Far out! Lessons from our fastest growing suburbs

How might we grow a community from a paddock to a postcode?

This was the question posed at the National Growth Areas Alliance (NGAA) Congress last week, where placemaking and people were the focus of how to make liveable and vibrant communities in our growing fringes across Australia.

Astrolabe Group spent two days in the Swan Valley, outside of Perth, considering the hardware of what makes these places – infrastructure, services; and the software of these places – the people, community, what they do and what they love.

As an event speaker, I shared my own insights about how we need to think about multiple futures with our populations, as getting projections is not just a set and forget, but always changing. We need to ensure we are responding to the needs and aspirations of our fastest growing outer suburbs. I left feeling invigorated about the future of our outer suburbs with three main takeaways:

1. The importance of place

At the heart of great placemaking is ensuring everyone lives in a great place.

Councils can’t do all the placemaking themselves, so governance processes have to be in place so others can play a role. Everyone wants to contribute, and we need to work hard to make sure they’re not blocked from being involved, so placemaking is a collaborative process. Business needs to have an active role, and they will be attracted to places where they have confidence in the community. Facilitating citizen engagement allows people to get the places that want and love. 

Placemaking is more than activation, and more than place branding, it’s creating a nexus between innovation and place. Every street is a public space and placemaking makes it easier for people to do things. When you lead by place, you make it better for people.

2. Know the people

We already know there is rapid growth that the fringe suburbs have been experiencing through existing data and projections.

But measures of population and housing are only one point in time and need to be regularly reviewed and updated. In particular, we need to make sure that assumptions about what is going to happen remain true or if they’ve changed. Setting targets to deliver great places (houses or jobs) has not worked, we need to be agile and responsive to how communities are growing.

There are many new and emerging data sets that let us understand places in ways we’ve never done before and let us see how places are chancing in real time. For example, Neighbourlytics, a social analytics platform for neighbourhoods, showed how places that might look the same have lots of different things happening under the hood. All communities are unique and we can see this through public social media data.  

3. Quality not quantity

The urban fringe is where land is available and they have become the pressure valve for rapidly growing metropolis. The conversation needs to be about the thousands of people moving in, the hundreds of babies being born, and all the other things that people bring with them, such as pets (I heard a fun fact that more dogs are currently being registered in the City of Casey than babies!).

Planners talk about floor space ratios and roads.

But people talk about the places they love, not the infrastructure behind them or the count of people they share those places with. If people are not at the heart of place, they risk being soulless.

If we only look at measures of dwelling approvals and dwelling types, we miss seeing the richness of people’s lives in our emerging cities on the fringe of Australia’s metropolis and the communities they are creating. We miss the quality of the place that can inform and help create future decisions.  

Dr Kirsten Martinus from the University of Western Australia has challenged planners and place makers to think about quality over quantity in relation to jobs. Each place has population-driven jobs, those that arise when there are more people around, and strategic jobs, those that take account of jobs and skills. Both need to be available.  

Astrolabe Group creates positive impact for people and places. This is why we are proud of our continued support of the NGAA. At Astrolabe, we bring together a diverse range of skills and experience that allow us to look around blind spots, bring together hard and soft infrastructure, quantitative and qualitative evidence and help our clients with growth and change.

Astrolabe Group sponsored the Partnerships – Building Connections category as part of the NGAA Awards for Excellence and Innovation.

Dr Kim Johnstone was a speaker on the panel discussion, “From Paddock to Postcode” during the congress, sharing her experience about using population data and demographics in planning for places.