Each of us brings such a private map along and revises it every time we step out the door. These maps have consequences not just for our feelings about the city but for our literal ability to negotiate it. 

Michael Sorkin, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan


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Youth Engagement in City Planning

The experiences and knowledge of young people in cities are often dismissed, particularly when it comes to planning the future of the places, which stops them from fully participating in community life. This is gradually changing though, with several programs leading by example that aim to give urban youth a voice and makes decision making more participatory, transparent and accountable.

'Block by Block' a UN Habitat and Mojang partnership, is using Minecraft as a tool to upgrade 300 public spaces in developing cities across the globe, including Nairobi, Les Cayes, Kiritpur, Mumbai, Kigali, Addis Ababa and Mexico City. The project involves professionals recreating cities in Minecraft, then handing it over to residents to adapt it and change it to reflect what they want. Initially aimed towards youth, the simplicity and accessibility of the program has appealed to a wide cross section of communities, allowing more people to participate in designing the spaces. The first project is the Undugu playground in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi.

Meanwhile in Boston, 'Youth Lead the Change' is getting young people actively involved in decision making by help to allocate $1 million of public investment. They were involved from the beginning of the process and asked to vote for projects they would like to see the money spent on.

These two programs are leading the way innovative practices empower young people by including them in decisions that affect them. Programs like these not only allow urban youth to have a voice, but also have that voice genuinely listened to so that they can contribute to the future of their cities.  

Back On The Map


Who decides what information makes it onto the world’s maps? Are the borders drawn differently depending on a map’s creator? Cartographers will tell you that there is a fine balance of power that operates in the background in the creation of maps. While geopolitical information can change overnight, geographic information is slow to catch up. .

On the 18th of March it appeared it was time to update the world’s maps to include Crimea as part of Russia, after President Putin had signed a treaty declaring the country to be part of the Russian Federation. Alas, it hasn’t been that easy for cartographers around the world who are still waiting to see how events unfold before they change their maps. While Russian cartographers are busy updating their maps to include the boundaries of the Crimean peninsula, both the Ukraine and the European Union consider the Crimean vote and subsequent treaty to have been illegal and refuse to acknowledge the change.

This has the major mapmakers holding their breath or literally putting Crimea in the grey area. Two major American mapmakers, Rand McNally and National Geographic, have chosen to map Crimea each in their own way. National Geographic will map Crimea as a Ukrainian territory while highlighting it grey to indicate a special status. An adjoining key will explain that the annexation is recognised by Russia and Crimea but not by the United States Government. “We have to monitor the world to make sure that our maps are portraying the current reality, whatever that may be,” says Juan Jose Valdes, Director of maps at National Geographic. He goes on to explain: “[a]s you can only surmise, sometimes our maps are not received in a positive light by some individuals who want to see the world in a different light.”.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, American mapmaker Rand McNally is following their mapping protocol by taking cues from the US State Department. In other words, leaving the map as it is. The Oxford Atlas in the UK is doing the same as they take their directions from the United Nations.

“I think the reality of the situation on the ground is always up for interpretation. Different mapmakers draw the lines in different places…no pun intended,” says reporter Michael Blanding on the inherent bias of maps. Actually, there are many disputed grey areas all over the map. Think of the recent tensions between China and Japan over the islands in the South China Seas. India, Pakistan and China all use different maps to define the boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir. In Argentina, maps of the islands south of their border are referred to as the Malvinas while the English still refer to them as the Falklands. The saying, “history is written by the victors,” applies equally to the formulation of maps. There are often missteps between those drawing the map and the people on the ground.

There has been a recent push to make cartography a more collaborative process. Community advocacy groups like Grassroots Mapping have attempted to address this bias at a local level by creating inexpensive DIY techniques for people to use to map their own communities using a weather balloon and a point-and-shoot camera.  Users can then upload their photos onto platforms like Map Knitter in order to create a collage-style image based on aerial photographs. On a much larger scale, Google has created its own version of an open source map called Google Mapmaker which allows users to make corrections and additions to existing maps. Collaborative mapping may provide the missing link between the geopolitical reality on the ground, and the traditional mapmakers with their official political sources and particular procedures. It would certainly provide a welcome alternative viewpoint on local geography.

The next time you are looking at a map, pay attention to what information has been included and what has been left out. It may be that a great deal can be revealed about the mapmaker and the state of geopolitics in the region, by the map in front of you. Whatever the case, the map is truly in the eye of the beholder.


