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Creating a sense of community

By Carolyn Rance

A council 'placemaker' aims to foster social cohesion, writes Carolyn Rance.

Planner Samantha Choudhury hopes some speedy, low-cost changes to the centre of Broadmeadows will help make it a more attractive place for people to meet, shop and go about their days.

She joined the staff at Hume City Council in 2012 with the formal title of urban development officer but thinks of herself as a placemaker with a passion for boosting social and cultural wellbeing.

"Communities need to be connected and accessible," she says. "The planning profession is good at doing forward thinking and collecting statistics and data, rather than creating a sense of place."

Across the world, architects, planners and urban-design professionals, and the organisations that employ them, are looking for ways to make faster improvements than funding arrangements and high levels of regulation have traditionally allowed.

By appointing place managers, promoting events and creating temporary community meeting places, gardens, art projects, pop-up parks, market and cafes, Choudhury says authorities in the US, Britain and parts of Asia are helping counter the impact of urbanisation and harsh economic times.

"It's important for councils, businesses and communities to work together on what can be done while waiting for infrastructure funding for longer-term projects," she says.

"There's a huge opportunity to put resources into transitionary uses that will help create the conditions for the best long-term use. We should be looking at how projects can build community capacity and create socially inclusive places of exchange."

Born in London, Choudhury came to Australia at age three. After completing a degree in urban planning and development at the University of Melbourne, she did master's-level studies in international aid and development.

She worked for the Committee for Melbourne on its United Nations Global Compact Cities Program before joining placemaking consultancy Village Well, where she spent five years as part of a multidisciplinary team working to foster the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of communities. "I worked on a renewal plan for Newcastle, NSW and the Hub Melbourne project, which aims to drive innovation through collaboration," she says.

A year off to study urban design at Columbia University took her to New York for one semester and Paris for a second.

"I came back and did another year with Village Well before I decided it was time to understand local government better," Choudhury says.

"I wanted to get out of my bubble in the city and really understand the issues of developing areas.

"The amount of development taking place in areas like Sunbury and Wallan is unbelievable."



Published: 09 February 2013

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