the council is trying to achieve didn’t need that much provocation. Entering the ring of creative and digital industries through an engagement with community, business and creative practitioners seems eminently sensible. Of course that is not exactly what Teresa meant, but as it turned out it was not a role that was hugely necessary on the night. The conversations that developed during the forum, while diverse, had strong themes that demonstrated a real readiness to embrace a new way of thinking about how arts and creativity can work with business. This progressive conversation also served to highlight some of the less imaginative ways of thinking that have been plaguing a deeper engagement between creativity, community and business.
The last time I met Don Dunstan was in his restaurant “Don’s Table” on the Parade. He wasn’t well then, but he still enjoyed greeting his customers and having a chat over a glass of wine. That night he was serving the bread, going from table to table, with a basket and tongs. At the time I thought it was a beautiful and humble thing for such a visionary ex-premier to be doing. The thought came back to me recently as I was walking down the Parade, and I started to write this poem.
MEETING THE GHOST OF DON DUNSTAN ON NORWOOD PARADE
He slipped out of the median-strip trees,
carrying a humble bread roll
on a white china plate –
“Here,” he said, “A gift from the Shades.
You’re still dining out at my table.”
Heads turned at the sidewalk cafés,
all the fine-looking women of Norwood
sensing a presence, but still un-fazed.
“You’ve all gone back to sleep!” Don said,
“I wanted a renaissance, not a dormitory with malls.
i liked pliny, parsee eggs , and young men -
and I made a few mistakes.
It’s necessary to break open some tombs
if you intend to raise a dead state.”
Then parrots shrieked past
flying over the red galvo roof of the grandstand.
Still holding his serving tongs, the ghost began to fade –
disappearing into the listless night
of shop signs and car lights blinking along The Parade.
Mike Ladd South Australian Poet
We’ve been at the Yellow Door Studio on Payneham Road for about a year. Artists are always looking for cheap rent – a place to be safe and dry and practice their artIt would be good to have gallery space that supported emerging and more experienced artists; something that could act as a space to meet other artists, build community, network and promote work. That would be great for the area.
yellow door artists
I would like to improve our sense of community and increase networking opportunities for the businesses and communities along the road, to swap ideas and be more aware of each other. It is not only a good idea for businesses to connect, it’s the way of future – if you want something it makes more sense to get it next door than go looking for it somewhere else.
Danny Beger, Berger& CO Lawyers, Payneham Precinct Committee
I socialise around the area and it’s good having a heap of places around, but I think it would be good to have more of a ‘youth’ arts feel. It would make it more appealing. I think having more live performance and more visuals created by youth. Being a Film and TV student I like beautiful visuals. If you had a “Norwood Film Festival” it would get a lot of attention especially from university students like myself. I also know a lot of musicians would like to have local festivals to perform in.
Cameron Edson University Student, Member of Youth FM
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
As I walk from the city through Kent Town and down Payneham road towards my rented working space, I pass by many houses and commercial buildings from long ago. Some are much loved and cared for. Others are neglected. But they are all precious. They are probably not so appreciated by the many commuters in cars, trucks and vans that whoosh by, in the race for time + money. One old building intrigues me. The faded grey sign indicates it had something to do with plumbing – probably before the petrochemical industry provided plastic wares. But it is derelict. The open doorway reveals a chaotic interior and there is a gaping hole on an exterior wall that acts like a floodlight on the tangled mess. I am told that it is heritage listed, that the owner wanted to bulldoze the thing and that a bomb had caused the gaping hole. I think “poor Adelaide”.
My move to Yellow Door Studios was prompted by a lack of affordable rental space in the city precinct, where older buildings here are making way for boring but functional apartments. I am very happy with my move. The Kent Town and St Peters area is blessed with many older buildings that give a unique atmosphere of past existence in the inner suburbs. The challenge is for government to promote this, and for architects, designers, developers and retailers to use their creativity to incorporate this rich history into their practices. The older commercial buildings on Payneham Road can come to life again in a unique way.
