An Aussie Urbanist in America’s Heartland

Last week I had the opportunity to host my friend Peter Smith in Michigan. Peter is the CEO of the Adelaide, South Australia City Council and a pioneer in the place-led governance movement. Peter attracts worldwide attention for his work with Splash Adelaide and for innovative practices within the city government.

On Monday Peter met with a group of activists and community leaders in Detroit. Last Wednesday he addressed about 200 managers from cities, villages, townships and countries across Michigan. Below are some of his key comments and philosophies that pertain to ‘places’ everywhere.
Splash Adelaide‘Governance’ is how people and things organize to create a desired value

‘Place’ is the active public space which has a cultural and social identity defined by its uses and users

Peter’s definition of ‘Place Governance’ is how place users and stakeholders organize to manage and create desired value (Place Capital) in public spaces

Good place governance addresses the economic, cultural, environmental, social and physical impacts on people.

In times of disaster local governments, or any unit of government, cease their traditional programs and services and concentrate on the “most important” functions. (Peter used the devastating earthquakes in Christ Church, NZ as an example) The result often spurs innovation in the spaces that the government vacated. We see this happen with new service delivery methods and fewer restrictions on public spaces. The new forms are often improvements on the old ones. So Peter asks, “Why can’t government operate like this all the time?”

When it comes to infrastructure, temporary is OK. So many places build permanent infrastructure and then work to formulate human interaction around it. We often see this in traditional parks, stadiums and libraries. Temporary infrastructure allows things to happen more organically and relieves the pressure of justifying large public expenditures. Pop-up food places, commercial areas and book dispensaries offer unique opportunities to test theories on how the public will react to change. For more on this subject check out Splash Adelaide.

Some “must dos” for local governments practicing a place governance model:

  • Co-create the vision with those who live and work in the area
    Government policy should be “wide and narrow”
    Outsourcing and new forms of partnership are needed
    Government’s role is to facilitate “many”  but, do “few”
    Innovation must be supported by local government flexibility
    Strong community governance models should becoming self -sufficient
    Deregulation & less focus on compliance are keys to making it all work

Place led governance, in my humble opinion, is where we should all be headed at the local level. It is efficient, sustainable, citizen led and more responsive than many of the time- honored methods. I’ll write more on this in the months ahead.