In Australia, a new policy implemented at a local level could be viewed as the latest iteration of cultural planning. This policy, known as a Social Activations Program, is responding to local culture without the long standing confusion of ‘what is culture?’ Its focus is on people, hence the ‘social’, and connecting these people with each other and with their place.
Over the past 6 months, I’ve been working on a Social Activations Program for the City of Sydney and have found the experience to further reinforce the notion that vibrancy is a social attribute not a physical element. In this sense, vibrancy is no doubt aided by design but must be cultivated with the lifestyles and behaviours of the citizens who work, visit and live in the area.
In this way, the City of Sydney’s Social Activations Program was implemented at Green Square – a district in transition, rich in history and diversity, located 6km south of the Sydney CBD. It was a pilot program to deliver 6 activations while responding to the community, nurturing capacity, activating public space and exhibiting innovation. A mix of small and large scale events provided an opportunity for the community to connect while responding to local needs and realising the potential of parks and plazas in the district.
The 6 activations, which incorporated various levels of public engagement and participation, included; popup ping pong, chair bombing, digital newsletter and website, poster competition, street parties and a jazz musical night. Here are some lessons learnt from the Social Activations Program and my own experiences delivering each of these activations:
- If given the opportunity people will come. We provided a balance of physical (street parties, jazz night etc) and digital (website) platforms to hit hard to reach groups and sub cultures.
- Temporary uses can help inform permanent design. The popup ping pong was a temporary installation that investigated park design and community interest before a larger investment for a more permanent table was triggered.
- Some activations will fail while others will soar. The delivery of the Program was flexible and if one innovation was struggling, resources were reallocated to assist other more successful activations.
- Community champions are stronger as a network. The long term sustainability of each activation was considered throughout the Program. In this way, community leaders were identified to continue activations, in one form or another, once the Program had finished.
- Selling the idea of ‘vibrancy’. Global case studies, such as chair bombing originally from Do:Tank in Brooklyn, were adapted to the local context and helped connect people in new and fun ways. It was about showing potential and highlighting possibility.
For more information on the Green Square Social Activations Program visit the digital newsletter and website www.greensquarehub.com or leave a comment below.
Guest Author Bio
John is an urban planner with a background in placemaking specialising in community engagement and design. He has a wide range of experience working in both the private and public sectors and takes a holistic approach to planning. His passion is for finding solutions and opportunities at a ‘grass roots’ level, balancing community needs with economic priorities and developing tangible outcomes for creating new, or revitalising old neighbourhoods. Over the past few years, John has been involved in projects in and out of Sydney, and has recently won a tender with City of Sydney to deliver a Social Activations Program. John approaches new projects by considering each place and its unique identity and influences, before developing a strategy for designing the various layers of public realm. John also has an interest in global trends and how these can be implemented at a local level through design that complements soft infrastructure.
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