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Public open space strategy guide for local governments.
Open spaces provide many social, health, economic and environmental benefits to individuals and to the community as a whole (Figure 3).
Open space contributes to the overall liveability of urban and suburban area, particularly as urban density increases. It also strengthens communities, providing local identity, places to gather and connections to the community. Open space often includes
of social, cultural, historic and environmental heritage, interpreting
and preserving these elements for current and future generations1,2.
The health benefits of open space are widely recognised. Healthy Spaces and Places3 a collaboration
between the Australian Local Government Foundation, the Planning Institute of Australia and the National Heart Foundation, provides a series of key design principles for healthy communities. These include aesthetics,
connectivity, environments for all people, housing and land use mix,
safety and surveillance, social inclusion and supporting infrastructure4,5.
Beyond Blue, through its commissioned literature review of Australian and international studies, identifies many benefits from open spaces. At a basic level, natural spaces are seen as restorative and people prefer natural spaces to urban ones regardless
of age or culture. In particular they found that natural spaces, including urban parks, enhance people’s abilities to cope with, and recover from stress and recover from illness and injury6.
There is a clear relationship between environmental sustainability and the provision of POS. POS may protect and/or enhance both the natural and cultural environment. Natural spaces can be connected by green corridors to provide both active recreational
spaces as well as connectivity for fauna to travel between areas.
Public open space can play an essential role in managing drainage and controlling run off into streams, rivers and the ocean7. This
assists with the management of nutrient discharge into water bodies. This effect goes well beyond the traditional use of POS as compensation basins. Green spaces provide a natural water retention and treatment system to manage storm water. Tree
canopies and root systems reduce storm water flows and nutrient loads that end up in waterways. Unpaved
areas absorb water, slowing the rate at which it reaches storm water
facilities. This alleviates pressures on storm water management and flow
Urban areas often act as heat islands with buildings, paving and road surfaces retaining and reflecting heat.The
addition of trees and vegetation in the built environment provides the
greatest benefit in terms of mitigating the urban heat island effect9.
Trees play an important role in sequestering carbon. During photosynthesis, trees convert carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into sugar and oxygen and store carbon within their biomass as they grow older. Urban trees therefore make an impact in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere10.
Green spaces also act to reduce air and noise pollution. Leaves naturally filter the air by stabilising dust and absorbing pollutants. Shrubs and trees also act to dampen down noise, providing a cost effective alternative to the construction of massive walls11.
Local and regional economies can benefit significantly from parks. They act as an attractor for recreation and tourism industries and, as a consequence, generated significant employment opportunities for the local economy. This has a multiplier effect on the rest of the economy12,13.
Studies have demonstrated that access to open spaces can improve worker productivity. Improved health outcomes associated with access to open space have a flow on effect to worker productivity through a decrease in absenteeism. A healthier workforce is less likely to be sick and absent from work14.
To assist with scoping the project and identifying any gaps and omissions in the current planning process, planning context held a workshop of relevant stakeholders (including local and State government together with others involved with parks and landscaping)
to obtain the views of the industry on public open space planning. This provided an opportunity to identify the key issues facing local government planning for public open space. Planning Context facilitated the workshop on Thursday 12 March 2015
at the Department of Sport and Recreation (DSR). Approximately 50 people attended the workshop which took place over three hours (9:00 am to 12:00 pm).
There was an overwhelming desire to have a strategy to provide a framework and direction for an overall vision and how to achieve it. It was apparent that this vision for public open space should be embedded into local government’s high level
strategic community plan and filter through to lower level strategies. Within the local government organisational structure, it was promoted that intra-relationships were vital in developing and implementing a public open space strategy. A whole-of-organisation
approach is required to cultivate and deliver a strategy.
In terms of urban form, it was felt that public open space should be promoted and advocated so that it is a primary consideration rather than appearing to be an afterthought.
One of the challenges facing local government is the changing public open space needs of community. This is a result of the continuous change in population and housing density, ageing, general growth and decline and changes in recreational habits. These
challenges create a need for variety, flexibility, quality, suitability and participants reinforced the importance of equity and accessibility.
Protecting environment and fauna were major reasons for having a public open space strategy and this included conservation of habitats and waterways. In addition, the issue of water use and management was important in relation to drainage within public
open space areas (over-engineering and conflict of use) and the use of water wise planting and shade trees.
Some of the challenges identified by local government workshop participants included:
Consultation with local government officers identified a number of challenges facing local government when providing for, or managing public open space. These fall into four main categories:
These challenges (shown table 4) are also reflected in much of the literature and are touched upon in many of the public open space strategies that have been developed for local governments both locally and in other Australian states.
A number of recent studies15 have identified a shortage of active open space provision within
certain areas of the Perth and Peel region and that the WAPC policy framework needs review to address these shortages.
Emerging Constraints for Public Open Space in Perth Metropolitan Suburbs released by DSR in March 2011 concluded that implementation of Bush Forever and Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) has caused reduced supply in active open space in the new suburbs
studied in the research and that data suggests that the implementation of liveable neighbourhoods may have also caused a reduced supply of active public open space in these new suburbs.
About half of the grounds in the study area were heavily used, primarily due to absence of grounds in the Bush Forever and WSUD constrained areas, which causes pressure on surrounding existing grounds (located elsewhere) and is unsustainable. The study
also identified an issue of spatial equity with some residents in newer suburbs needing to travel further to access playing fields than those in established suburbs.
As a guide (not be used as strict design criteria), the study advises of general measures to assess and plan for active open space provision (referred to as the “Curtin Guideline”), which are discussed in Defining Adequate POS Provision’.
Active Open Space (playing fields) in a growing Perth-Peel released by DSR in 2013 also found that the unintended consequence of delivering some planning policies (Bush Forever, WSUD and Liveable Neighbourhoods) has resulted in a reduction of the
amount of open space to accommodate organised sport, and that it is highly certain that new suburbs in each of the fringe growth sub-regions of Perth already have a shortage of playing fields.
The study concluded that currently the inner suburbs are well supplied with active open space based on the Curtin Guideline. However, Directions 2031 estimates that 47% of the population growth for Perth will be as infill in the inner and middle
suburbs. By 2031, the predicted shortfall of active open space of in the central sub-region of Perth will be 79.0 ha, which is equivalent to 36 senior AFL ovals or 110 senior soccer pitches. If the provision of the support facilities is taken
into account, the total shortfall of open space required for active sport in 2031 in the central sub-region, is around 237 ha.
The current notional shortfall of local, district and regional active open space playing surfaces for Perth and Peel was estimated to be 96.7 hectares (44 senior Australian Rules Football ovals), or 290 hectares taking into account extra land required
for support facilities such as spectator areas, parking, club rooms and landscaping. Without a change in relevant planning policies and State Government provision of additional regional open space, it is thought that there may be a shortfall of open
space for active sport of approximately 165 hectares of active open space playing surface (75 senior AFL ovals) equating to 495 hectares inclusive of land for support facilities, by 2031 and this shortage will be even greater.
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