Jason L'Ecuyer

Place Maker


The Shoelace Currency

I’ve been travelling down to Melbourne on and off over the past few years, each time seeing the city through slightly different eyes as my career progresses from urban planning to urban design and now to place making.

As a planner I noticed how easy it was to navigate the city’s gridded streets, and psychologically, how much easier that made catching public transport. As an urban designer I was keen on documenting the dimensions of great laneways, and a couple of months ago when the Place Partners team went to explore Melbourne for a day, how people behaved and interacted with the city and each other particularly caught my attention.

In the office we often talk about ‘the invitation’, that is the physical gestures that a street, space or building offers that may invite you, or even prohibit you, to do something. This invitation could be a public bench with a great view – inviting people to stop, rest and appreciate the outlook, or it could be a generous sun soaked staircase in winter. But the invitation isn’t always about stopping and sitting. It’s also about a feeling of convenience and comfort in the street, to know there are places you can stop to tie your shoelace without getting bowled over.

These places can be an indented shop door, a garden bed edge, a window sill, or if the building is really generous, a seat along it’s edge. One of the most recent threats to the ‘shoelace currency’ of streets is the surge in popularity for floor to ceiling flat glass facades at street level. Metres of flush glass along a street edge creates an environment that is not only uninteresting, but also sterile, generic and by my observations, if there are enough buildings with these types of facades in a row, it can generate higher walking speeds.   

There are lots of factors that make for an interesting and inviting street. Having a high shoelace currency is one of them. So next time you are walking down a street and wondering why it is or isn’t working, one of the questions should be, if you wanted to, could you stop and tie a shoelace?


By Elise O'Ryan
Place Maker

Space vs Place: Defining the difference


At Place Partners we like to engage in lively conversation about the finer points of placemaking and recently we were musing on the definition of place and how it is different to space. So after pondering on this question, I decided on the following:

Space is one-dimensional and is only a physical location.

Place, however is multi-layered and subjective. It is created when the physical attributes, emotional connections, and psychological perceptions are combined to impart individual meaning and value. Therefore, a single space can be the setting for a multitude of different places depending on how it is used, read and perceived.

John Agnew (1987), a political geographer outlined three fundamental aspects of place as being:

1. Location that defines the specific place

2. Locale that is the material setting for social relationships, or the ‘actual shape of a place within which people conduct their lives as individuals

3. Sense of Place that reflects the subjective and emotional attachment people have to place

Doreen Massey, another human geographer suggests that it is both space and time that come together in place, and therefore “a particular place not only brings together local and global influences, multiple cultures and identities, but it also contains historical influences which shape its present, as do its plans and potential for the future” (in Buchanan 2009:63)

The process of defining a place for us is through a holistic understanding of it – the physical, social, economic, cultural, historic and political influences as well as the behaviours and perceptions of users and what the community needs and aspirations are, now and for the future.

It is the inherent complexities of creating places that are meaningful and respond to the local context that makes being a placemaker constantly enjoyable and interesting, yet challenging. 

April McCabe, Senior Placemaker


On the recent Place Partners team trip to Melbourne, Atherton Gardens was the first stop on our list of things to see. We were keen to check out the public realm surrounding the Atherton Gardens estate and see how the new 152 home mixed housing development physically integrated into the existing community assets.

Instead of simply wandering around and looking at the architecture of the new building (which is rather cool, some what sensitive and fun all at once) I decided to do a basic place based assessment of its public realm offer.

The assessment is loosely based on Project For Public Spaces (PPS) The Power of Ten concept and looks at the existing and new public spaces, with this concept in mind. PPS Power Of Ten proposes that a great place generally needs 10 activities or reasons to be there to keep it vibrant and alive.

I wanted to see how many obvious ‘things to do’ were physically provided for and comment on the opportunities that these provisions/amenities faced moving forward.









Here we go, Atherton Gardens Fitzroy, public realm - Things To Do

  1. The Matroshka (Babushka) Dolls 2002, by Bronwen Gray:

This public artwork is bright and inviting, it beautifies the area surrounding it and draws people in, it is not an interactive work by definition, but people do tend to sit on it/climb it for a photo… We did.

  1. Wooden Dog sculpture:

Public art and seating, this 5m long wooden dog sits atop a small grass hill, it functions as a seat and gives the impression that its uses may be vast given the imagination of children.

  1. Children’s Play Grounds X 4:

Each of the 4 playgrounds varies slightly in scale and offers different play equipment. Each of the play areas connects to another with clear sight lines.

