Public Open Space forum outcomes – collaboration, community & connectivity

Two workshops relating to the future of Public Open Space in WA were held in Perth on the 12th and 19th June, hosted by the Planning Institute of Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia, and supported by Essential Environmental.

The forums were driven by the recognition of challenges surrounding future allocation, management and design of Public Open Space in a constrained environment and complex regulatory system, and the need to determine whether traditional open space allocations will meet the needs of the future population, particularly in the face of increased pressure on sporting facilities and groundwater resources.

The workshops were well attended, with over a 100 participants at each workshop from a variety of professional backgrounds.

The first forum focussed largely on the provision of playing fields across the metropolitan area, and how our planning policies may have contributed to a disproportionate distribution of playing fields. It was noted that our focus on new urbanism over the last decade has resulted in walkable neighbourhoods but with little access to playing fields. This was of concern to the majority of people who attended, particularly in light of Ron Alexander’s comments that mental health would be the major disease of our nation by 2020 and that by 2031 we would be missing around 60 football ovals. It was nice to know that WSUD wasn’t to blame for this (thanks Garry!).

We were treated to some great research by Fiona Bull’s team at the University of Western Australia, who have developed POS tool. This unique web-based tool allows you to visualise and analyse the spatial distribution of public open space and features of each space across the Perth Metropolitan and Peel Region. We also heard from the City of Stirling who are experimenting with waterless parks and the City of Swan, who are keen to ensure that form and functionality are the key drivers for their future spaces.

A number of opportunities for improved open space were raised by forum attendees. These included connecting existing pocket parks via construction of walk paths and other green linkages; taking advantage of streets & verges to increase the greenscape; the opportunity to include community gardens and education spaces within public spaces, as well as the need to share playing fields with schools. And of course – the importance of trees!

A facilitated panel discussion led to some key conclusions. These were:

  • The importance of having guidelines for the provision of public open space that described the requirements for form and function of open space
  • The delivery of  appropriate form and function is best achieved where a Masterplan is able to be produced over a large area
  • The key is to focus on open space functionality, so that spaces are provided for a range of recreational activities, not just sport, but for other social purposes. The Department of Sport and Recreation’s new categories for public open space may assist in this.
  • Recognition of the diversity of community needs for public open space & how they change with time, particularly in terms of an aging population
  • It is imperative that open space is designed collaboratively with Local Government identifying the preferred locations for playing fields & the use of community plans to identify community needs
  • There is a need for a better understanding of how spaces are valued and being used so the provision of public open space can be better directed and justified
  • Economic viability is important in order to deliver affordable development – need to measure the economic return on the revitalisation of open space
  • Need for a political champion to improve the supply of our open space including playing fields, particularly in our outer metropolitan growth (OMG!) areas
  • That the planning assessment and leadership by the DoP & WAPC must consider all aspects of the environment, social needs & economic realism.

It was really great to see so many people interested and invested in our quest to deliver the right types of spaces and places for our future communities.

Thanks to PIA and UDIA for starting such an important discussion. We will keep you up to date with where it goes in the future!

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