Adrian Caon Artist
The spread of digital signage throughout urban spaces has been prolific and led almost unanimously by commercial interest; I see amazing potential for social, philosophical, art and design industries to embrace this canvas to invigorate, enliven, and change for the better the places we live in. Modern day light and lighting in the form of digital pixels has become a powerful tool for communication, as well as an aesthetic and physical meeting point for citizens, providing a place for a new form of ‘civic communication’ and exchange.
Digital light today replaces the firelight, which was the symbolic centre for family and community gatherings in ancient history. At that time it symbolised warmth, shelter, security. Today sitting around a tribal fire replaced by the LED or LCD pixel TV’s and digital screens. These screens and images have a mysterious and powerful presence, almost as if they represent echoes, traces of forgotten dreams reappearing in our modern city landscapes.
Jimmy Mcgilchrist, Media Artist, Creative Director, rezon8
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries economies around the world once again legitimately welcomed some of humanities most long-standing professions into the economy. Creative and cultural industries where embraced and labelled in a way that allowed them to be measured economically. Some of this was due to new technologies mediating creativity, making it easier for them to be commoditised and some, such as art and craft, had always been economic contributors, but through industrialisation had somehow lost their legitimacy in the economy. This loss of legitimacy was partly due to the difficulty in fitting one-off objects into the new industrial framework, and partly due to art theorists who felt that this type of creative work should not be included in the economy. The new terminology of creative/cultural industries allowed a number of disparate economic activities to be linked through the commonality of leveraging intrinsically motivated creativity for economic outcomes. (more…)
I remember coming across the website for a project called [murmur] toronto some five years ago while Sasha (Grbich) and I were researching participatory art projects as part of the development of a project up in Cairns that we completed early this year… (more…)
In 1956, Johnny Cash penned a song that spoke of the eternal vigilance needed to balance choices that were easy and tempting, and those that were hard but ultimately better for him. The song was ‘I walk the line’. It is said that hearing a demo tape played backwards inspired the song tune – I can relate to this. It may seem surprising but many an artists’ inspiration has come from a creative misread; sparking an alternative way of seeing a problem and embracing a false premise to develop a wholly different response. Often, this comes in the form of accidentally reading a ‘section’ as a ‘plan’, or – in the case of my first year design studio program head – ripping apart the physical model I’d spent all week making and putting it back differently. A roof inverted. A cantilever re thought. A whole section of the plan removed and separated from the main form.
This ability to suspend the present, and imagine an alternative reality is just one capacity the ‘creative’ mind brings to communities. Their ability to ‘walk the line’ between the ‘now’ and the ‘possible’. Some fans suggest that the original title of ‘Walk the line’ was ‘I’m still being true (to myself)’. It may just be rumour, but there’s a nice theme to be drawn from both these stories. Somewhere in there is an admission that, if Johnny didn’t remain absolutely hyper-vigilant, that it would all come to a crashing end. And that ‘walking the line’ was only possible thanks to having his eye fixed firmly on a constant; a value set so clear in his mind that it made choices self-evident. And the original song title – “I’m still being true” – somehow revealed a deep desire for authenticity.
In what may seem a real stretch, what if we applied these two ideas to community building? The thought was posed in my mind last week at the annual national conference of Australia’s architectural peak body, the Australian Institute of Architects. In a session that explored how we negotiate the boundaries and definitions we give to things, the discussion looked at how architects and landscape architects ‘walk the line’ in their work; between intervening and not, between new and old, between collective and individual. And, by extension, how cities ‘walk the line’ every day; between chaos and control, between the planned and spontaneous, between economic rise and fall.
Cities of the past were planned around defined zones. We had a work zone (the CBD, the factory etc). We had a ‘living’ zone (our suburbs). And we had a ‘rural’ zone. That was the green bit where farmers and livestock lived. Today we’ve realized that zoning has produced many of the issues we face today. Clearly chief among them is traffic congestion. Each day we empty the suburbs to travel to commercial centres. Along the way we drop kids at school (what did happen to school buses?), or at daycare. Some cities have turned to car-pooling, or shared bike schemes to alleviate the pressure on roads, and to give a genuine alternative. But bike lanes take decades to become a joined up network, and car-pooling only accounts for a small percentage of trips made.
