The Bloomfield Streetscape Project

by John Mongard Landscape Architects
Cost: $2.5 million
Time Span: Planning 1986-1992, Design 1992-1993, Construction June 1993-October 1993
Community: Cleveland Townspeople and the residents of Redland Shire, Brisbane, Queensland.
Initiators: The Redland Shire Council's Town Planning Department.
Participants:
  • Artists, potters, poets and artisans of the Redland Shire (Community and Public Arts)
  • John Mongard Landscape Architects (Masterplan and detailed design, community arts facilitator, construction administration)
  • Jan Haughton, Redland Shire Council (Project Community Arts Officer)
  • Gary White, Redland Shire Council (Shire Planner) Gary Soutar, Redland Shire Council (Project Construction Manager)
  • John Valentine, Redland Shire Council (Parks and Recreation Manager)

Context

Cleveland is a traditional town centre near Brisbane in the heart of a diverse landscape of islands, mangrove-fringed bushland and historic promontories.

The town's main street was developed according to a flexible strategy which allows it to continue to function as a main street whilst embracing its imminent growth and connection to Moreton Bay through a harbour. The streetscape incorporates an essential upgrade of $1 million worth of roadworks and services whilst providing a revitalised town centre. Over 5% of capital has been devoted to public art, a precedent in a state with no legal art incentives.

Early in the 1980's Council considered the possibility of a pedestrian mall in the town centre and an extensive research and analysis was carried out. This included cognitive and cultural mapping and public reference studies.

The depth and meaning of the project is an outcome of a long incubation period of ideas by the urban designers prior to any building works. The tiers for a legal placemaking strategy were finalised through the Redland Shire's new town plan in 1987, with further studies to develop a new Development Control Plan for the town in 1990. Two more studies which looked at linking the Town with its two harbours were undertaken, a master plan was formulated with a full palette of community, environment, art and design elements.

Approach

The masterplan report, concept plan and associated images by John Mongard Landscape

Architects identified the upgrade of Bloomfield Street as the first stage in the larger project improving the whole Town. This streetscape strategy established an urban design approach which achieved an uncommon level of collaboration in Queensland. This has given the main street a complex structure which offers residents various layers of discovery and richness. The genius of the locality is not a fragile representation here - there was a conscious attempt at interpreting the brief in a way which would achieve a depth of form which local people could sense easily. This process could be best described as gentle but persistent place facilitation.

In line with CEAD objectives, the Bloomfield Street Project provided an opportunity for the collaboration of a large number of local designers, artists and craftspeople. The immediate team included: six landscape architects, two graphic designers, five sculptors and artists, a community arts co-ordinator as well as Council Engineering, Planning and Environment Directorates, and Parks and Recreation teams.

Evolution

The project began as a conventional one-dimensional consultancy for a landscape architect to give Council engineers some assistance with urban form issues. It finished by involving every community group interested in changing the face of the town.

The local community participated in the project via a number of community arts projects co-ordinated by Councils Project Community Arts Officer and through a long process of public meetings. A series of design workshops facilitated by artsworkers and members of the design team also encouraged members of the creative community to prepare concepts for creating public art in the main streets.

Council also had workshops and meetings with local traders, the business community and local councillors, and formed a Cleveland Streetscape and Harbour Taskforce.

The construction and community arts process has encouraged the creative participation of over 250 local artisans and actively involved a broad spectrum of the Shires community groups.

Expression

The outcome of the project is a streetscape that gently binds together the structure of the main street with a series of community projects. The quality of design has been luckily carried through to construction, and the scheme is close to 100% of its design intent, which is rarity.

Seven arts projects were created to allow community participation, foster ownership, enrich the street and to build resistance to acts of vandalism and rejection. The detailed elements of the streetscape went beyond the basics of paving, landscaping, furniture and built form. The project is embedded with the energetic creation of the community.

These community projects provided for a diverse range of creative ideas and age groups, including: the design of a children's playground, sculptured by a team of four local sculptors from play ideas developed at the children's clay workshops; decorative mosaic tiles created from terracotta clay from the four local art and pottery groups; a poetry trail by local poets and writers; banners and windsocks designed by the local art students; street sculptures; a town map carved into the street pavers and a town logo designed by children.

A large harbour has been designed to bring water lapping to the edge of the main street. This private development has responded with a sculptural focal point which will extend the public art realm. The gluing of private and public spaces was an underlying theme to this project.

Of the various community projects on Bloomfield Street, the town playground should be highlighted. There is some internal magnetism built into the structure which attracts hordes of children daily. Why should a static abstract object achieve such energy? This success is worthy of some investigation. Perhaps a post-occupancy evaluation could be funded by the Australia Council to analyse the success of well used street elements and spaces.

Response

A project can sometimes invent a town dialogue. In this case, the community discovered a cultural face which had been hidden through many years of conservative habits. A memorable example is the poetry trail project, which uncovered nine elderly poets over sixty years of age, and one poet of nine years old. The trail became a memoriam for the legendary local aboriginal poet Oodegeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).

This will be the first poetry trail in Queensland. A book of poetry was published and the poets who came together have now formed a local association. This is placemaking in a true sense.

No resources existed for the creation of community arts in the Shire prior to this Streetscape Project. No cultural or community development workers, no community arts budget or section; not even a policy regarding the arts. In terms of policy and process, cultural development is now on the Local Government Agenda in Redland Shire. This will create a ripple effect into the future.

This design and construction project became a catalyst for social and cultural exchange. Prior to the project, there were no cultural or community art projects in the Shire and no local government officers or mechanisms to make them happen.

After the project, the Redland Shire Council adopted a Cultural Policy and a Cultural Services Manager was appointed. The Bloomfield Street Project has been recognised with an award of excellence from the Royal Australian Planners Institute in 1993 for Urban Design, and an Australia Day Award for cultural development.

At the town scale, the project has created an undeniable heart which is generating new growth in Cleveland. Recent valuation figures released from the State Government show a significant rise in property values in the Cleveland central business district since the development of the Bloomfield Streetscape project. These facts touch the business community who directly equate success in monetary terms: Since the completion of the project there has been over $7 million of new building construction.

At the district scale, the project has created a civic living room - a place where festivals and cultural rituals have begun to foster. Public art projects are now underway for a harbour park and are also planned as part of the improvements to Capalaba, the Shire's second largest town.

Designers dream about projects which will allow them to create places which add something new and better to the fabric of our land. The Bloomfield Streetscape Project culminated ten years of planning and design and I feel that such a time layered process has made a strong impact on the final physical form.

Culture and place are complex enigmas which require time and community to take shape. The artful growth of a whole town is not something that can be taken lightly: evolution and change have to take priority. The Bloomfield Streetscape Project succeeded because of its incubation period. This kind of time scale is frustrating for designers but perhaps cannot be avoided when dealing with complex public places. Democratic collaboration in such projects can only happen when government supports it. Urban designers cannot manage and support complex local collaborations with artisans and artists without specific officers from Council doing the networking and administering the process. Perhaps the most important outcome in Cleveland has been the creation of networks that will allow other artful collaborations in the future of Redland Shire.

For Further Information Contact:
John Mongard Landscape Architects
mail@mongard.com.au
Ph: (07) 3844 1932
Fax: (07) 3844 3250