#WodenExperiment on ABC Radio

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ABC Radio Canberra’s Jolene Laverty chats with Street Furniture Australia’s June Boxsell about #WodenExperiment on Drive.

The following is a transcript of the program, which aired on Wednesday April 4, 2018.

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JL. The social project that has increased foot traffic in Garema Place by 200% is going to be replicated in Woden. June Boxsell is the Design and Marketing manager of Street Furniture Australia and she runs these programs, hi June.

JB. Hi there, thank you for having me.

JL. Thank you for joining us. So it’s called the #WodenExperiment and it’s based on the very successful #BackyardExperiment, which was held in Garema Place a few years ago. Can you just take us back to 2016 and remind us what the Garema Place experiment was?

JB. The #BackyardExperiment was a joint initiative with the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and Street Furniture Australia. It was an eight day installation where we put in moveable chairs, colourful trees, pavement, lighting. As you said we managed to double the foot traffic, which was fantastic, but more importantly it brought in more social groups. It brought in nearly 780% more families and children to the area, which we were very happy about.

On the back of #BackyardExperiment we were fortunate enough to present the findings to the Minister Megan Fitzharris, who kindly encouraged us to deliver similar results to Woden Town Square. And here we are.

JL. What do you know about Woden Town Square? What are you going to take in to this project?

JB. We visited Woden Town Square for the first time last year in winter. A team of us from Street Furniture went, and we were all so excited by the opportunity there. It was a blank canvas. It was also freezing cold and a wind tunnel, but that just made it more salivating for us.

JL. You were the only person there that day going, ‘This is fantastic. Look how cold and bleak it is, fantastic.’

JB. That’s right. There were some smokers there as well but they weren’t actually sitting on the benches, they were standing around the benches, freezing and shaking.

JL. So a great blank canvas for your Woden Experiment. You don’t just go into these things and chuck bits of coloured crochet things into trees, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it, so what are you planning for Woden?

JB. The key to Garema Place’s success was community ownership. So we need to involve the community from day one. That’s the backbone of this project. We had a great workshop with the community last week. There were people there who saw a flyer on the street, local businesses, Labor politician Chris Steel. We all sat together and brainstormed on the issues and opportunities of Woden Town Square. There were so many passionate people there, which was great, and lots of heated debate. But everyone has the same goal, which was to make Woden Town Square more joyful and comfortable. We got to some great conclusions.

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JL. Joyful and comfortable sounds completely different to the picture you just painted for us. What were some of the issues brought up in the community meeting.

JB. The microclimate was an issue.

JL. What does that mean, in terms of the weather, or the smokers hanging out there all by themselves?

JB. That’s it really. The microclimate is the climate of that particular square. There wasn’t very much shade, and the shade was taken up by the smokers, as you mentioned, and in winter there’s the wind. As well as the microclimate, there weren’t opportunities to relax, to have a meal on a table and share with friends. Or even work with a laptop and charge your phone. If we gave people opportunities to actually stay and linger, if we were able to transform a thoroughfare into a destination, how great would that be.

JL. It sounds quite a task, I’ve got to be honest June. June Boxsell is the Design and Marketing Manager of Street Furniture Australia and has been tasked with the experiment to make that Woden plaza area more joyful and comfortable. So what are you going to do?

JB. There are three objectives. One is the wow factor. We want to bring in some pulling power. So similar to #BackyardExperiment in Garema Place, children were running up to trees and hugging them because they were knitted. It was Instagramable, there was some sort of playful nature that drew people to the space so we wanted as objective number one.

Objective number two, I mentioned before, we want people to stay. So we need to address the microclimate. So it has to be comfortable, we want to replicate the feeling of home in public space. So tables, chairs, lounging, all those sorts of things.

The third objective is to really bring in the community. The workshop was stage one, stage two is a brainstorming session with, perhaps, a homeless person and a planner, and a social scientist. But we want to get a diverse range of views to input into the solutions.

JL. The microclimate issue sounds like it’s going to be a bit of a do-sy to tackle. Have you got any ideas in place already how you’re going to address that?