  1. Scattered seating:

The area has many little clusters of seating that is grouped in such a way that it would function well for socialising and small groups of people.

  1. Quite seating areas:

These areas of seating are away from activities and play equipment and commonly have good shade and small planters, peaceful spaces for contemplation and reading.

  1. BBQ area:

Well catered for spaces with multiple BBQ’s picnic tables and weather protection.

  1. Community garden:

Well-established community flower and vegetable gardens, with signage in multiple languages – however the gardens are fenced off and only open to the public during certain hours.

  1. Soccer field:

An open soccer field, with goals and nets, all line markings were well maintained and the perimeter had a low fence to stop balls going run away.

  1. Cricket nets:

One single netted cricket pitch in very good condition, but without built in wickets

  1. Basketball courts:

The fenced in basketball courts were in good condition, although they may have been placed a little close to the residences (the sound of a bouncing ball can really travel)









Some of the opportunities that these public realm amenities could address in the future are

> Improving connections from the new residential building to the grounds
> Offering one fenced play ground for smaller children / parents relaxation
> More of the sporting equipment built in, e.g. cricket wickets
> The opportunity to mix new amenities with some of the aging stock
> Add to the diversity of seating
> Soften the edges of the estate – fencing currently surrounds most of the grounds
> Draw the public into the grounds, building better connection to the Fitzroy community

So in conclusion the grounds of the original 60’s high-rise housing development has 10 clearly defined things to do that are provided for. If each of the children’s playgrounds were added to the count there would be 14 things to do at Atherton Gardens… Not bad at all!

PPS use The Power of Ten as a place making tool to help turn a place around, so for Atherton Gardens to have 10 things to do means it has great potential to be a great place for people.

If you have kids and want a nice place to have your coffee in Fitzroy I would happily recommend Atherton Gardens as well worth a look and the quantity and quality of the play equipment on offer is terrific.

By: Jos Maple - Jnr Place Maker - Place Partners


Making places more cultural? A place makers perspective

Making cities has traditionally focussed on the relationship between economy and environment. Making places adds in the social and cultural. Sydney's Creative City Cultural Policy Discussion Paper is asking people to think about the difference, but it may not be going far enough...

Sydney is primarily a consumer of passive cultural experiences: ‘passive’ defined by City of Sydney, being the more traditional arts events like new years eve, going to a museum, an art gallery, the theatre, or eating at that new restaurant everyone is talking about. However when it comes to supporting less traditional forms of culture and even supporting the seedbeds of culture in the community, it seems that Sydney still has a way to go.

The Creative City Cultural Policy Discussion Paper was released last month for community consultation and starts to address this gap in the diversity of cultural life and experiences. Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore says “We’re looking for ideas on how to boost Sydney’s creative arts, and how to encourage more people to go to shows, invest in local artworks, and take part in the arts themselves. We also want to make sure creative people can afford to live and work here.”


The Discussion Paper identifies 8 key directions:

  1. Improving access, creating markets: Supporting markets for cultural products and experiences.
  2. New avenues for creative participation: Fostering the growth in creative expression by Sydneysiders.
  3. A vibrant creative economy: Supporting the growth of creative industries.
  4. Fostering precinct distinctiveness: Encouraging distinctive cultural and creative expression in the City’s villages.
  5. A partner for big ideas: Partnering on local and international projects that display outstanding creativity and imagination.
  6. Sector sustainability: surviving and thriving: Support Sydney’s cultural sector to build stronger and more sustainable organisations and events.
  7. Sharing knowledge: Encouraging a hunger for new ideas.
  8. Global engagement: Being a magnet for the best thinkers, artists and cultural leaders of our time.

In terms of place making, Direction 4: Fostering precinct distinctiveness through cultural and creative expression is of particular relevance. We think the Policy’s definition of creative place making is pretty spot on  (excerpt below), however when this definition is translated into ‘options for action’, the policy seems to have a focus on physical places and events, rather than people.  


