By Alicia Otto.
Cities are resilient. Often responding to disaster in different ways, they ultimately highlight the importance of community connectivity, cultural capital and intuitive design.
Take for instance, the 2011 Earthquake in Christchurch that left the CBD without 80% of its buildings but a passionate and motivated community and not for profit organisation called Gapfiller that’s redesigning the city from the ground up.
In Australia, the regional city of Bundaberg suffered its worst-ever flood in January, 2013. The flooding devastated many towns in its path but North Bundaberg was hit particularly hard with the damage bill estimated to be over $200 million.
After the cleanup, when the roads, water and power were all reconnected, and homes and business were repaired, it became obvious that the place and its people needed motivation to continue to live, work and play in North Bundaberg. They needed to feel connected to their community and their local identity.
That’s when ‘Place Activation’ was born. A cooperative exercise between Bundaberg Regional Council and Creative Regions, it has formed a list of places that could be revitalised, but by way of collaborative community art. A think tank was held and a number of ideas were generated.
Following this think tank was consultation with all local businesses in North Bundaberg. The feedback was loud and clear. The best way to get businesses back on their feet would be to get more people through their doors.
Place Activation in the context of these projects was all about utilising local creative people (artists and an architect) and innovative town planning practices to design vibrant, liveable spaces. It was about targeting areas of the Bundaberg region not well utilised by the community or that were perceived to not be the best places to visit, live in or do business. Through engaging creating people and planning principles in conversation with the community, projects can be created to lift the spirit of a place and ignite a sense of community pride and belonging.
Our first initial project was facilitating a mural by local artist Jamie Kirby who had been progressively doing small street art projects around the region, including the wall at the newly opened Oodies Cafe. The new street art mural was painted on a building owned by local developer Bill Moorhead. This building was also devastated by the floods and has benefited from the message in Jamie’s artwork.
Our next event was an outdoor movie in the car park of a local pub on Perry Street, North Bundaberg, screening onto the wall created by Jamie Kirby. The movie was screened for free with the help of a Bundaberg Regional Council Community Recovery Grant. The movie was Frozen; we had the local Lions club running a sausage sizzle and a local food van. And some light and quick materials for seating and tables, utilising cable reels, astroturf, pallets, plants and fairy lights, to show people how a car park could be revitalised into an urban park.
Our largest project to date has been ‘Take it to the Streets’, attracting a sold out launch of 40 people on the 3 March 2015. This project was born from initial business consultation and it targeted food businesses with an outdoor dining space (or lack thereof) to enhance their street appeal and create interesting spaces for the public to interact. Four North Bundaberg businesses participated in the project: Nightingales Pies, Bundy Bakehouse, Oodies Café and Bella Martinos Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria. The team are hoping that this project encourages other businesses to do similar projects to assist in drawing attention to their businesses and better utilisation of their interface with the public realm.
Take it to the Streets was made possible by a RADF grant. The Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) is a partnership between Bundaberg Regional Council and the Queensland Government to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.
The launch of the spaces was held as a progressive dinner, to highlight the food business as well as the fact all of the premises are within walking distance of each other. So whilst the participants were sampling food from each venue, they were also getting an explanation of the installations, many of which were made utilising quick, easy materials such as pallets, AstroTurf, milk crates, screen printing and pattern materials as well as bikes, bird cages and mannequin heads! See photos from the launch here.
The challenges of this project were many but here were the top 5 lessons learnt:
- Don’t worry about the money – We found money and resources in weird and wonderful places and if you have a good idea, the money and support will come.
- Start with a great team and find key supporters – This wouldn’t have been possible without a great team at Creative Regions (Shelley Pisani, Wendy Zunker, Rod Ainsworth) as well as Associated Media (Dave and Jacob), and an open minded Infrastructure and Planning Department at Bundaberg Regional Council.
- Involve the local councillors: We needed to keep the Council onside. This project has never been done in Bundaberg before and the Council has always been about ‘traditional’ urban development. But by doing a tour with the Councillors and planning staff before the launch gave them an opportunity to interact with the spaces and talk to the local businesses to see the impact a more creative response (and cheaper!) has had on their business.
- Find local champions – They know their area the best and they are on the front lines. Locals like the owners of Oodies Café and Bella Martinos have been instrumental in introducing creative change to the North Bundaberg community.
- Get feedback – Keep in touch with the project and the businesses and see how this project changes the energy of the community.
Bundaberg is no longer just the home of ‘rum and turtles’, but has given birth to a creative industry that’s found its outlet in enhancing businesses and their associated public spaces.
For more information, please follow ‘Place Activation – Bundaberg Region’ on Facebook or contact Alicia Otto at Bundaberg Regional Council by emailing Alicia.firstname.lastname@example.org.