Effective examples of placemaking in Australia

September 28, 2023

Placemaking has the rare capacity to enrich people’s experience of a place, and these examples in Australia show this process in action.

What is placemaking?

Placemaking is a nuanced method of building deeper connections between people and the places they share through a careful approach to the planning, design and management of those places. Placemaking focuses on creating places that reflect the local community, while ideally creating a place that is socially inviting, has multiple uses and activities while being comfortable, safe and accessible.

Effective placemaking initiatives (whether they’re an example of large-scale strategic placemaking or small-scale creative placemaking) have the potential to reinvent a place and draw people into public spaces, improving urban vitality in the process. The best examples of placemaking, meanwhile, draw inspiration from the local area and its people in ways that are both unique and authentic.

Because of the correlation between visitation and economic activity in urban areas, effective placemaking can have powerful economic benefits for an area as well.

Perth Cultural Centre

Once a dry and unused public space in the heart of the city, the Perth Cultural Centre (PCC) is a powerful example of how Placemaking can quickly and simply rejuvenate a space. The institutions in the vicinity – the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Film and Television Institute, the Western Australia Museum and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art – were underrepresented in the public spaces outside their doors, creating a disparity between the vibrant attractions in the city centre and the public spaces that connect them.

The Perth Cultural Centre during a Candlelight Concert in 2022 (Image credit: Karen Farmer)

Sandwiched between Perth Train Station and Northbridge, the original Perth Cultural Centre was vacuous and empty. However, some simple changes such as painting the PCC’s steps vibrant colours, adding shade and multifunctional furniture quickly transformed the space. Further additions like a native wetland, public art installations and a large screen further enhanced the space’s aesthetic and functionality for day-to-day use and regular public events.

Today, the PCC continues to evolve, and is now an integral cultural hub in the centre of Perth, showing how a placemaking project can activate a dormant space and invert the community’s perception and utilisation of it.

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Fish Lane, South Brisbane

Fish Lane’s transformation from a derelict eyesore to a recognisable city attraction is a striking example of placemaking in action. Sitting underneath the South Brisbane railway overpass and surrounded by concrete, Fish Lane was once a disused carpark that was a blight on this bustling part of inner Brisbane. A significant and collaborative rebuild of the area, however, changed it into a hospitality hotspot with a subtropical rainforest oasis at its heart.

Fish Lane has eateries, social spaces and greenery that has reinvented the space under the railway line.

The central section of Fish Lane features 3500 plants (which were carefully chosen to represent Brisbane’s climate and native flora), a mixed-use ‘town square’ that has plenty of seating and multiple eateries. Details like this, along with large-scale initiatives like 1000+ apartments, 30+ artworks and 20+ businesses in the immediate area, has seen Fish Lane become a memorable pedestrian precinct that doesn’t just enhance the surrounding area, but define it.

Fish Lane's design has been carefully devised in concert with multiple stakeholders.

Barangaroo, Sydney

Central Sydney is rich with modern examples of placemaking (such as Darling Harbour and The Rocks), but the change seen in Barangaroo is perhaps the most impressive. What was once a disused 22-hectare container port is now a place for people to live, work and relax in the heart of the city. At the centre of this is Barangaroo Reserve, a six-hectare park that, fascinatingly, has been constructed to retrace the original pre-colonial and pre-industrial shoreline that was erased from maps by the shipyard.

The placemaking progression of Barangaroo (Source: Nearmap)

An ambitious placemaking project that continues to develop, the final stage of Barangaroo will have three distinctive zones that contain everything from retail and business destinations (Barangaroo South) to cultural and civic areas (Central Barangaroo) that will connect with the Barangaroo Reserve.

Once inaccessible and neglected, Barangaroo is now a dynamic cultural, residential, business and retail hub that, in 2019, became the world’s first carbon neutral precinct. This level of ambitious, forward-thinking kind of urban renewal is what makes Barangaroo stand out as a long-term placemaking project.

Djerring Trail, Melbourne

In 2018, Melbourne completed 3.2km of elevated rail as part of the Caulfield to Dandenong Level Crossing Removal Project. Along with removing nine congestion-generating level crossings, the project left long barren stretches as reminders of the rail’s previous land route. These 22 hectares of new public space follows the now-elevated railway and, in the years since, has been reimagined as a continuous shared-use trail.

Elevating sections of the railway line has created placemaking opportunities in Melbourne.

Called the Djerring Trail, the path connects to a total of 13 train stations and is interspersed with quality green spaces, exercise and recreation facilities. The stark contrast between its current guise and its previous purpose – from a busy rail line to a reimagined series of inviting open spaces – is a thread shared by a large proportion of successful placemaking projects. Now, rail users and local residents alike can benefit from the by-product of another project (level crossing removal) that has elevated the area.

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