Definition of creative place making

“Creative place-making is about shaping both the physical and social character of a precinct around arts and cultural activity. Creative places bring together a range of stakeholders to animate public and private spaces, revitalise streetscapes, improve local business viability and public safety and bring diverse people together to celebrate, inspire and be inspired. Embedding culture and creativity in the fabric of our urban environment can catalyse change, as seen in many revitalisation efforts taking place locally and internationally, and create unique and distinctive experiences that offer significant benefits to urban communities. In turn these initiatives incubate and accelerate entrepreneurs and cultural industries that generate employment, new products and services, attract visitation and draw a range of complementary businesses and workers to an area.” (p. 54)


Options for action (p. 56)

> Development of public domain activation for key public spaces (e.g. Martin Place) including City initiated activities and those that arise from business and the community.
> Investigate ways of highlighting and promoting the distinct cultural assets of each village including at major main street entry points.
> Provide grant support for precinct-based activity and ‘thought leaders’ who encourage, enable and facilitate local cultural and creative events.
> Investigate a management and planning framework that allows for “unplanned, spontaneous and uncalculated initiatives”87 and informal uses of space to ensure that the city can be used by residents and visitors in a way that supports the creation of an authentic sense of place.
> Encourage and promote existing and future cultural clusters in each village precinct (eg 107 Redfern Street, 66 Oxford Street, 101-115 William Street creative hub) and help facilitate connections with surrounding retail and community activities.
> Last month I attended one of the community forums at the Belvoir Theatre. It was interesting because the night was less about Council telling the audience what the Cultural Policy was about and more about people sharing their ideas from an artists or arts worker perspective.

Ideas from the Cultural Policy Discussion paper that forum goers were excited about:      

> Musical instruments for loan at libraries as part of a revamp of the city’s cultural scene.
> Evening childcare so parents can have a night out on the town.
> Unsold theatre tickets donated to high school students.
> The Adelaide cultural passport (program no longer running): Children get given a passport to collect stamps at each cultural venue they visit or performance they see.  


A few of the new ideas:

> In recognition that the amount and type of people who live in inner city areas are as important to a  places identity as the cultural ‘things’ to do: there needs to be a way to ensure these areas aren’t completely gentrified (a screening process was suggested for new buyers... extreme?).
> Spend the same amount of money on advertising cultural events as is spent on advertising sport.
> Taking the co-working office one step further: co-workshop space with communal tools and materials.
> An RSVP style site for artists and art buyers: a service to help artists connect to art buyers.
> Inspired by Venice Beach in LA: Power points in public places for buskers and bands to plug in to.


Overall, the Cultural Policy Discussion Paper is exciting and a big step in the right direction. It will be interesting to re-visit this topic in a year to see what is working, not working and still yet to be rolled out.

If you have a great idea about the Policy Discussion Paper, you have till the end of May to tell the Council about it here.  Or if you can keep it to 140 characters you can tweet with the hashtag #creativecitysyd

Defining Place Making

I have heard many definitions of place making and met and heard from many people who use the term place maker. I have also spoken to many clients, government, corporate and community who are increasingly confused by what place making actually is and how you can do it. Is it getting the community actively participating in changing places to meet their immediate needs or is it long term planning and integration into systems? Does it have to be one or the other? Can it be both?

At Place Partners we have begun to identify 3 streams of place making:

1. Strategic Place Making - we define this as integrated, cross disiplinary and long term planning for holistic places that consider the socail, economic, environmental and cultural aspects of place. Its where we most comfortably fit in terms of our expertise and our approach.

2. Tactical Place making  - we define this as lower cost, quick or short term interventions into the fabric of an existing environment that have a strategic or long term objective.

3. Opportunistic Place Making - perhaps this will be controversial - but we define this as those interventions that may also be lower cost, quick or short term but that do not have strategic or long term objectives. These can most often be activities delivered by an individual or smaller groups and directly responsive to their personal needs or desires right now.

I'd be really interested in your response to these definitions and where you think you or different place making activities fit in...

Kylie Legge

Director, Place Partners


A gallery of blue boxes

The Blue Box gallery launched on Valentines Day 2013 as Place Partner’s love letter to Oxford St which is not only our home, but home to big and small bookstores, cafés, retailers, Taylor Square, pubs, clubs and good looking Paddington and Darlinghurst residents. If you’ve been clever enough to spot one of our five artworks for the Blue Box gallery on Oxford St you may want to know more about why these little masterpieces are popping up in this corner of the world.





Image: Our Oxford St book share, can you spot the blue boxes? 

Place Partners saw the need to draw some positive attention to previously neglected parts of the neighbourhood.  The initiative began as a way to bring some enjoyment back into walking down Oxford St, to get people to pause and interact with their surroundings and maybe pop into a local shop or two. With the existing community book share station located at our front door, we thought this block would be the perfect place to launch the Blue Box Gallery and create a little hub of small scale experiences.