Many in the area of public health note the link between traditional zonal planning and the escalating instance of obesity, diabetes and a frightening projection in dementia (an increase of 350% by 2050). We’ve fallen in love with the idea of ‘convenience’: parking at the door, food delivered at will, air-conditioned comfort at all times. And in the process – as Dr Tony Capon from UNSW’s Faculty of the Built Environment knows – we’ve deviated from our biological predisposition of ‘hunter gatherer’ and become ‘homo conveniensus’. Remember that bit about choices that swung from ‘easy and tempting’ to ‘ultimately better for us’?
Perhaps on this one we’ve wandered off the line and need to look once again to restore balance. And perhaps, we might return to a more ‘authentic’ quality of life. A quality of life that is not ‘generic’ but celebrates an innate cultural identity of its people; Norwood is a great example of a community that bursts with the stuff of its DNA. In a city that is spending an inordinate amount of time coming to terms with ‘mixed communities’; Norwood lives it. As we encourage others to build communities around an established centre. Norwood has it.
Maybe we should ‘walk the line’ a little more in Adelaide; stretching some of our preconceptions about how we define things. And whether we even need to. Another tenet of successful city shaping is knowing when to ‘leave it alone’. Sometimes we need to design with gaps; bits for the community to fill in and own. And, every now and then, to get it ‘wrong’. In walking that line we negotiate the balance between what Rem Koolhas calls the ‘Generic City’ and the authentic experience of a place connected to its past, and confident about its future.
Tim Horton, SA Commissioner for Integrated Design
There is nothing better than a daily walk along the River Torrens with man’s best friend – my dog.
There are just so many advantages including getting fit (for both dog and human), but the social aspects of meeting and greeting other people can not be under-estimated. The daily changing scenery of the river and surrounding areas is a privilege to see. The strength and severity of the river after a downpour is impressive and the impact of he recent drought and low water levels was concerning. Living so close to the river, neighbourhood conversations always include comments about the river - another true friend.
Julie Black, CEO Arthritis Australia, Felixstow Resident
I have lived here for a long time – most of my life- but the thing that has kept me in the precinct, despite the rising cost of living, is its vitality. It has an air or sophistication that comes from the culture of the long-term residents, particularly of Mediterranean heritage, that have provided a sense of community connectedness – a sense of family. Today this sense of living ‘vita’ has been taken up by the coffee shops and the commerce.The business world can take advantage of it, but it stems from a culture of community and sharing that I would like to see extended into other cultural endeavours. I like the idea of reinvigorating public spaces with culture – creating a hub that goes beyond commerce. I see fantastic potential in things such as the community garden for example. The other thing about this part of town is that it is quite green; it has lots of tall trees. The city has a certain considered attractiveness – it isn’t plastic or synthetic.
Andrew Stock, Sculptor, Local resident of thirty years
When Brecknock Consulting were engaged in 2009 to develop a public art strategy for the City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters, my team and I were impressed by the history, diversity, outstanding sense of place and creative nature of the community. However we also started to ask ourselves questions about the ways cities and communities enter into a dialogue regarding contemporary questions about the urban condition and creative communities. We wondered if it is enough to enhance the urban environment with quality contemporary art or indeed can the art become a conversational process through which we can be “Thinking Through The City”. To their great credit Council endorsed our concept and approved the strategy and its implementation, we now look forward to seeing how the community enters into the urban dialogue and how over time it will evolve and take shape across the city. Cities can be thought of as an ever changing stage set upon which our lives are played out, at times we become a lead player and at other times a mere bit player or supporting actor in what seems like a fast moving and improvised melodrama. So let’s use the city to explore the urban condition, our sense of belonging and our individual and communal fears and aspirations.
Richard Brecknock MPIA [SU] Director, Brecknock Consulting