OBSERVE | Innovative local authorities

Posted on 01/10/2011

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As footpath garden, empty shop and other grassroots sub/urban initiatives are regulated and ordinanced to the nth degree, it sometimes requires a doubletake when a local authority introduces an innovation, the sort of innovation that attracts your attention. I’ve been working on an article about cultural, place and design innovation by local authorities and discovered some astounding, even risky, projects and programs. These are the kind of opportunistic projects that have a next practice resonance which focuses on trialling, anticipating, integrating and learning. These are not major undertakings but small scale or fine grain initiatives through which change can be negotiated, through which something can be ventured. Some local authorities seem to be reaping the benefits of blossoming organisational creativity, having realised that their greatest asset is the social, creative and intellectual capital generated by its people. At a time when development and construction activity might be slowing down – meaning urban planning departments might have some spare capacity – there is an opportunity to put those ‘smarts’ to other uses rather than retrench. Local authority innovation (not an oxymoron) can catalyse other urban innovations that are necessary for the vitality and development of a place, community or city.

The programs I’ve noted include Adelaide City Council’s “City Activation” program which allows experimental projects such as pop-up cultural events throughout the city, Redland City Council’s innovations in urban design and recreational design, and City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters introduction of a ‘lead creative’, Teresa Crea. Other projects were also noted in a recent article titled Creative Engagement. More recently I’ve noted the New Neighbours Project which involves the use of two abandoned suburban cottages, and is due to commence in October. Produced by the Parramatta Artists Studios, with support from Parramatta City Council, the project will be site-specific, where two artists will occupy the two cottages for six weeks. Engaging the local community, the project will explore social, architectural and historical features of Western Sydney.

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