26
Mar

Strathmore, Let’s Make A Park! Case Study from The Neighbourhood Project

Youth take the lead: How two university friends took a dangerous roundabout and repurposed it to battle loneliness.

Green Space Wanted. Can you turn an unsafe green space into a welcoming pop-up park? Made by young people, for young people, this is a story of people connecting with each other and with nature in an otherwise concrete jungle.

Adam and Michael saw danger and disconnection in their local area, but also potential and opportunity. In Melbourne’s North West area of Strathmore, the two university friends were part of a rapidly expanding demographic of people under 25, and yet their suburb had limited public space – and young people simply cannot afford to hang out in cafes every afternoon!

In particular there was a lack of public space targeting young people, meaning that effects of loneliness and disconnection within the urban landscape were sure to follow.

“There was nowhere in Strathmore for young people to hang that doesn’t cost money, or even access to green space. We wanted to build a park for young people, by young people.” Group Leader

Thankfully, there was a hidden possibility standing in plain sight – a solo tree in the centre of a disused roundabout in the traffic-heavy intersection at Strathmore train station. Adam and Michael thought, if only you could get there, and if only the young people could get council permission to replant it, then multitudes of school children could have a place to connect every single day.

“Everyone deserves good quality public spaces. Everyone should be able to connect with nature. Everyone should be able to connect with their neighbourhood.”

In 2017, Adam and Michael put together their idea, and the two university friends from Melbourne won a place in Round 2 of The Neighbourhood Project. The burgeoning leaders were empowered by CoDesign Studio’s program for locally-led placemaking to quickly set aside any feelings of unconfidence.

Within a short period of time, the team enlisted a substantial committee of eight members and a volunteer group of twenty, all aged from 12 – 25 years. The Neighbourhood Project’s framework helped them to highlight their diverse and effective skills sets – from administration, to graphic design and fine art, to gardening – and taught them how to work together and with council.

Together, the mobilised community built a beautiful green space, which encourages passers-by to engage in watering the newly planted garden or take-five  in the shade; they even have a little library full of books, built by the local Aberfeldie Men’s Shed.

“The activated space utilised native plants and recycled goods to bring in the lowest costing project in the history of The Neighbourhood project.” CoDesign Studio staff member

Here are just some of the outcomes:

  • 70 % increased community connection
  • 88% increase in neighbourhood pride
  • 70% of surveyed locals met someone new
  • 90% agreed the space was more welcoming and friendly

These amazing results delivered on the group’s original goal to increase community connection. Importantly, the program opened up pathways beyond guerrilla gardening to ensure effective long-term change. What happened next demonstrates the power of CoDesign Studio’s placemaking methods.

For the first time in the area, young people had a voice and a platform for connecting with their local government on these issues. The newly established Let’s Make A Park group was engaged by the Moonee Valley City Council to actively contribute to its 20-minute neighbourhood strategy, providing a long term platform for input, active contribution and has effectively putting locally-led placemaking on this council’s agenda for the first time.

Moreover, one of the major challenges highlighted by the team was the lack of safe crossings in an otherwise high pedestrian traffic area. After demonstrating neighbourhood engagement – including the practical action of drawing desired walk lines on the road – VicRoads and the Council took notice and are now developing a master design plan for the entire intersection.

The Neighbourhood Project demonstrates that with the right methodology and empowerment, locally-led placemaking works regardless of age and experience; consistently providing long term change for the place, its people, and the processes overseeing the area.

Written by: Eliza Charley