Video games are not my thing, but I do like The Sims. The game isn't about just living life – it's about playing with it, playing with your neighbours, the places you visit, where you live, and everything in-between. It’s a simulation on how we would like to live, from righteously respectable to totally bizarre. The possibilities, according to the game, are endless.
When it comes to planning the places where we live however, we seem to dismiss open, creative approaches to planning our cities. In Melbourne, “livability” for example, has become a buzzword, and for good reason, as who doesn’t want livability, outside the zombie cohort? Things get hairy, though, when “livability”— as an economic development strategy — gets unpacked, because questions arise like: “Livability” for whom? “Livability” at what cost? And my favourite, would a game like approach work to develop more inclusive, sustainable and creative suburbs?
But ultimately, crazy questions aside, I believe sharing and supporting individual’s ideas on how our suburbs can be enhanced will create a sense of “liveability”.
As much as I’m not a fan of playing video games, I would love to see what people come up with when they’re given the opportunity to design their suburb. This is a trend already being picked up in different cities (see Neighborland, Creative Suburbs and Crowdspot). These organisations take the neighbourhood revitalisation theme a step further, making local, and perhaps strategic planning community owned and expand urban planning further than before. They explore ideas on how suburbs can be enhanced and communicate them to the relevant organisations. As ideas are collected, they set a vision for how we want cities to be and build upon the work councils, Departments of Planning and other organisations working in planning are doing.
These and other approaches take consultation a step further towards what I call the four keys to sustainability: that everyone benefits, everyone is involved in decision-making, outcomes improve wellbeing and the environmental, social and financial sustainability. They provide opportunities for neighbours and organisations to be creative and share their ideas on how our suburbs can be enhanced and evolve, build upon the existing community consultation and facilitate conversations, connect with supporters and share creative, perhaps even crazy ideas.
Quality consultation and engagement are the building blocks to make sustainable living easy and affordable for all and making better decisions that 'stick'. Having desired neighbourhood open spaces, walkable infrastructure and distinct, community owned spaces will provide opportunities for social interactions that will support residents, establish recognition and develop relationships. These social ties might prove equally important to enhanced infrastructure, for example, when it comes to helping each other in severe weather events.
As we need to prepare for climate change in earnest, we’re going to need to strengthen infrastructure, change building patterns and overhaul government emergency procedures. Equally importantly, we’re also going to have to put greater value on the human connections that can be found in walkable neighbourhoods, where people know each other and support local business. To focus on those things that really improves our life, not just the lifestyle, and give those ‘hard to reach’ individuals a chance to be part of the transformation. These ideas are best known to come from those who walk the streets every day, visit local parks or yearn for a bus or a tram near their homes.
Perhaps it’s time for citizens and organisations alike to take stock of how cities are being made, and for whom the making is focused. In fact, maybe it’s time to get creative, imagine what our cities could be and participate in the development of our city. As Jane Jacobs said, “cities [can provide] something for everybody, only because, & only when, they are created by everybody.”
To start playing with life, click here