Transforming WA regional towns is an inside job.
Working with local shires and communities in regional Western Australia is a big part of what we do. Earlier this year, The Shire of Ravensthorpe engaged us to develop a Mainstreet Improvement Strategy for the townships of Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun.
The primary goal of the strategy was to encourage locals and tourists to visit the town, by taking steps to improve each of the main streets, without compromising their own unique character. The strategy also needed to be practical to implement.
Land Insights Principal Planner, Ross Montgomery, led the community consultations that informed the backbone of the strategy.
We spoke with Ross about how effective and appropriate local planning frameworks can assist Shires and their communities with adapting and improving their operations, but only if they’re done the right way, and reference local values.
When we visit regional towns in Western Australia, we don’t set out to tell stakeholders and the community what needs to be done. We start with a consultation process that focuses on engaging with the community in a meaningful way, to uncover their values and discover what makes the place special.
Ross says this involves gathering the Shire, community members and other key stakeholders together, and asking them to share their stories.
“I don’t start by asking people what they like or don’t like,” he says.
“Instead, I ask them to share a memory about the town that they think is interesting.”
Ross says these stories spark conversations between community members about what makes the town special to them. This offers up valuable information, about the town’s social narrative, character and what makes the place and its people distinctly unique.
This narrative technique is based on a principle called design scape.
“Design scape is that space where people make decisions that affect design,” Ross says.
“The design scape is nurtured by information. You can get a much more enduring outcome by cultivating design scape, tending to it by information and sharing of ideas, as everyone who makes decisions now has the same information, and are more likely to implement it collaboratively, or at least with a similar sense of design possibility for the place.”
An inside job
The information gathered from the community workshops in each town enabled us to understand how their respective main streets could be improved for long term results. When we asked what made their main street special, we discovered that each town had a very different social narrative, and as a result, different design responses would be needed.
“In the study, we put together a list of detailed recommendations for improving each of the town’s main streets,” says Ross.
“But studies are very difficult to implement unless you can tie them back to local community networks. This is why we use methods that engage with the community, as the community is then empowered to implement the study recommendations.”
Ross says the trick to a successful study is the follow through.
“We encourage people on the ground to make things happen, so the community get to make the change for themselves,” he says.
“For Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun, we suggested having two teams to make things happen on their respective main streets; regularly checking in with local businesses, making sure people are supported and have what they need to adapt to the strategy.”
Can a town really be transformed?
Developing an improvement strategy that results in real and long-term improvements to regional townships doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. So long as each stage of the process is focused on engaging stakeholders, they will be invested in their town’s success.
When locals feel ownership over improvement strategies, they are more likely to step up and make the changes their town needs. But it’s our job as planning design consultants to guide stakeholders in this direction, so regional towns can adapt and grow, without compromising on their unique identity and values.
“We’re giving the town an engine tune-up,” Ross says.
Need support with your local?
Ross and the team at Land Insights work with regional town shires throughout Western Australia, who want practical and community-driven strategies that foster positive change for their townships.
If you’d like to discuss how we can support you, please get in touch.