Understanding changing needs

Public open space strategy guide for local governments.

A needs assessment should consider current demography, projected changes to demography (i.e. ageing populations, increasing number of families with young children etc.) and changes in population. It should have the same time horizon as the community strategic plan and should use, and build on any work that has been done for housing and community facilities plans, environmental strategies and development contribution plans.

Consideration must also be given to changes in housing types including increasing housing density and subsequent decreases in private open space. This should be consistent with the local planning strategy and associated planning policies.

There are a number of data sources that could be used including:

  • State and national data on trends and community participation in sporting and recreational activities — from agencies such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics or Australian Sports Commission
  • data on the demographic or cultural characteristics of potential users — this should be assessed as pointers to recreation demand. The size of the community indicates the scale of provision, while the mix and type of facilities will be influenced by the age profile, cultural background, household makeup, economic status, education and employment, mobility and local climate and environmental resources
  • participation, facility and program use data – these surveys of recreation clubs and associations, venue bookings and user profiling represent a primary source of information on patterns of usage and trends, and existing user expectations. Care must be taken in drawing conclusions from this data as usage may be dictated by the nature of current supply and could lead to ‘more of the same’
  • National, state and local level studies of conservation values and landscape qualities of candidate areas — for protection or special management regimes as part of the open space system.

Drivers of changing needs

  • Changes in settlement types and density of population, with the increasing pressures that come with increased residential density.
  • Forecast changes in population – recent trends in Western Australia will usually indicate an increase in population (particularly in urban, regional and growth areas) and ‘ageing’ of the population in terms of age groups.
  • Decreasing private back-yard sizes as land sizes decrease and housing sizes increase or multiple units/apartments are developed on single sites.
  • Increasing pressure of community expectations for open space:
    • people moving from urban to regional or rural areas often ‘take their expectations with them’
    • perceived inequity in established areas when compared to new subdivisions in the same municipality
    • expectations not being met when open space is developed and maintained at a higher level by a developer than what a council is able to achieve once the open space is handed over to the local authority.
  • Resourcing pressures on local government for management and maintenance of open space and the perceived ‘cost shifting’ by other levels of government and land management agencies.
  • The opportunity to maximise use of community public land and infrastructure such as schools.
  • The implications of community use of land reserved for other primary purposes such as road and railway reserves, waterway corridors.
  • Greater awareness of policy that insists on ‘no net loss’ of open space as population grows – this awareness also includes the understanding that open space is ‘alienated’ if it is built on, fenced off or allocated for the exclusive use of a specific group to the exclusion of the community.
  • Changing sport and recreation preferences and participation trends, particularly the diversification of activity and increasing popularity of informal/casual participation.
  • Urban design initiatives that have challenged the definition of open space to include spaces such as civic squares, hard paved forecourts, promenades as well as areas of parkland.
  • Design guidelines such as “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design” and “Healthy by Design” that address issues of safety such as the provision of lighting in and around open space.
  • Importance of biodiversity values.
  • Increasing attention to recognising and protecting indigenous cultural heritage values and other heritage classifications (either through state or local government heritage protection provisions) of open space and features within open space.
  • Need for alternative management strategies regarding collection and use of water including reduction of use of potable water wherever possible, alternate approaches to irrigation of green space and landscape, use of drought tolerant grasses and plant species, treatment of storm water, development of wetlands, sewer mining for irrigation.
  • Increasing awareness and pressure for alternate and active forms of transport – this is placing pressure on governments to provide safe and connected pathways, quality and efficient public transport, etc. These measures will influence a decreasing incidence of the use of valuable open space for car parking.
  • Greater interest in community gardens/edible landscapes/food production in communities and the diverse ways that this issue can be addressed in open space and other public land/facilities.
  • Emphasis on social contact, connectedness and sense of belonging.

Useful resources

Page reviewed 07 September 2023