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#BackyardExperiment – Pop-up Park and Social Study in Garema Place

A bright pop-up park, designed by landscape architecture firm Context, was built to attract people and make the area more family-friendly, on a limited budget. Three time-lapse cameras were installed to observe and compare data on how people interacted with Garema Place before and during the experiment. No added security measures were put in place. The project was part of the 2016 International Festival of Landscape Architecture: Not in My Backyard.

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“One of the main outcomes for this project will be answering the questions surrounding how the public react and interact to moveable furniture. Can we live in a city that provides more flexibility in the way we want to interact with it. The observations from this experiment will provide knowledge into the public life of Canberra and in particular Garema Place. It will trigger thinking into how the space is used now and reflect on how the installation may change the public environment for the benefit of Canberrans. And therefore how can we change the public domain to bring out the best in our city and its people.” – 2016 International Festival of Landscape Architecture: Not in My Backyard / Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA)

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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.

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A pop-up park featuring 60 movable seats, colour, living lawn, library and lighting almost doubled visitors to Garema Place in just eight days. Street Furniture Australia partnered with AILA, the ACT Government and many suppliers and community volunteer groups to activate the underused grey, open space in Canberra. The park was designed by Context and features movable Forum Seats, Cafe Tables and Stools in bright powder coat colours. An additional 30 lightweight wire seats from a popular retailer were painted and added to the space.

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The pop-up park and social experiment ran for 8 days at Garema Place, in the heart of Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Garema Place is a largely concrete, underused open area surrounded by cafès, shops and workplaces. With its shady trees and central location, Garema Place has the potential to become a much-loved public place, but is mostly used as a thoroughfare.

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Design features:

  • Inspired by the work of American placemaking expert William Whyte, #BackyardExperiment used the power of observation to uncover how movable seats and other simple interventions, such as colour, lighting and greenery, can impact communities.
  • The pop-up park was built to appear wild and unrefined, to explore how certain elements attract people and impact feelings and behaviour.
  • Seating is arguably the fastest, easiest and most cost-effective way to bring more people to an open space. Garema Place has 10 existing grey fixed benches onsite, with 5 pairs of concrete cubes along the promenade. The new furniture was freely movable, not fixed to the ground, to allow visitors to sit as they pleased. It was arranged near the existing fixed benches, creating flexible settings to better cater to social groups.
  • A bright colour pallette was applied to the existing pavement, trees and furniture. To soften the vast hard surfaces, volunteers handrolled chalk paint onto individual pavers, creating a mosaic of colour around the trees. The painting team included students and landscape architects, AILA and Street Furniture Australia, and some curious passers-by. The paint, by Annie Sloan, can be removed with water.
  • At night, lighting designed by The Lighting Society, ACT and supplied by WE-EF LIGHTING and Integral Lighting added another dimension of colour. Garema Place is a hotspot for nightlife activity on Friday nights and weekends, with bars and restaurants nearby. The lighting aimed to beautify the space at night, making it feel more welcoming and safe for families.
  • Living lawn was an important element of the pop-up park, to soften and ‘green’ the space and signal opportunities to spend time and relax. Lawn Solutions Australia managed the supply and installation, creating a green focal point in the open space to complement existing trees.
  • The study also tracked insights into how people behaved in Garema Place, measuring the number of people sitting alone versus socialising. Of those who sat by themselves, we monitored how many used a mobile device. There was no significant difference in such activities before and during the experiment. However, it was still interesting to note the ratio of people alone versus socialising was discovered to be about 3:7. Of the people who were alone, 54% were using mobile devices. These numbers and observations will assist Street Furniture Australia in making design decisions in the future.
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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.

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Context Landscape Architects:

#BackyardExperiment seeks to answer this question. The pop-up park designed by CONTEXT was a social experiment as part of the 2016 International Festival of Landscape Architecture: Not in My Backyard and ran for 8 days at Garema Place, in the heart of Canberra, Australia’s capital city.

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Garema Place is a largely concrete, underused open area surrounded by cafès, shops and workplaces. With its shady trees and central location, Garema Place has the potential to become a much-loved public place, but is mostly used as a thoroughfare. A bright pop-up park featuring 60 movable colourful seats, living lawn, library and lighting, was built to attract people and make the area more family-friendly, on a limited budget.

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© #BackyardExperimen


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site plan – © Context Landscape Architects

Three time-lapse cameras were installed to observe and compare data on how people interacted with Garema Place before and during the experiment. The results found that after just eight days the social experiment had resulted in double the amount of visitors. Visitors grew by 190%, dwellers by more than 240%, and far more children, families, couples, seniors and social groups were counted – rising by up to 780%. In a powerful study of placemaking and design thinking, #BackyardExperiment shows the dramatic impact of a small intervention.

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Project Data:

Project name: #BackyardExperiment
Location: Garema Place, Canberra, Australia
Coordinates: -35.278360, 149.131958
Type: Pop-up Park, City Space
Project area: n/a
Event Period: 27 – 30 October 2016 / 2016 International Festival of Landscape Architecture: Not in My Backyard
Completion: 2016

Awards:

  • 2016 – Australian Good Design Award – Category: Social Innovation – Finalist

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), The ACT Government & In The City Canberra
Landscape Architects:

Design Team:

Contributors:

  • Lighting: WE-EF LIGHTING, The Lighting Society, ACT, Integral Lighting, Affinity Electrical Technologies
  • Lawn: Lawn Solutions Australia, Turf Australia, Horticulture Innovation Australia, Complete Turf and Landscaping, Back2front Landscapes
  • Books: ACT Government Libraries

Text Description: © Courtesy of Street Furniture Australia, Context Landscape Architects, Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA)
Images: © Context Landscape Architects, #BackyardExperiment

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#BackyardExperiment / Street Furniture Australia + Context Landscape Architects
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