It’s been really fun to see these empty boxes fill with art and then go on to get some very interested looks on the street. Our resident artists have been busily putting together their artworks which include a bleeding heart, cranes flying out of a book, a miniature bookshelf, an unusually pious coffee cup and paper flowers popping out of the page.  One of the artworks was so attractive that it was unfortunately already poached for private enjoyment. If you know of a rogue blue box, please let us know so we put it back up to share with Oxford St.











Images: Blue Box Brand stencil & installation

The project is intended to have a collaborative spirit and we invite anyone who has something beautiful to share to use these blue boxes as an art space. We hope to have a growing list of artworks to add to the gallery and gradually share the love down the street. Eventually the Blue Box gallery will be a robust and creative collection of perspectives and experiences reflective of Oxford St’s history and character.

The concept is essentially simple but one that we hope will eventually have a larger and more complex effect on the relationship that people have with the area. We believe that even a small, simple and inexpensive effort to improve spaces has the potential to act as a catalyst for lasting change. We have already witnessed many people taking a moment to look up at our boxes and engage with their surroundings in a positive way. We’re looking forward to adding more boxes to our line up and having more people realise how wonderful Oxford St is. 

Article written by Place Partners intern: Rebecca Sio

A Place Maker in Venice (and at the Architecture Biennale too!)

It's not often I imagine that a place maker is invited to the Venice Architecture Biennale so it seemed like a big must do when I was invited by Cathy Lang Ho, the curator of the US Pavilion to participate as a panellist. The Biennale is a pretty amazing event all round with a fair sprinkling of starchitects and a serious number of the hopefuls as well as the genuinely interested. It is split into 2 sections - the pavilions in the Giardini and the curated exhibition in the Arsenale. This year's theme was Common Ground and the Director David Chipperfield stated “I want this Biennale to celebrate a vital, interconnected architectural culture, and pose questions about the intellectual and physical territories that it shares. In the methods of selection of participants, my Biennale will encourage the collaboration and dialogue that I believe is at the heart of architecture, and the title will also serve as a metaphor for architecture's field of activity."

Its hard to say how successfully this was achieved as I for one found many of the exhibitions a little too difficult to 'read' which perhaps is not the best place to start if searching for commonalities. I think this is why the US Pavilion, while not formally 'architectural', was so attractive to visitors who really seemed to enjoy the simplicity of the design as well as the humanity of the concepts and projects shared. The title of the US exhibition was 'Spontaneous Interventions; Design Actions for the Common Good' and featured 124 projects, actions, ideas and communications that aim to in some way improve our relationship to the city and its spaces. (Go to http://www.spontaneousinterventions.org/statements for the curatorial statement). What I do think is interesting, and perhaps a sign of the times is that the 'winning' pavilion; Japan, was selected by the jury due to the collaborative approach between architect and community while the US also received a special mention "for ‘Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good’. This interactive installation impressed the Jury with its celebration of the power of individuals to change society in small but effective ways. The unpretentiously simple presentation was a delight."

Perhaps change really is afoot!

The main highlight for me though was participating in the panel discussion ' From the Local to the Global: Scaling up and scaling down" with Mirko Zardini, Canadian Center for Architecture; Cameron Sinclair, Architecture for Humanity; Lars Kruckenberg, Graft Lab and Make It Right Foundation; and John Ewing, Ghana Think Tank. The discussion aimed to compare urban actions from around in the world and to consider common as well as culture-specific causes. The big question was 'How can tactics that originate in one locale be replicated in other situations?' Another issue that was addressed was the question of scale and replicability. While much time was given to considering governance and financial sustainability or alternative methods of working it was my comment regarding the potential scale of influence of this type of thinking that received significant support. The idea being that instead of trying to build individual ideas into long term businesses or the like, that we concentrate our energies on influencing the overall process of planning and building our cities to ensure that all ideas and opportunities can have a place.

Hopefully we will see this idea take seed and continue growing throughout the world!

Here are some photos for you also of some of my favourite things from the trip


Kylie Legge

A Warm Welcome to Broome North

In the midst of a chilly Sydney winter, Kylie and Sarah (Cred Community Planning) headed off to Broome last week for a few days of community consultation for the Broome North Community Activation Plan.

Apart from the fact that the weather was beauftiful (yep, 30°C and sunnny...making the rest of us in Sydney very jealous), the trip was a great success. Not only were Kylie and Sarah able to get some great feedback from the community with a street stand, interviews and workshops, but they also felt very warmly welcomed by all the locals.

We're all really forward to working on this project over the next few years!

And just to make you feel that little bit jealous as well, I'll leave you with this amazing photo that Kylie took on her afternoon down on the water...