Pop-up Park and Social Study in Garema Place

  • 2017

  • Social Impact

Designed In:


Using a people-first approach, #BackyardExperiment was built to appear wild and unrefined to explore how certain elements attract people and impact feelings and behaviour.

6 low-cost techniques, including movable seats, colour, lawn, lights, digital and community engagement were tested with eye-opening results.

A 10-minute video and white paper are available at streetfurniture.com/au/backyardexperiment

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  • Only 300 of the 10,000 people who pass by on any day actually stop for more than a few seconds, as found in the time-lapse footage obtained from the experiment. However #BackyardExperiment found all it took for the number of visitors to nearly double was a simple yet quirky makeover, with scattered yarn-bombed trees, real lawn, painted pavement, vibrant lighting and moveable chairs. The results have lead to calls for a revamp of the prominent but underused area. The green and colourful facelift, which included the added perks of free Wi-Fi and book shelves, also boosted the number of people who stayed in the area by 247 per cent. In a matter of days, a thoroughfare evolved into a destination.

  • Before the experiment, locals described the space as "intimidating," "rough," and "tired." many of the dwellers were people experiencing homelessness, and were rarely families or seniors. Over the 10 days, 631 per cent more children engaged with the area. Groups of friends almost doubled, couples grew by about four times and families between five and eight times, depending on the time of the week. Owner of the nearby King O'Malley's pub, Peter Barclay, said during the experiment that the pop-up park boosted his business. "It's transformed it [the area]," he said. "People feel safe; they linger. They can have a cappuccino, buy a pair of shoes and just be in the space and it's uplifting."

  • The park was built by the community, for the community, with knitters, painters and local businesses pitching in. The project could not have been possible without the time, resources and effort from local businesses and community groups. A dedicated group of community volunteers knitted and crocheted for months in advance, creating long, colourful tree scarves to soften and brighten the space. Even the early stages of activation attracted public interest, with passers-by asking for more information and volunteering their time to help paint the park. The project was sponsored by In the City Canberra, a not-for-profit organisation run by property owners that funds activations in the city centre.

  • One unexpected finding in this experiment was the importance of connecting with the people who spend the most time in Garema Place, its street and homeless community. During setup the park faced some animosity from locals as the roped-off area displaced them from their usual spots. However, after meeting with the community and explaining our hopes for the project, a grounding of trust was established and some agreed to watch over the space. Eight days later, with 60 movable seats still present and only 1 damaged, consultation proved its worth.

    Canberra is the most digitally connected city in Australia, with free public Wi-Fi hotspots available across the city, including Garema Place. As a Wi-Fi hotspot, the park was able to offer connection to all of the community present. In addition to physical bookshelves, ACT Government Libraries also offered downloadable digital books for a wider range of choice. The project attracted attention from social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, spreading word-of-mouth with the hashtag #BackyardExperiment.

    #BackyardExperiment was successful in quantifying the impact of user-centred design. We know that seating plays an important role in creating social hubs and resting areas, however, it is often left as an afterthought in the planning process. If the objective is to attract more people to an open space, 'sit-ability' can be a powerful and cost-effective tool. “There is absolutely positive proof now that by adding this cocktail, you've changed behaviours,” Mark Armstrong, director of Blue Sky Design Group, says in the video. “We know for a fact that in certain circumstances when you add these levels of vibrance, colour, and free-range seating, you change the way people think about a space.”

    International: ArchDaily http://www.archdaily.com/805639/6-low-cost-techniques-to-activate-underused-urban-space CityLab (from The Atlantic) https://www.citylab.com/design/2017/03/canberra-australia-pop-up-park-design/518268/ Australia: Canberra Times Architecture and Design Outdoor Design Source In The City Canberra The Real Estate Conversation #BackyardExperiment was part of the 2016 International Festival of Landscape Architecture: Not in my Backyard. The project was a joint initiative by Street Furniture Australia and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architecture with support from ACT Government and In The City Canberra. The pop-up park was designed by Context Landscape Architects.