We’ve been dying to catch up with Stephen Moore since the early days of Idea Bombing. Stephen was one of the speakers at our first event back in May 2013 at the now infamous Alaska Projects in Kings Cross.
Stephen is a Principal at RobertsDay, an Urban Planning firm with their finger on the pulse of Sydney’s city planning projects and many urban design and urban renewal projects throughout Australia. We rely heavily on Stephen to keep us informed of the projects we need to be aware of so we can help champion those with outstanding community benefit and bring thoughtful discussion to those where benefits are not as easy to determine.
Idea Bombing Sydney was initially interested in a partnership with RobertsDay because of their ethos. They believe that collaboration fosters the best relationships and that placemaking should hold a crucial role in our vision for the future. They champion the facilitation of community discussion and community engagement in their approach to creating better places, which is a core tenant of Idea Bombing's philosophy. Better places can foster an outpouring of ideas and those ideas can evolve to create better cities with better communities.
Right now, Sydney is at a crucial pivot of change. It can chose to pivot in the direction of sustainable, lasting growth which will pave the way for generations of Australians to enjoy the freedoms of Sydney’s lively culture, community and fantastic public spaces. Or, Sydney could pivot in the direction of becoming just another cramped, overpriced, heavily-trafficked city that bears fruits only a small percentage of our society can afford. In other words, will Sydney make choices towards equity or exclusivity?
So if a more equitable, sustainable Sydney is what we want, how do we achieve that goal? We pinned down Stephen at Pablo’s Vice café to help us come to terms with what it means to reshape our city and cultural landscape in an effort to achieve the positive effects that are garnered from a greater sense of community, well designed public spaces and putting people first in every discussion.
Q & A SESSION:
1. How has Idea Bombing progressed since you spoke at Alaska Projects in May 2013?
Seems like yesterday, its amazing. The greatest thing it seems Idea Bombing has achieved has been to connect creative people in this city who would have otherwise never met and to inspire a conversation around creativity and the role and value creativity has in this city.
2. How has the collaboration of these creatives played out?
One small example from RobertsDay is that I have been in conversation with Emilya from Art Pharmacy and we are working so that she might be able to host an exhibition in one of the Roberts Day pop-ups. I would have never known how connected Art Pharmacy’s work is to the goals of making Sydney into a more creative and collaborative city if it wasn’t for Idea Bombing.
3. What did you think of our Object Gallery exhibition and space? We’re not known for being project managers so 8-weeks seemed like a lifetime!
Awesome space! The challenge is to always be able and devise something quirky and creative. The hanging idea curtain nailed it. It seems you can easily become a victim of your own success too quickly and now the pressure is on to keep everyone interested and inspired, isn’t it (with a cheeky smile)?
4. What have you been doing since you spoke at Idea Bombing? Exciting projects? New adventures? Cool people?
(Steve laughs) With my partner Martine, our Sydney Studio has doubled in size since Idea Bombing and we have a great team. We’ve invested in gaming software and 3D printing to improve how we test and refine ideas with our clients and stakeholders We think that is pretty cool!
Woah! Very cool! Sorry for dropping such a MASSIVE question...let’s scale that back and look at what is happening in 2015 for you…
The thing I liked about Idea bombing is that it was a real platform for us as a firm to have a voice in remaking the city and particularly reinventing infrastructure.
Since then we’ve done a lot of amazing projects. Some examples being our Bondi Junction Complete Streets Project, where John O’Callaghan’s ‘Trending City’ covered the launch. We’ve now got real data about what people in the 21st century want from their city, specifically from public space, and that has given the council all the means to keep pushing new ideas forward to ensure people live in a city they themselves contributed to creating.
Building on that, we have done a Parking and Placemaking Strategy for Rockdale Council at Brighton-Le-Sands, and who would have ever thought you could integrate these two diametrically opposed things, to create a better place. Upon completing streets and city projects, it’s amazing how word spreads because we now have a project in Palmerston City Centre (near Darwin), where the Northern Territory is actually implementing their first Complete Streets Project where they are building protected bike lanes and retrofitting main streets from being car-dominate places to human-centric, walkable places.