JB. We do have ideas. We want to bring smart technology into the mix. Unfortunately we’re at the discovery phase, which means we’re not allowed to design anything yet, which is lead by our Design Director Mark Armstrong, he’s a design thinking expert, that really gets into the why of why people do things. We’re absorbing all the information at the moment, but some ideas that have come out already are smart furniture, shade solutions, solar power, playful elements – maybe a swinging chair, lawns.

One of the things we observed in the square were lots of desire lines; you can see where people have cut through the grass, bypassing the path that they’re meant to take. So this is the path that the public really wants to take. So we want to follow these desire lines and be really responsive to the peoples’ needs of the space.

JL. I could talk to you all afternoon about desire lines, I find them so fascinating. So you’re of the view that you can probably turn a desire line into something that is probably a little more legitimate than it is at the moment, or leaving it as it is to reflect how people can’t be told what to do or where to walk?

JB. We should celebrate them. Build a path around them. Let it lead to a beautiful shady spot where a mum-preneur can work on her laptop while her child charges the phone and watches Netflix. It’s scenarios like that. We definitely want to attract more families to the space, they’re a key persona for us.

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JL. I do have a comment here from Dave who is a considerate smoker, but asks whether or not there’s going to be any design for considerate smokers like himself who don’t smoke around children or people who are eating. How do you take into account people who have to go outside for smoking, and this is the space where they do it?

JB. Yes. As part of our discovery process we did a lot of deep empathy interviews with the users at the site for the whole day. ACT Government also did some at night and on the weekends as well. From these deep empathy interviews we find out the needs and aspirations of the community. Another outcome is a list of personas. We have the mum and the pram, the retiree, a public servant who smokes, and a non-smoking public servant. The smokers are quite a significant part of the Woden Town Square community and, to answer your question, yes, we are designing for them too.

JL. We have a text from Jay O’Farrer saying, maybe solar heated seats would help. I actually think that’s a really good idea, can you get your designer to create solar heated seats, or does something like that already exist?

JB. Solar power is something that has been discussed. At the end of the day it’s about funding. We want this to be funded by both the private sector and government, hopefully 50/50. So things like solar power and solutions for wind tunnels, they’re a bit pricier than say, a nice bench where you can charge your phone, and a bin that has sensors to tell you when it’s full. Addressing the microclimate’s going to be more expensive so it really depends on how much funding we get approved to take this across the line.

JL. I tell you what June, if you have the same success with the #WodenExperiment as you had with the #BackyardExperiment in Garema Place where you raised traffic by 200% in the short period of time, then businesses will want to have that same sort of result I’m sure. And the difference with this, we should point out as well, it’s not going to be just for eight days, is it, it’s going to be for a much longer time in Woden. How long have you committed to the #WodenExperiment?

JB. The biggest feedback from Garema Place was that it was too short. So Garema Place went for eight days, #WodenExperiment will go for six months.

Click on image to see the #BackyardExperiment results.

JL. This is such an exciting idea June, and I really am fascinated by, where does an idea like this come from, this is obviously something you do for a job, and not just for Woden and Garema Place, this is something that you do around Australia. How long has this been going on for, and where did it start?

JB. Street Furniture Australia’s a furniture company. We design, make and deliver furniture products. But we’re quite lucky because our owners are architects and designers so they really invest in research and development. We want to produce furniture that not only furnishes but activates a place as well. So projects like #WodenExperiment really feed into our think tank, and we value it hugely. And we’re very appreciative of the community who are so much on board and we can collaborate with as well.

JL. I love that your architect and designer bosses are willing to let you make massive crocheted sheets to wrap around trees, to make the place such a nicer place. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today June, and good luck with it.

JB. Thank you, it was a pleasure.

JL. #WodenExperiment, currently in the discovery phase, next stage will be the design stage, where they make Jay’s solar heated seat, and after that it will be another word that starts with ‘d,’ which means actual launch stage.

For more information about #WodenExperiment, see our StreetChat article, read the Discovery Report and follow the project on Facebook.


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