Yarraville’s pop-up street

2 October 2013 — Andrew Hammonds is from placefocus.

So my first question is simple. “What exactly do you do?”

His reply, “We help people unlock places”, didn’t really help.

“Hmm. What would be an example?” And we were away.

Mr Hammonds asked where I lived and about a nearby street where I might find myself enjoying a coffee.

Vincent Street, Daylesford

I told him I lived in the Central Highlands in Victoria and would probably head to Daylesford’s Vincent Street.

“Is that a nice street?” he asked. And, truthfully, I told him it wasn’t.

So he simply asked what I would change. And that would be adding trees, making the road neater, more outdoor seating not connected to a shop where I have to buy something to sit, and maybe getting some of the traders together to turn this historic village into something a bit more “olde worlde” than just olde, tired.

“You’re already half way there to making it a better place. It’s often just simple things – and we do need the technical side as well – but placefocus is really about helping people make better places themselves,” Mr Hammonds said.

“Street trees often have the most impact, they are the biggest factor, but then people usually want wider footpaths and street furniture. A lot of it is quite simple.

“We also work on getting people together – traders, residents, the community, councils.”

Andrew Hammonds

A town planner and urban designer by trade, Mr Hammonds started placefocus four years ago.

It offers a mix of online courses and training along with hands-on study tours, which include walking tours to get students a real ground view rather than making decisions from the 25th floor of their workplaces.

Mr Hammonds said people had been designing streets and places for the past 10,000 years but “in the last 50 years had forgotten how to do it”.

“And now it’s all about cars – we don’t create many good places,” he said.

“I think we have been hoodwinked – lulled into a false sense of the convenience of the car.

“But making places is more than just providing as many car spaces as possible.

“But people are starting to realise it is more than just about utilitarian considerations; they want more from our public place.

“And people are voting with their feet. And while we are unlikely to see shopping centres die, in America there are 104,000 shopping centres and about 20 per cent of them are dying.

“Any high end shop in any city in Australia, whether it’s Gucci or someone else, wants to be on the street – not in a shopping centre.”

Mr Hammonds said most good urban design was about sustainability.

“You don’t need to be overtly green about it,” he said.

“Good design is usually about less cars, bike riding and more walking, which is healthy and sustainable and probably good for business as well.”

He said a recent trend was also pop-up urban design with cities like Yarraville, a Melbourne suburb, spending just $80,000 to transform a street over summer using astro turf, planter boxes and temporary street furniture.

It’s a cheap, temporary fix but surprisingly one that many people then think “let’s leave it this way”, he said.

“You can use bollards to close off streets and just paint road lanes into bike lanes or pedestrian areas.

“You don’t even have to formalise things. We are rethinking the way we do things.”

(For the record, and because it’s interesting, Hepburn Shire Council did create a revitalisation plan for Daylesford, which included Vincent Street having a few less car parks, more street furniture and more street trees. But then other people, traders mostly, decided they didn’t want less car parks, and other people thought more trees would just lead to messy streets when their leaves fell. So the plan is pretty much on the backburner.)