The Mayfield Project 2010

The Four Layers of Place

a “sense of place” – more important than ever.

The following paper comprises an extract from the presentation by Allan tranter at the 2007 LGMA Conference in Hobart. The second extract will be published in the next edition and will focus on why local government has the right vision but has difficulty in delivery.

The “Four Layers of Place” has been developed by Creating Communities Pty Ltd and is copyright.

We live in an era where there is more nomadic movement of people than has ever occurred in history. This transience has meant that people have not just becoming disconnected from the geographical places in which they reside for a period and move on, but they have lost their connection to other people.

There are two ends of the spectrum of the movement of people. At one end are those that are forced to move in search of employment, by warfare, famine, by poverty, rising costs of accommodation and the like. At the other end of the spectrum are those that can choose to live, holiday and/or work wherever their current whim takes them. No matter the motivation the loss of depth of relationships is strong.

In Australia the spectrums of movement are epitomised by those that are leaving large cities as they can no longer afford to live there. Rent rises, cost of services and daily necessities such as food are forcing some people to seek cheaper options in country towns. Many of these people are dependent on government pensions for their income and are not interested in employment. There is also a drift to the city of rural people seeking employment.

The mining boom in certain parts of Australia has also led to a phenomenon called FIFO – fly-in, fly-out – where people work on site for a period of days or weeks and then return to their “home” for their days off.

On the other hand are the much reported sea-change or tree-change movers. People who, for a range of reasons, are choosing to move away from cities to locations, often coastal or in high natural amenity, inland areas, which offer a, seemingly, more attractive life style.

The results of the movement and disconnect can be witnessed in the diseases both physical and mental that are spiralling out of control in our society, a decrease in the sense of safety and security, a decline in the traditional clubs and organisations that networked people together, a reported decrease in volunteerism, a dramatic increase in the demand for government and institutional services, and much more.

People no longer know, trust, support or rely on the people that form their broader family network or those that live approximate to them in neighbourhood.

This disconnection to place and people has resulted in government and large institutions assuming the support role that was formerly played by family and friends to the point where the demand on services is crippling the very agencies that provide the services.

All of this is occurred at a time when other spheres of government are expecting local government to take a greater and greater role in the provision of services they have traditionally delivered without the reallocation of resources to enable this to occur.

The challenge. how to create a connection to place to counter worrying societal trends and achieve significant community and build the local economy without simultaneously bankrupting local government.

The notion of “sense of place” has been gaining currency as a means of not only addressing societal ills but of creating viable local economies, restoring civic pride, constructing community hubs and the like.

Four Layers of Place

It is important to explore the difference between creating a space which is “a nice place to go” verses the notion of “sense of place” which is about connection in a deeper sense than simply interacting with the physical environment, built or natural.

First Layer Venue

Main streets, parks, town squares, libraries, piazzas, sporting stadia, cultural facilities and amphitheatres are all excellent examples of the venue or physical environments that can be labelled place. The traditional approach to place has focussed on the provision ofthese beautiful physical environments. This is well and good but it is simply the first layer of place.

The provision of this layer is the province of the architect, urban planner, landscape designer, public artist …. all those who contribute to the creation of an amazingly beautiful place.

The assumption is that people will choose to use the venue when they desire .. or not! A “build it and they will come” approach.

So the first layer of place is the facility.

Second Layer Managed venue

The second layer of place is the creation of some sort of management model for the venue that encourages people to either hire it or make use of it in some other manner.

This is often seen in the form of tourism or economic plans.

More often than not, management models are applied to indoor facilities or major sporting venues while tourism and economic plans are applied to precincts with a less direct/ hands-on management method.

The second layer is about having some sort of approach to gaining more use of a venue.

Third Layer Activated Space

This layer adds to the sophistication of the management of the space to the point where festivals, events and activities and a multiplicity of programmes are actually run at the venue so that it becomes a very busy space.

The third layer is about activation.

It is important to recognise that each of these layers of place depends almost entirely on an institution, more often than not the local government, to provide the initial capital cost as well as the on-going management and maintenance costs to keep the place attractive and active.

Fourth Layer Sense of Place – A Connected Place

The essential elements of the fourth layer are that it is a place where people are connected to each other and to the place. They are places of meaning where the connection is deep and create a sense of belonging and acceptance which is translated into ownership and a desire to contribute.

The fourth layer are places that people believe are theirs, that they share .. places where “community” is evident.

When is it possible to just provide the venue?

It is possible to simply provide the physical venue. This is when the community is self-sufficient socially and economically, when no-one new is coming into or leaving the neighbourhood, when the values of all residents are harmoniously intertwined, when no-one is ageing and their needs are static, when there are no outside influences so that people’s aspirations and expectations are stagnant and when the local government is able to afford to pay for all of the capital and recurrent costs.

It all other circumstance it is important to move towards the fourth layer of creating a sense of place through building a connected community.

Is it possible to created connected communities?

There is without doubt a resurgence in the desire for community and substantial evidence that suggests it is indeed not only possible but highly desirable to build strong connected communities.

Economists to social scientists are reporting that as the world seems to be getting more out of control with the terrorism hype, geo-political instability and other factors, creating a perception of insecurity and lack of certainty about the future, people want to forge their identity and sense of purpose through community.

Community today, however, is more than simply the local geographic community. It also includes both communities of interest and virtual communities that are developed on line. (For many in the older generations the notion of virtual communities is hard to grapple with … but for many young people, as well as those not so young, sites like the Habbo Hotel are the places where they feel most at home!)

One of the issues though is that people have lost the art of being part of the community. People have lost the art of connecting with those around them!

The solution lies in interventions to help people regain the skills required to connect while creating the environments both physical and social where this can occur.

It needs to be remembered that community is a social construct while neighbourhood is a physical or spatial construct.

A social construct is one where people get to know each other to the point where they form a bond to work together to achieve something. That something may simply be friendship but it could also be a sporting or cultural club, a play group, or an alliance so that when required, they provide support to each other. The fourth layer of place.

Neighbourhood, on the other hand, is the provision of amenities, access, transport and other physical structures which creates the environment within which many things can occur. The first layer of place.

Unfortunately, the focus in the last number of decades has been on the provision of the neighbourhood and other physical responses such as the construction of a plethora of buildings when the desired verbalised outcome has been the need for either the resolution of social issues or the creation of the social fabric of society.

It is essential that intentional community development strategies be employed to create communities that result in the reconnection of people into relationships that build self-responsible communities rather than a greater dependence on government and institutions.

Allan Tranter

Creating Communities Aust Pty ltd

100 Jersey St


(PO Box 544 WEMBLEY 6913 WA)

(08) 9284 0910

0414 753 742