In a collaboration with Turf Design Studio, we’re transforming Goyder Square, which is the city’s central civic space, and the entire project is framed around placemaking. At the opposite end of the spectrum we’ve just finished the Woodville Road Corridor Masterplan, transforming an arterial corridor into a mixed-use boulevard and reengineering these spaces to become people-centric was our prime focus. That was a Parramatta City Council project. We were able to create a vision to transform a road that had lost all reason for existing other than to get people from A-to-B by fully utilizing the limited amount of space we have in and around the city.
We are also working on a project in Blacktown called Ashlar, where we are taking a concrete channel which used to be a stormwater drain and breaking it down, rehabilitating it and turning it into a creek which will form a regional bikeway and focus of a new community where urban living still connects you with nature.
5. Did all of these ideas originate in Sydney or were some of these taken from other projects around the world, then designed and implemented to fit Sydney’s unique needs and landscape?
We believe ideas travel, and when you look at how the town planning profession started we are in awe of John Nolen, the famous American city planner, and Raymond Unwin, who was the famous English garden city planner, they used to get on boats once a year and travel across the world to discuss ideas. It was that important to their work. So we absolutely get inspiration from all over the world but I think the art is to tailor those ideas to your local community and consider the context. Economics, politics, culture, and sociological factors; these all play the role in helping an idea evolve. And essentially, that is the message ‘ideas evolve’ and we need to be the ones to help facilitate that evolution.
Sydney has never been so exciting! We have 10 years ahead of projects in light rail, heavy rail, and a multitude of large infrastructure projects that will transform the city by integrating land use and sustainable transport. And to have a voice in that, to actively participate and engage between the community and the government is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
6. What is the approach you take to melding the necessity of large infrastructure projects with the consequential environmental impact? How do you make these spaces more community friendly?
We try to balance the ideas of community, connecting people, a greener environment, friendly, inviting aesthetics, and make these spaces better places. For these public spaces we have to try and take the intimidating, and often ugly, visual elements in engineering out of these large engineering projects. And it can be extremely difficult to negotiate all of these different agendas, but we are very lucky to have a generation of engineers to partner with who understand the role of placemaking and the role of place-capital. They seem to align with the idea that these spaces are more than just about getting people from A-to-B as quickly as possible, but along that route it’s also about creating spaces to linger, that people want to invest in and continue to renew.
Making the engineering part invisible but at the same time overlapping that with other things like cultural uses and social programs, does create this dynamic type of city that we often aspire to; much like the cities of Europe which contain the blueprint for many of the things we are trying to achieve here in Sydney.
And it is the government’s role to manage the disruption that every transforming city undergoes, but it is a necessary means of achieving the intergenerational equity which is delivered by projects aimed at promoting a more sustainable future.
Many of my peers are coming to inherit primary decision making roles in theses organizations and companies leading the charge in creating positive change, so instead of having to expend endless amounts of energy trying to align people with a new idea these practitioners are embracing these modern practices and achieving unprecedented results because they already understand the connection. We are starting to accelerate the adoption of Smart Growth, but we can always be smarter (laughs).
In terms of engagement, there are never winners and losers with ideas, but rather, cities have become such complex systems that our role is to allocate ideas along that spectrum of opportunity. While a particular idea may not be adequate for a certain context, somewhere in this city that idea will completely make sense. But we need to be open to reallocating these ideas to the right parts of the city at the right time, then we can totally unleash the power of creativity. Rather than the age-old adversarial view of permitting and prohibiting things, this spectrum of opportunity needs to be understood.
Civic leadership is the allocation of ideas in an equitable way that actually does improve the overall performance of a region, and unfortunately in the past it has often just been a platform of winners and losers.
7. What’s one big thing that’s changing in your business or industry now, and how are you adapting to that?
The City of Sydney is a true leader in their field, and that is certainly to be celebrated, but I think that most cities now are awakening to the idea that they want to put people first. But one of the fundamental roadblocks in many places is that we are trying to build 21st Century cities within the 20th century rule book. For example, most Council’s still focus standards for making cars and motorists happy, and some city manuals still don’t recognize pedestrians as a legitimate form of transport. We laugh about these things but they pop-up on a daily basis while having these conversations with cities, councils and governments. And that signals a large need to change the rulebook. We need a new rulebook for making people happy.
We should be starting the conversation around understanding people. What do people need to be happy? What do they need to love where they live? Lets change the conversation to put people first. Rather than saying there were “20 drivers today” lets say “there were 20 people driving cars”, instead of “there were 20 cyclists” lets say “there were 20 people cycling” or instead of “there were 20 pedestrians” let say “there were 20 people walking”. If we can do that then we have an excellent chance of making meaningful, impactful decisions in our pursuits.
