Places are the spaces where we get together, relax, celebrate and contemplate, as well as work, participate in civic life, learn and exchange.
Places comprise numerous elements, such as the topography of the surrounding area, the underlying natural environment, the built environment, the physical enclosure and edges these create, but also the less tangible features such as activities generated within the place, their significance, and whether those activities occur in public or private spaces. Different histories and stories also all have a bearing on how we understand places. Places all have distinct qualities, identities and character.
Communities in both rural and urban areas need to evolve and continue to prosper as we adapt to social and demographic changes and a changing climate. There is a great opportunity to better understand and improve the network of public spaces extending across our regions, cities, suburbs and towns.
Step 2: Understanding place
The aim of this step is to establish an evidence-based, shared understanding of the places that will be affected by your project or plan. This will give you a better understanding of the implications of achieving the vision and objectives identified in Step 1, including identifying any existing gaps in performance.
Many of us are familiar with ‘site analysis’, often a statutory requirement as part of planning approval. Place analysis involves a bigger picture and a more rounded study of a particular place, taking into account its context as well as its characteristics and qualities.
A place’s characteristics and qualities can be qualitatively and quantitatively measured. This contributes to an evidence base for decision-making and evaluating options. This evidence also informs business cases and investment decisions, and supports place performance monitoring.
There are many methods that can be used to involve the community, other stakeholders, and subject matter experts in this process. The level of detail and scope of your place analysis will depend on:
the location and size of the place or project
priorities for the place or project
resources available and capabilities of the agency, project team, government project partners, and whether external consultants or experts are required.
Connecting with Country is an important aspect of gaining both a broader and deeper understanding of place. We can learn from this cultural understanding of the interdependency between people, their environment, and their wellbeing, and apply this as the primary frame through which we consider the design of the built environment.
Peoples’ ability to engage with public space, the connective space of society, is the primary contributor to place – people create places for people by design and through delivery. The dynamics of making places is only possible through the active participation of many people, often from diverse backgrounds, with differing knowledge or community understanding. The involvement of local communities is critical in gaining an understanding of place.
Places are dynamic
Most places are created through various activities over time – they are the result of design, planning, and development but they also evolve through the influence, interactions and activities of the people who use them and care for them.
Places draw on history, values and the dialogue between people and their culture. Good places increase in value over time and help enrich communities and encourage citizenship. Through good design the built environment can allow places to adapt to change.
Places exist within places
A larger area may encompass zones of greater and lesser intensity, giving places within places their own significance. In the context of roads and streets, a study to determine the intensity of places will often come down to individual street blocks. This intensity may be low or localised, yet almost all streets, as public spaces, form part of someone’s network, such as providing residents with an address, or a familiar way to get from here to there.
Factors of place
While places are physical spaces, they are understood by different people in different ways and at different scales. This is because they are made up of many interwoven layers, both tangible and intangible. One way of studying a place is to analyse the following key factors:
Step 2 of the core process also encourages practitioners to explore the place data for each of the selected Built environment indicators, and assess their current performance in the study area.
The Built Environment Indicators have been mapped for all of NSW. The web maps illustrate data relevant to the metric used to measure each built environment indicator. This helps with better understanding the indicators' baseline performance in a specific area.
As an optional exercise, to help identify and understand the issues and opportunities (Step 4), practitioners are invited to use the Movement and Place classification method to identify places of greater or lesser intensity within the study area.
Classifying street environments is a method for supporting project team discussions about how to balance Movement and Place. Aided by using a common language, the aim is to agree on a shared understanding of the existing and desired street environments within the study area.
The NSW Government is developing a method to provide a data-driven assessment of place intensity that can be used by any practitioner to get a baseline assessment of place intensity across the entire state of NSW. Otherwise, a place expert can identify and assess places within the relevant study area.