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Deep Green: Activating our Urban Parklands

All parks are not created equal.  To me, a park without trees is not a park - and nor is a park without people.  The provision of sufficient, well-considered and well cared for green space is a critically important element of infill planning to enable residents, particularly apartment dwellers, to relax and enjoy outdoor settings.

The Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT) has welcomed plans for the Darwin Central Business District, infill suburbs and new greenfield suburbs which incorporate significant green space.  But the amount of space provided is not in itself a guarantee of success.  Ensuring such spaces are well-used is also important; the design of these spaces as well as their proximity and connectivity to population areas, are key factors in achieving activation.

On a recent trip to Brisbane I toured the Roma Street Parkland and was surprised to discover the integrated development of high rise apartments nearby; there is already an impressive frame of several apartment towers over this lush inner city resource.

The Parkland is regarded as the best subtropical showcase display garden in Australia and arguably the world.  It is a stunning modern botanical garden and is an exemplar of architecture, landscape architecture and horticulture. 

Roma Street Parkland is run like a business and caters to a range of markets.  It provides a network of walking tracks, activities for school children, water features, opportunities for research by university students on the local population of water dragons, a very colourful display of plants from both tropical and sub-tropical regions, a rainforest area and open areas where a wide variety of events can be held.

The park is also a beacon of sustainability and recycles green waste from within as well as from other Brisbane parkland areas to produce high quality soil for use in public areas around Brisbane.  It has 24 hour security, seven days a week, with staff monitoring closed circuit television screens to ensure anti-social behaviour is quickly detected and responded to.

Integration with residential development ensures the Parkland is well-patronised and can be resourced and managed to best effect.  It struck me that our existing and proposed parklands around the Darwin CBD, including the Botanic Gardens, are well suited to greater activation.

Comprehensive management and security are easier to provide in larger, more frequently used parkland areas, where the resources needed to pay for good management and security can be more readily justified.

For surrounding residents to activate a place, they need to be encouraged to interact with it.  The buildings they live in need to respond sensitively to parkland with appropriate paths, fencing and courtyard treatments.  Properly managing this interaction can transform perceptions and directly influence safety and security.  Darwin’s parks can often be quite intimidating after dark and I feel that the opportunity to reclaim these areas for more people, through more of the day and night, by increasing security through activation is a worthy goal.  The Botanic Gardens is a well-known and precious resource, but the same logic can be applied to a range of green spaces around Greater Darwin.

Compact green spaces also have their place, but size limits the range of activities which can occur.  Hence they can often end up as pristine, but little-used ornaments.  True parkland can accommodate larger, flexible spaces that can quickly flip between kick-about / exercise space to event / festival space.  Larger parkland areas also allow for the plentiful distribution and showcasing of the Top End’s larger signature canopy trees, providing much-needed shade and shelter and encouraging locals and visitors to create their own picnic rug festivals.  UDIA (NT) supports allocation of larger areas for parklands, which allow a wide range of activities to be delivered.

Parks which recycle green waste and produce valuable soil resources economically should be encouraged.  Easy walkability of parks is critically important in our cities, helping to keep people of all ages healthy and active.  It is also important to provide spaces for people to interact socially in a relaxed, safe and enjoyable environment that isn’t dominated by retail forces.

I believe the efficient and progressive management of Roma Street Parkland in Brisbane provides a valuable case study for the planning and management of Darwin’s green spaces, and I strongly encourage others to visit.