8. Do you think that this aligns with the idea of the City embracing direct investment of their citizens? Instead of funding capital projects or large corporations and ventures; build better economic stability through funding citizens and communities in the most direct way possible?
Absolutely. We have things now, which have truthfully always existed, like walk-o-nomics and bike-o-nomics, the ‘rise of the creative class’ and such has created a link between people and place which has founded the notion of place-capital and inspired investment and renewal.
I mean you look at a firm like Google which has tried to reinvent their workplaces from car-dependent campuses to, effectively, an urban neighborhood...you know that we have crossed a tipping point.
The City of Sydney gets it, cities like New York get it. You can look at New York’s investment in bike lanes; one of the most congested cities in the world, and all the metrics are through the roof when reviewing the rise in economic activity. The Complete Streets Project in Bondi has proved to be a huge success in community building. Originally some of the shopkeepers were scared that removing a few car parks would result in a reduction of their business and now 70% of those shopkeepers surveyed have reported an increase in sales due to the direct investment of people and the public realm.
Originally the project was meant to be a transport study and council said that they have been doing traffic studies for 10 years and the traffic has continually gotten worse. So instead of spending money on a project that is unfixable, they opted to spend money on a project that can improve how pedestrians and cyclists engage with Bondi Junction Town Centre. We reframed the study from a ‘Transport Study’ to a ‘Complete Streets Study’. The interesting thing we did then was to hold a workshop between the State Government, Woollahra Council and Waverley Council, who had always been at war over this contested ground, and once we gained agreement over the realignment that people needed to be the center of the decision making process, they were ready to start transforming their community.
We have been able to institute the methods of Tactical Urbanism inspired by pioneers like Mike Lydon from The Street Plans Collaborative and recently Lucinda Hartley from CoDesign Studio in Melbourne. We take their motto “Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change” and use it to benefit projects like the Coffs City Centre Prosperity Plan where the notion of testing or prototyping the investment in public space before making the long-term commitment for investment played a huge role in predicting the success of a project. The value of place should underwrite the investment for the future.
9. Do you see Sydney playing a leading role within Australia in embracing the emergence of innovative new business models and design thinking?
If you look at what the City has transformed into under Clover Moore’s leadership it is astounding what Sydney has been able to accomplish in regards to creating a 21st Century city, and how they have chosen to place public benefit ahead of special interests is amazing. Sydney has to battle some of the toughest restrictions known to city planners, and there is much innovation born from working around these restrictions. Sydney is in a class of it’s own surely.
10. Do you think it takes locals to change the environment and community?
I think it definitely takes active citizens, people who are engaged and inspired. Otherwise it is just a top-down model, and I believe it has to come from both ends. You need strong civic leadership and engaged professionals who want to make a difference, and then it has to be met in the middle with engaged citizens who are also driving the change.
11. You seem to travel a lot with work, how do you balance life? Any tricks for time management?
I am very lucky in what I do. I love what I do. It is very rare I ever feel like I’ve done a days work. But I couldn’t do what I do without the great team that I rely on; my business partner in Sydney, partners around Australia. We enjoy collaborating as well. And put together, that reduces the workload. You can’t do it all, and once you realize that the collaboration becomes more and more fun.
12. If people want to get involved with RobertsDay or become Urban Designers and Urban Planners, do you have any tips on how they can contribute?
We’re always happy to hear from people who are passionate about cities and want to create great places. And these people come from a multitude of backgrounds in the creative industries. Wanting to be a part of a team is essential but if you have an appetite for seeing your city evolve and want to get involved then definitely contact us.
13. Are there some fringe organisations that you can recommend people get involved with in order to take the next step in changing the future of their city?
Well Idea Bombing is obviously a great platform to get involved with, and there are several others out there including Trending City, which is an online platform based around the sharing of ideas, particularly focused on what is happening within city transformation projects from countries all around the world. Beginning to have a voice is the start to your momentum and social media is an excellent medium in order to have your voice heard. Contributing to these conversations is crucial. And there is actually a ton of discussion around the points made in these conversations at formal Board and Project meetings to ensure the City and it’s collaborators are taking into account each and every point of view along the decision making process.