There's only one way to measure the success of a piece of POS:
ARE THE PUNTERS THERE?
See that P in POS?
It stands for "public".
No public, no success.
Despite the low maintenance.
Despite the low water use.
If no-one uses it, it's a failure.
An expensive failure.
And here in Perth, we've got lots of them.
And we keep building more of them.
Why is this happening?
Because the designers start from maintenance/water use considerations instead of from end-user considerations.
Here's the thing: people want to spend time in spaces like Bryant Park above. Yes, it has significant maintenance attached to it. Yes, it uses water. SO BE IT. Save water elsewhere. Reduce maintenance elsewhere. JUST NOT WHERE WE WANT TO GATHER! We want to see gardens in those spaces. We want to hear splashing fountains in those spaces. We want to sit under shady trees in those spaces. Out of the wind. Out of the sun. IT'S NOT THAT HARD. Look, even those dumb Noo Yawkers can do it! Sorry, New York, you're not dumb. You're very smart actually. Smarter than us anyway - if that's any recommendation.
Now I know people are going to say "but you have to send the right message to the punters". No, we don't. The punters are smarter than you think. They KNOW we have limited access to water. They KNOW we can't afford to have high maintenance landscapes everywhere. But they also understand that you can spoil yourself occasionally! It's a principle we exercise all the time. Like when we eat chocolate or go on a cruise or buy a big TV. We don't eat chocolate every day and we don't board a ship once a month and we don't put big TV's in every room of the house. We UNDERSTAND that we have to be discerning. But we sure as hell know that we can occasionally have those things and not beat ourselves up for being profligate and environmentally irresponsible! High-profile, CBD Public Open Space is our chance to "spoil ourselves". Look again at Bryant Park. This is the sort of space people want to gather in. It makes them feel special. They know it can't be on every corner, in every park, in every street. THAT WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL AND ENJOYABLE!
There's a vicious circle in the world of POS design. It's a circle that will continue to exist as long as people play not to lose instead of playing to win. Big difference. BIG difference. Think about this folks coz it will take one of you willing to risk everything to break that circle and put Perth on a different path. To date, none of you have been willing to do so. But here's the truth: you have to be ready to fail before you can succeed. You have to be prepared to risk your job and your reputation. When I worked in corporate-land I used to tell my people that you can't do a good job if you're afraid of losing your job. Ponder that. Someone has to break ranks. What's the worst that can happen? You get fired? Sounds like it would be a blessing in that case. You know, they say you shouldn't use CAPS when writing because it's considered "shouting". Well sometimes you gotta shout:
IF NO-ONE USES YOUR BEAUTIFULLY DESIGNED PIECE OF POS WITH ITS LOW WATER USE AND LOW MAINTENANCE, IT'S A FAILURE. YOU, THE DESIGNER, HAVE FAILED. YOU, THE GATEKEEPER WHO ASSESSED THE DESIGN, HAVE FAILED.
It's like the genius who designs a car that has zero emissions and requires zero servicing. IF NO-ONE WANTS TO BUY ONE, ITS A FAILURE! This is such a self-evident principle I'm astonished we can't grasp it. "The market is always right" the smart investors say. Now they get it.
I found myself on the outskirts of Perth on the weekend (I'm always looking for new roads to ride) and was shocked at what I saw.
I don't know why I was shocked. Perhaps I keep hoping against hope. But I was definitely shocked to see the acres and acres of new houses with no trees anywhere. Not in the properties, not in the streets. Nothing. Just built form as far as the eye could see.
The battle for the hearts and minds has been lost out there. This is the new norm. Trees are seen as an intrusion.
We're going to end up looking like a Greek island.
Emma Young (journalist, novelist and all-round depressingly talented person) read my post below and sent me this pic of a town square in Savannah, Georgia (USA)... "one of many in this relatively small town of just 140,000 people".
See what she's saying?
If a lil 'ol town like Savannah can have 22(!) public squares to this standard, why can't Perth have at least some?
Well, she didn't say this, I did, but the question remains doesn't it?
Admittedly, it's humid as hell in Savannah - you can poke a stick in the ground and it will grow - but c'mon Perth, WE CAN HAVE THIS TOO! It requires a different approach, BUT IT CAN BE DONE.
Councillors of our fair city: please demand that your town/city start doing this.
Don't listen to those who howl "too hard". It's not. You just gotta know how.
Everything we do is motivated by one or the other.
All aberrant behaviour is therefore, ultimately, the result of fear. It might be a deep-seated, not-so-obvious fear, but it's there. You just have to dig a bit deeper to find it.
What's this got to do with Public Open Space?
Especially the design of it.
What's wrong with most of our POS in Perth?
Whether it's streets or parks or town squares, they're generally too hot. Because they lack big trees. They often have trees, yes, but they're usually too small and ineffective. Go have a look on a hot day and see if I'm wrong.
Why is so much of our POS planted with small trees?
The Parks Department guys are afraid to plant big trees because they're afraid of repercussions down the track.
The landscape architects are afraid to stipulate big trees for fear of being criticised by the Parks Department guys and not being used again.
But I've talked about all this before. Nothing new here.
Except there is. Because it's still happening. If anything, it's getting worse.
Putting aside our fear for a moment, here's a crash course in how to design POS that people actually want to use. It's actually really simple because it just involves asking one question:
"What do I want to EXPERIENCE in this space?"
That's it. Job done. Because you will now start thinking about how you experience. And that of course is through your senses. There's no other way. Not that I know about anyway.
So, now we start thinking about what each of our five senses would like to experience in this piece of POS.
Q. What do we want to FEEL?
A. Not hot, nor cold. Just nice. That gives us the clues about how much shade v sunshine we will need.
Q. What do we want to SEE?
A. Not too much harsh sunlight nor too much dank shade. Again, this informs our tree choices.
A. Not roads and buildings and ugly stuff. This tells us where to screen.
Q. What do we want to SMELL?
Q. What do we want to HEAR?
You get the idea. Run this process each time you have to make a decision about any aspect of POS design and you will soon be making better parks and streets and squares for the people you serve. You just gotta be brave and commit to the process and ignore the howls of the fearful. Love your job. It's so important. You are making a huge contribution to the wellbeing of generations to come. Or not. It's up to you. Do you love? Or do you fear?
A reader took issue with my post below about infill / loss of trees.
They made the point that dwellings can in fact "touch the earth lightly" and not disturb trees. "Stumped, timber-framed buildings are an example" they said.
They're right of course. We could build in such a way that trees are undisturbed. My question is: will we? And the answer is clearly "no".
Again, we can stand around wringing our hands about it, protesting that everything would be better if we built pole homes, but the reality is it 'aint gonna happen folks. The development tsunami is made of concrete, bricks and mortar. It's an unstoppable behemoth that is best planned around, not stood in front of. What I'm suggesting is planning around it. Move the forest out of its way!