8 October 2015


Cities need to be great places for people to live, work, and play - but how do local governments achieve this vision for the future and create thriving places? In order for public places to be successful, they need to have the right governance structures in place. Mayors and local governments can no longer only be concerned with Roads, Rates, and Rubbish - they need to champion change and create and sustain beautiful, thriving places in which their citizens can live, work and play. This people-centric approach to public space was the focus last week as four leaders in Placemaking and civic life came together to share ideas and insights from careers focused on creating thriving places and future-ready cities.

Thriving Future of Places

The Future Cities Collaborative was fortunate enough to have Project for Public Spaces, a New York based nonprofit, planning, design, and educational organisation join us in Sydney for a week, and their Senior Vice President, Ethan Kent, began the proceedings by opening our minds with insights into what it takes to make civic spaces into valuable, liveable, and loveable public places. The core message from Ethan and Project for Public Spaces is that approaches to civic spaces needs to be Place Led.

PLACE LEDFor too long communities and local governments have been focused on projects and programming for their open spaces, and the over-governed nature of the space has not translated to enlivened civic places. By acknowledging the social life of the space and investing in initiatives that support the people and the connections created, sterile spaces become thriving places in which civic life occurs. Governments need to become Place Led rather than Project Driven – which is a subtle but vital paradigm shift when it comes to approaching public spaces.

Ethan’s other vital message for participants was the Power of 10 Approach. This approach advocates that each city should have 10 destinations, and each destination should have 10 places, and in each place there should be 10 things to do. So taking Liverpool for example, Eat Street, Macquarie St Mall, and Bigge Park are 3 destinations, and in Bigge Park the cafe in the corner is 1 of 10 places and at the cafe people can sit, chat, read, play on the lawn, park their bike, and a range of other activities that are supported by the place. Adding an exchange for books and some toys for kids bring additional layers of things for people to do, and this layering of uses and activities builds the cafe into a great place and therefore Liverpool is seen as a collection of great destinations and places. By approaching public space in this way, each space invites a diversity of users and uses, the space is inviting and intriguing, and will attract people time and time again as the space is continually evolving and changing as the people using the spaces change.


In addition to Ethan, David Adam, Founding Director of Global Cities, a UK based urban consultancy which is devoted to helping city leaders employ international best-practice initiatives to transform their public spaces into vital places for their communities. David built upon Ethan’s examples of global Placemaking initiatives and spoke of the importance of cities and creating great public places in which public life can occur. David highlighted the importance of cities to the global economy, as our urban centres are where technology and ideas and people collide. The social connection between people of many cultures is vital for global prosperity and stability, and our civic places are where these connections are forged.

Following on from David was Peter Smith, Principal of Place Governance Partners and former chief executive officer of Adelaide City Council. Peter spoke about the governance shift that must occur in order for local governments to become Place Led rather than Project Driven, and how local governments can produce efficient and effective solutions through a re-think of their governance models to become productive and liveable cities in the global century. Peter’s message was that the system of elected leaders, council staff, and community distrusting each other was only producing place winners and place losers – but with a re-think of the model, collaborative place governance can be achieved. This achieves long-term political capital through enabling the community, and increase the place leadership capacity and capacity to contribute of the public service and community.

Lastly, Melinda Hewitt, Manager of Place Management at Pittwater Council, shared insights that touched on the theories introduced by Ethan, the global city-building considerations put forth by David, and the governance models Peter acknowledged. Melinda’s role at Pittwater is a daily combination of the insights of all three of our panellists, and she has successfully been able to create a Placemaking agenda for Pittwater Council that involves strong community participation, a vision to create a future-ready city of international competitiveness, with an effective and efficient place governance model.

The insights from our four experts were complimented by a panel discussion facilitated by our Chair, Professor Edward Blakely, who wanted each panellist to discuss how better outcomes for our public spaces can be achieved – looking at what theories, approaches, regulations, and practical measures need to be utilised. Questions were taken from the audience on a range of topics, from the role of technology in building civic spaces, to how regional and rural hubs compete with close-by major centres, to what the community can do to become more involved in the process. As always, Professor Blakely had the ability to synthesis complex ideas into the simple, and gave the departing crowd the following advice when attempting to built thriving future cities: Just Do It.

Thriving Future of Places

Our panellists: Peter Smith, Ethan Kent, Professor Edward Blakely, Melinda Hewitt, David Adam. 







Ethan Kent - Senior Vice President, Project for Public Spaces

Philip Winn - Senior Associate, Project for Public Spaces


David Adam - Founding Director, Global Cities 




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