Blog 6 – Favourite spaces and places 1

Forrest Place, Perth Western Australia

With the ‘theory’ out of the way, I’ll now turn to the fun part – my favourites spaces and places. In each blog, I will select a ‘favourite’ example of one of the types of spaces and places I have defined in previous blogs. I use the word ‘favourite’ in both a positive and negative sense. I’ll describe places/spaces that I really like and enjoy, or have enjoyed, visiting. I will also give examples that are highlight some of the worst elements of design or highlight other problems.

I’ll begin with a Town square – Forrest Place in the centre of Perth. This is definitely the most significant public place in the Perth CBD

Fig 1 shows its location and Fig 2 is a recent Apple Maps aerial of it. Fig 3 is a view of Forrest Place from the southern end looking north.

Forrest Place is strategically located in the heart of the city and its retail sector, and between both the central trains stations. Its acts as both a location (place) and a transit space, especially to access the two central train stations.

Fig 1: Forrest Place - location

 Fig 1: Location Map

Fig 1: Location Map

 Fig 2: Aerial photo of Forrest Place

Fig 2: Aerial photo of Forrest Place

 Fig 3: Forrest Place – view from southern end looking north

Fig 3: Forrest Place – view from southern end looking north

The key piece of infrastructure is the Jepp Hein fountain, which is the cross hatched area visible in the Fig 2, and visible in the middle ground of Fig 3. The fountain is designed to have an irregular water ‘spurting’ sequence, which makes is unpredictable as to when it will come on and how high the fountain water will be in a particular section – Figs 4-7 below show people interact with the fountain.

 Figs 4 - 7: Different human interactions with the Jepp Hein fountain

Figs 4 - 7: Different human interactions with the Jepp Hein fountain

As can be seen, it is a particular attraction for children, especially during the summer months. I have seen instances where families arrive in the Place, the kids are automatically attracted to the fountain, they begin to play with the water, first by trying to dodge the jets of water, but then, inevitably, they get a bit wet, and eventually a whole lot wet. Many parents come unprepared, and a quick trip to the Myer department store on the eastern side of the Place is needed to buy towels and dry clothes!

The City provides temporary shade and deck chairs, mostly for the adults to use.

 Figs 8, 9: Shade and deck chairs in Forrest Place

Figs 8, 9: Shade and deck chairs in Forrest Place

All of this human interaction is itself a feature, and many people sit or stand on the fringes of the fountain just to observe these interactions – Fig 10.

 Fig 10: Observing the ‘fun in the fountain’.

Fig 10: Observing the ‘fun in the fountain’.

Forrest Place is a popular at lunchtime, with many people – shoppers and those working in the City - using the chairs and tables provide to eat their lunches, or simply just to sit and rest.

 Figs 11, 12: Lunch time at Forrest Place

Figs 11, 12: Lunch time at Forrest Place

 Figs 13, 14: Just siting and relaxing in Forrest Place

Figs 13, 14: Just siting and relaxing in Forrest Place

The section nearest the main Perth train station (north side) has a grassed area, a stage – both popular for sitting and relaxing - and an unusual piece of art colloquially known as the cactus. Very few people take much notice of it, and it appears to be largely a landmark and a place to meet up.

 Figs 15, 16: Northern end of Forrest Place and the Cactus

Figs 15, 16: Northern end of Forrest Place and the Cactus

This end is also popular as a meeting place for groups of young people, especially away from the areas used by families and diners – Fig 15, and the north west corner shown in Fig 17.

 Fig 17: Forrest Place meeting spot for groups of young people

Fig 17: Forrest Place meeting spot for groups of young people

The southern section is well shaded with several mature trees, and there is a café which has been allocated some of the Place for its diners – effectively an acquired non-space, or commercialise private space.

 Fig 18: The café in Forrest Place

Fig 18: The café in Forrest Place

 Fig 19: The acquired non-space

Fig 19: The acquired non-space

Just to the west of this private dining area is a piece of interactive art – a large granite ball supported by a fountain – Fig 20. The fountain makes it easy to make the ball roll and turn.

 Fig 20: Interactive granite ball

Fig 20: Interactive granite ball

The history of the Place is interesting. As with many public places in inner city areas, Forrest Place was originally a street, but was closed to traffic and paved as a public mall in 1986.

For many years Forrest Place remained relatively undeveloped as the poor quality aerial photo below shows.

 Fig 22: Forrest Place in 2005

Fig 22: Forrest Place in 2005

I was advised by one of the City of Perth officers who worked on a re-development master plan for Forrest Place in 2008, that there were several driving forces behind the push to re-development it:

  • The retailers – especially Myers – saw a re-development as being good for business;
  • There was an emerging place making movement in Perth pushing for better public places; and
  • Safety concerns.

This last driver is interesting. Up until its re-development, Forrest Place was a meeting place for several disadvantaged and minority groups – homeless men, Indigenous groups, Emos/gothics and groups of teenagers. Workers going to and from the train station – often women - and shoppers reported to the City of Perth they felt unsafe using Forrest Place because of the presence of these groups. Also, the behaviour of these groups made for an unpleasant atmosphere.

By activating Forrest Place, more people were drawn to it, which inevitably caused the disadvantaged and minority groups to leave Forrest Place and find other locations. This is probably an intended consequence of the place activation, but I can find no evidence that as part of the re-development, the needs of these groups were taken into account – it seems it was just assumed they would find other spaces to go to.

It raises the interesting question as to what rights do existing users have when a public space is activated, a process that will inevitably impact on those existing rights as new users are drawn to the space. Forrest Place is a good example of this planning dilemma.

There is no doubt that the existing Forrest Place is a significant ‘public place’, which I defined in my first blog as one which “… is owned publicly, has regular users who have a certain sense of ownership and private geography. Social interactions are common here.” The notion of private geography is strongly related to ‘sense of place where I noted in my first blog “… the regular users of the place, who have a sense of ownership and responsibility for it and a certain sense of “private geography” will emerge.”

The regular users are those who work in the city and regular shoppers. The impact of the fountain is significant in building the sense of place and ownership, as many people will have happy memories of their visit to Forrest place because of their direct interactions with the fountain or their observations of other people’s interactions. I haven’t mentioned this before, but memories are a critical element in defining sense of place. I may explore this some more in a later blog.

But, this is a different sense of place than was present before the re-development. There is little doubt that the previous users had developed a sense of ownership, but this has now been replaced with a different sense of place. It’s fair to say that it would be very difficult for the new sense of place to embrace the old one.

Whilst I think this issue is important and one very underdone when space activation occurs, I don’t want to distract from how successful Forrest place is as a public place. As well as all the features noted above about its design and how it is used, it also has the additional feature typical of most Town Squares - Forrest Place is also used for events, including Friday night markets and concerts.

It is one of my favourite places in Perth.

Garry Middle January 2018