A new kind of public park
by Russ Grayson
How do you combine an area of boring, low quality lawn, a gas barbecue and a few tables and bench seats and a couple council education courses into a cohesive area of public open space? The answer: create a new kind of public open space.
That was the challenge and solution to the desolate area of land adjacent to one end of the Randwick Community Centre building.
A PIG is born
Work started in 2010 when a bobcat arrived on site and started to scoop up swaths of lawn to reveal the poor, sandy soil below. Soon, men with laser levels appeared and after them came bricklayers placing thousands of recycled bricks. Paths made their appearance and supports for a new pergola were concreted in place. Come September, the then-mayor officially opened the site that has become known as the Pemacutlure interpretive Garden – the PIG.
Unlike most Permaculture design that incorporates mainly food-producing gardens, design for the PIG had to include a public park, food gardens and a native plant garden.
This was the challenge for landscape designer Steve Batley and project manager Fiona Campbell—working out how to incorporate the function of educational garden, linked to Randwick Council’s Sustainable Gardening and Living Smart courses, with the features and functions of a public park.
At the same time, the design had to interface with the 13 hectares of remnant Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub adjacent to it. Design thinking proved the solution and, well before the construction crew moved in, members of Permaculture East were offered the opportunity to participate in a site analysis and design ideas activity and a public consultative meeting was organized for people living near the community centre.
Multifunction the new way
Combining multiple functions is not only a design principle of permaculture, it is becoming a necessity in the design of public open space now that Sydney’s population is growing rapidly. Accommodating a population of something around 6.5 million by 2030 is going to bring a lot of pressure on public open space, far more than is already evident.
City parks traditionally include opportunities for passive recreation—sitting and walking, active recreation—expanses of lawn, and children’s playgrounds. Now, the rapid increase in the popularity of community food gardens in our cities is bringing an additional landuse demand on public open space. The challenge for local government is to incorporate legitimate demands in the limited areas of open space available. This is where multiple-use comes in.
NIMBYism a common response
Local residents guard parks and open space jealously and proposals to make use of them often stimulate a NIMBY response. This is perhaps best viewed as a protective and instinctual, if negative, response to proposals to introduce something new to a city park or to a park makeover. Such a reaction has been seen recently to the proposed makeover of a park in Potts Point and to a community garden in a small park in Ultimo.
The underlying reasons have not been convincingly identified, however I think we can put them down to a pervasive fear of change. This exists as a low level anxiety and could be attributed to the challenge of adapting to what have become almost continual changes in the economy and in society generally. One of the reactions is to seek to protect the familiar and to resist change in neighbourhood environments. That the reaction carries an opportunity cost to those who would use the new feature receives little sympathy.
Accommodating needs on limited space
There is limited open space in our cities and traditional uses have laid claim to much of it. It is these uses that local government designs for. Those who use public open space in conventional ways present a largely unorganized (until something threatens their uses, that is) mass that is resistant to change in landuse. An example of this seen in local government is the range of attitude towards dogs in parks, demands spanning those wanting more off-leash areas, restrictions in the form of on-leash areas all the way to those wanting dog-free parks. Clearly, councils a not going to be able to please everybody.
When it came to the design of the Randwick Community centre open space, the challenge was to plan for continued public use of the area and at the same time to serve the needs of a training facility for council’s courses. The garden is well placed in that it is adjacent to an existing children’s playground and is irrigated from a 22,700 litre water tank that stores rainwater from the roof of the community centre.
Response to the design has been positive, to judge from public comment. The installation of the pergola designed to demonstrate a pattern found in nature—the Fibonacci series—construction of a second pergola, restoration of the barbecue seating and tables, interpretive signage (planned using the Thematic Interpretation process and illustrated by Rob Alsop), espaliered citrus trees, installation of a propagation bench and storage shed, a garden area to demonstrate locally-occurring native plants, an orchard area with swale to harvest rainwater runoff, compost training area, a couple young almond trees, garden beds with less-common species and raised training gardens where course participants and the public can view edible species as if they were looking at ornamental plants in a conventional park offer a range of passive recreation opportunities to all and a training facility to course participants.
Such multifunctional design of public open space has also been adopted by the City of Sydney where community gardens have been incorporated in public park makeovers. That currently under construction is in The Bourke Street open space in Woolloomooloo. Warringah Council also has an example that incorporates children’s playground, passive recreation and community garden.
The PIG demonstrates how a training garden can be incorporated in the design of multiple-function public open space, showing that it is possible to combine more than one land use. As a city park, the PIG garden looks different—you can tell at a glance that this is not your garden variety park. One thing visitors notice is the visual variety of the garden area that denotes the variety of site uses and, as they wander around reading the cartoon-style interpretive signs, they become aware that this is a park with an educational overlay that becomes apparent not only through the signs but through the demonstration of ideas in the form of productive public plantings, water harvesting and, looking over to the wind turbine spinning in the breeze off the sea, in energy production.
For Randwick Council, the PIG garden is a new adventure in public open space design. For locals, the garden offers new opportunities in recreation. For Council’s course participants, the PIG is a learning opportunity.
You can find the PIG at Randwick Community Centre in Munda Street, off Bundock Street.
More on the Randwick Sustainability Education Hub.