It’s time to ‘think small’ about our cities

Residents of cities across Australia are regularly urged to ‘think big’.

It’s become commonplace for State and local governments, often supported by business and development lobby groups, to issue major strategic plans and projects which are based on the concept that bigger is better.

A bigger population, supported by bigger, denser and more buildings and big infrastructure projects, will allow a city will develop economic resilience, it is typically argued.

The argument may have logic. But the narrative can be alienating.

Big city planning often fails to resonate with people (or indeed is met with outright hostility) because it isn’t clear how this planning will improve the small things in people’s lives – like the state of the local park, street, school or shopping centre.

These are the things we use or pass every day, and they are important for our daily lives and our sense of community.

Big might be beautiful. But in city planning, small can be magical.

A group of architects in Sydney have set about to recognise the power of thinking small.

For the past five years, Michael Zanardo, Sam Rigoli and Casey Bryant have come together to showcase projects which transform small places.

The architects have encouraged young, talented, and mostly local architects to come up with speculative ‘postcard-sized’ ideas for small spaces in Sydney Inner West.

The most recent of these ideas were showcased during a talk at Sydenham Library on 7 November.

Post box
Proposal to turn redundant post boxes into dog ‘amenity areas’ by Anthony Parsons

Paddington-based architect Anthony Parsons, a self-confessed animal lover from Savio Parsons architects, stated that during his walks across the Inner West he was amazed at the level of dog excrement left on footpaths and nature strips.

His solution – turning post boxes into dog waste receptacles when they were under threat of being removed due to lack of postal use.

Ela Glogowska from Perumal Pedavoli Architects proposed enlivening Marrickville’s back lanes by allowing people to open their back laneway doors and set up art studios or small shops.

She also proposed painting colours and names on the street to help people to better navigate around their suburb – including finding the library entrance or the name of an upcoming bus stop.

2018_Ela Glogowska_Marrickville Lanes_Laneway activation
Proposal to enliven Marrickville’s residential lanes by Ela Glogowska

Qianyi Lim from Melbourne-based Sibling Architecture proposed introducing exercise equipment for elderly people into green corridors and parks in Inner West near aged care facilities.

2018_Sibling Architecture_Inner West parks_Access All Ages (1)
Proposal for an elderly person exercise facility by Qianyi Lim

Zanardo said the ‘small spaces’ idea originally came about as a reaction to large-scale masterplanning and major projects happening in the Inner West which he said appeared to ignore the quality of the public domain it was creating.

“What we were interested in was the everyday spatial experience of people in using their neighbourhood,” he said.

“The designs presented to date show how with a little bit of design we can make our places better for the broad benefit of the community.

“Having small scale interventions means that this improvement could be incremental, it need not be grand or expensive, and it can allow for many voices and authors to participate and contribute in a democratic way.

“The ideas are all inventive, original and place-specific. We think of them as being ‘catalysts’ for broadening the thinking of what could be done in the public domain of the Inner West.”

Unfortunately, to date, none of the ideas have been taken up the three former Inner West Councils (now amalgamated into one council). But that’s not going to stop these architects from bucking the ‘big thinking’ trend and they remain hopeful the council bureaucracy charts the same course.

Below are some of the ideas from previous years:

Chessell Lane
Plan to for a pop-up market at narrow Chessell Lane in Ashfield by Bastian Architecture– this lane runs from Liverpool Rd through to the railway station
2017_Commonplace_Sydenham_Corner seat
Proposal to upgrade a leftover corner at Marrickville Rd, Marrickville by Commonplace

2016_Studioplusthree_Wilford Street Enmore_Local stage

Wilford St
Before and after photos of a proposal to revitalise a rundown street at Wilford St, Enmore (near the Young Henry’s brewery) into a small pop-up market by studioplusthree

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