If we made our urban neighbourhoods look friendlier, more distinctive and artistic, would we see local populations rise and businesses boom?
Tim Jones is the chief executive of Canadian not-for-profit organisation Artscape and has been involved in numerous urban renewal projects in Toronto.
He was in Perth recently for a discussion on creative placemaking, a practice that sees art and creativity used to change and grow an area.
Mr Jones told ABC Radio Perth that all over the world cities were finding it difficult to entice people into their urban centres, and that in turn made life difficult for local businesses.
“You have traffic planners doing one thing, people designing the public realm over here and private developers over there, and what happens is you get this mishmash of things, signs all over the place, and it’s just this ugly geography of nowhere,” he said.
“Places are beginning to look more and more like each other”.
Mr Jones said the key to creating spaces that felt welcoming and attracted businesses, residents and visitors alike was to give creative people more freedom to shape the urban landscape.
“They help activate the streets, sometimes by graffiti, public art, murals; sometimes it’s just the energy that they bring, creating events.”
He cited Fremantle and Northbridge as areas doing well in supporting creativity.
“They are communities that are really interesting”.
Breathing new life into Bayswater
The City of Bayswater, in Perth’s inner-east, recently employed two place managers to focus on revitalising the town centres there.
Emma Snow, who is responsible for Bayswater and Maylands, said her aim was to work with existing community groups and businesses to liven up the place.
“We also want them to be unique, somewhere that feels authentic and feels distinctive… That’s why people like places like Fremantle, because they do have that kind of feel about them.”
Following the feedback from a series of community workshops, Ms Snow’s main focus is on supporting artists and other creative people to be active in the community.
“We provide some funding and we really try to remove the red tape as much as possible and try to allow activities to be organic and community-led,” she said.
“At the moment I have been working on an art exhibition, just lightly supporting it through funding and permissions, and that is all Maylands artists… we have made that possible, but it has been led by artists and the gallery.”
Bayswater locals have said they wanted their streets to be greener and more walkable.
The other hot-button issue for locals is the number of vacant shops dotting the area.
“They bring that up a lot,” Ms Snow said.
“Businesses are always telling us about visitation levels and turnover; that’s more and more of a concern in the current climate.”
While the council cannot intervene directly to force landlords to activate vacant properties, they are working to make short-term tenancies and pop-up shop opportunities more attractive to owners.
“Sometimes the building owners are a little bit unsure about it … that is a slow burn, getting them onside, but hopefully once we start it is going to pick up,” Ms Snow said.