PLACED | Organise!

Posted on 14/08/2009

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Perhaps it’s population, perhaps it’s geography, perhaps it’s an inherent informality in Australia society, perhaps it’s a tendency to rely on government, perhaps it’s the way funding is parsimoniously managed for civic organsiations …

I am rather curious about the lack of non-profit organisations in Australia focused on improving the built environment. Even though we have professional and industry bodies, chambers of commerce, local community groups, housing groups and the like, there seems to be only a smattering of organisations that are working in ways that focus on the built environment. Without taking on the task of a gap analysis, I am actually hard-pressed to name one national citizen based/driven non-profit organisation that is focused on improving the urban environment (e.g. neighbourhoods, liveability, public realm). However, the Transition Town movement, which I’ve blogged about, comes to mind as an international network with Australian initiatives. If anyone knows of any such groups, please let me know.

I am often surprised by the sheer scope of civic organisations in the USA and the UK that focus on citizen engagement, placemaking, design and livability. While visiting the UK last year, I encountered groups like Living Streets, SusTrans and Groundwork. In my reading about the USA, organisations like PlaceMatters and Project for Public Spaces also wield significant influence and impact. These organisations become partners in urban and community development and are a more constant voice in discussions about the built environment than resident action groups that can tend to be more localised and reactive.

Non-profit organisations have a mission. Even though sometimes vexed by business models, they may not necessarily be constrained by profit-making that companies and other enterprises can be. Note John Mongard‘s comments cited in an earlier post about the impact of consultancy fee structures on the quality of the public realm. Presently in Australia, there are a number of initiatives designed to enhance and strengthen the non-government organisation sector with a view to enhancing social capital, resilience and community capacity. However, in Australia, I feel there’s also a need to diversify this sector and introduce organisations that are focusing on the built environment in ways that foster more constructive dialogues and engagements with other players.

Some of the specific interests, just to name a few, that could be taken up by non-profit organisations include:

  • citizen planning and planning education
  • liveability
  • public placemaking
  • community/local economies
  • neighbourhood development/planning
  • community design/co-design
  • community engagement and consultation

Perhaps those kinds of networks are taking shape online e.g. Liveable Streets which is an initiative of the Open Planning Project and focused on the US or Live Local which is an Australian project.

I can’t help but wonder what it will take for citizens, including me, in Australia to organise and establish the kinds of organisations/networks needed to direct citizen and community energies into the urban realm.

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