Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

2014 | Renewed optimism and energy

Hundreds of fruit bats take to the trees and sky in Boonah.

We resume work this week with renewed optimism and energy for enhancing the cultural, social and economic conditions of communities and places.

We ended last year with a small publication titled I spy … Scenes from micro-suburbia for Enabling Suburbs. The contents are drawn from our roving and exploring in a network of pathways through our local patch in Brisbane’s northern suburbs, searching for informal connections and collaborations. Over the years we have been heartened and surprised by many of our discoveries. Once we look beyond the obvious eyesores like big boxes and fat roads, we can see a finer grain of human scale exchanges and activities in our neighbourhoods and centres. During our Long Time, No See? Workshops in Aspley last year, some interesting observations were shared about community dynamics away from those symbols of blighted suburbia indicating that things are not always as they appear. I spy is available in electronic format and downloadable from SlideShare. From time to time we will be reviewing the contents and posting updates.

During our break, we decided to have a ‘staycation’, which is a newish term and trend for holidaying at home and venturing out for day trips or activities within driving distance. We decided to pack coffee and lunch to explore our SEQ region and the small towns and nature spots between Brisbane, the Glasshouse Mountains and the Scenic Rim. It was a thoroughly enjoyable time and we came to realise that there are elements that make small towns attractive propositions and engender a positive visitor experience. At a base level this includes:

  • Popularity: If a place is activated, it’s often attractive and welcoming.
  • Access: Ease of orientation, wayfinding and entry, sometimes an entry statement and/or a Visitor Information Centre helps.
  • Walking: Ease of movement along and across streets and trails through and around the town.
  • Streetscape: Integrated, clean and cared for streets with seating, plantings, public art and buildings that cultivate street life.
  • Coherence: We appreciate a ‘village feel’ as well as compact, connected and walkable urban form that encourages exploration.
  • Public Space: Public spaces and/or parks where we can sit, chat and absorb the surroundings
  • Parking: We know cars are a nuisance but we are reliant on them so some parking is a necessity especially if there is a desire to attract travellers and day trippers.
  • Diversity: A high street offering a range of shops, experiences and facilities that attract diverse members of the community including young people and families.
  • Signature: A special building, a quirky shop or two, a market, a street stall or even a great looking fresh produce shop, a notable public art work, design motif or art trail.
  • Local product and produce: Availability of locally produced goods and food. We returned home with jars of pasta sauce, olive oil, tapenade, jam and chutney.
  • Shade: It’s hot so we appreciate climate sensitivity – shade as well as street cooling through plantings.
  • Interpretation: Valuing the heritage and history of a place, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, natural and built.
  • Information: We always look for a local newspaper, newsletter or noticeboard.
  • Assets: Good use of and engagement with local assets; making the most of what they have.
  • Social media: Seriously, if we go somewhere or see something we like, we like to like it on facebook or check in on Four Square!

This isn’t about imposing a set of normative conditions onto small communities as there needs to be local interpretation of these ideas – what works for the place, the people and the context. Importantly, good collaborative decision making and governance often makes all the difference. We often find the proliferation of franchises in small towns off putting as is a high level of shop vacancies and leasing signs. We also wince at the sight of big box developments that pull trade and activity out of the town centre. We were perplexed by the businesses and public facilities, such as galleries, that were closed for the holidays, which we assumed would be a peak trading time. We also wonder whether typical trading hours – such as Sunday closure – should be maintained during peak season. However, it’s often difficult for small business to introduce changed trading hours. We know that small towns in Australia have been through difficult times – not only due to economic downturn but also natural disasters – and that many small towns are endeavouring to make positive changes. It’s heartening to see and experience these transitions in our own region.



  pipsky wrote @

What a fun holiday project with relaxed and joyful learning that nurtures your deep work bravo!

  lcarroli wrote @

Thanks Judy. We live and learn!

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