A development in Perth’s Alkimos is an exemplar of how to foster a community. Image: Canva.
  • "There is nothing more valuable than a community seeing the developer/project team actively involved"
  • Exemplars include an Alkimos Beach development in Perth's north
  • One key lesson included investing in the people who make up the community

One of the biggest challenges in creating new suburbs is fostering a sense of connection and vibrancy so that new residents feel part of a broader community.

Through many of the articles in the #2 2022 edition of The Urbanist, one thing has become abundantly clear – ignore the existing or prospective community at your own peril. But how do you engage with a community that hasn’t been created yet?

According to Felicia Brady, Founder of FTB Consult and working on some of the most successful greenfield projects in the country, regardless of whether you are working with an existing community or creating a new one from scratch, the mentality should be the same.

“Early consideration and engagement with the community is critical in the success of any project,” Ms Brady said.

Ms Brady says that at the heart of every successful project is a core built on trust and the way to build that trust is by getting involved with, and getting to know, the community and demographics you are working with.

“If I could give one piece of advice to developers operating or commencing projects in greenfield areas, I would highly recommend investing the time in getting to know your community and being available to them no matter how busy you are,” Ms Brady said.

“Whilst community consultants are fabulous and experts in the field, there is nothing more valuable than a community seeing the developer/project team actively involved. It highlights their commitment to the outcome and will only ensure a happier, more connected community that has trust in those individuals/organisations’ managing the project.”

Aha! Consulting and City of Fremantle engaging on the future of South Beach. Image originally from UDIA WA’s The Urbanist #2 2022 Fostering vibrant new communities.

Getting involved with and getting to know the community is exactly what Lendlease and DevelopmentWA did at their Alkimos Beach development in Perth’s north.

Ms Brady was heavily involved with the creation of Alkimos Beach and said Lendlease and DevelopmentWA’s commitment to community engagement went a long way toward the project’s continued success.

“Community engagement was an integral part of the success of the project and ensured authentic and purposeful connections between the development and grass roots community members from project inception, applying innovative principles such as the introduction of ‘Sprout Ventures’ to establish the ‘Sprout Community hub,’” Ms Brady said.

The Sprout Community Hub is an old shipping container that was repurposed into a space for the community to come together, chat and get to know each other. The ethos behind the Hub is ‘A little space for a little while’ with the hub only remaining in place until the local shopping precinct became established. The hub then moved across to Alkimos Vista, the sister development to Alkimos Beach, which is now in the process of establishing itself as a new community.

“The project team used the hub not only as a community engagement space, but also for community-based capacity building activities and an operational coffee shop that provided cashflow for the space and its operators,” Ms Brady said.

Building on the connection with the community the Sprout Hub also includes funding through the Sprout Seedling Fund to allow local groups and community organisations in the area to establish themselves. 10 cents in every dollar spent in the Sprout Hub is injected back into the local community.

“The key lesson I took out of the project was to invest in the people who make up your community.” 

Felicia Brady, Founder of FTB Consult

Creating Communities Director of Engagement Andrew Watt agreed with Ms Brady in saying that key to effective engagement is having a clear strategy that understands and responds to the unique community context you are looking to work in.

Mr Watt says that, in general, there tends to be less resistance in newer communities as opposed to those in infill locations as the people looking to be involved have already signed up to make a change, however the core principles needed to be the same.

“Engaging early, building positive relationships, respecting local community and developing a strategy that responds to the local community context applies regardless of whether it is an existing or new community,” he said.

“Communication is not engagement. It is important to have good communication in any project but engagement is based upon relational connection, not just on telling people things. Provide a human face to all engagement.”

Andrew Watt, Creating Communities Director of Engagement

“As projects progress, you learn more and more, so it is important to build flexibility into your processes that enable to you change direction or methods if needed to get better connection and engagement with the community.”

Mr Watt leads one of the topics in UDIA WA’s Professional Development program, which looks at communication and engagement in urban planning and development. In his presentation, he refers to the importance of social planning, which is the process of analysing the social context of places in order to anticipate the possible social consequences of projects on individuals and communities.

“Places do not automatically transform into functioning communities unless both the urban and social planning of projects are developed in unison,” Mr Watt said. “Well planned neighbourhoods provide essential raw materials for community, but the planning of robust communities also requires a thorough sociological response, that is, social planning and community activation.”

Felicia Brady meeting future Alkimos Beach residents at the Sprout Hub. Image originally from UDIA WA’s The Urbanist #2 2022 Fostering vibrant new communities.

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) is well known and respected for its work around community engagement globally. Joel Levin is an engagement consultant and IAP2 Australasia Director and Trainer.

Mr Levin says that engagement helps build a sense of community from the start.

“There are a number of social issues that can be created through greenfield developments, that deliver the in-fill but the various services and amenities that support a community to be a cohesive community,” he said. “Engagement helps connect people as the full vision for a new development comes to life.

“Being well educated and informed in local matters is a core aspect of successful community engagement, especially with newer communities.

“The more the public is part of the project, they will feel a greater affinity towards what you are trying to achieve and will have more acceptance towards the outcomes of the project.”

The other piece of advice Mr Levin provided was to re-shape thinking toward community pushback.

He said that sometimes organisations unintentionally create conflict because of how they have engaged. He pointed out that physical pain and social exclusion is actually coded in the same part of the brain.

“If you physically hurt somebody, there will naturally be angst towards you and what you stand for, the same defensiveness gets triggered if you leave people excluded from decisions that affect their lives,” Mr Levin said.

“Quality engagement is not about making sure everyone is happy with everything all the time, it is about improving the quality and sustainability of decisions and actions.”

~~

This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.



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