Wedged between the red dusty land and the vast blue sky central Australia’s harsh arid environment, the remote indigenous community of Wilora is small and far from everywhere. The summers are long and hot, and the winters cold and dusty. But the residents of Wilora are engaged in a plan to improve their community, make its public spaces more liveable, make it something they are proud of.
Landscape Architects from ASPECT Studios were fortunate enough to visit Wilora for a week in late 2016 and assist with stage one of this project – a park and green spaces around the community meeting area in the centre of town and along the main street.
The idea for the project initially came through a community planning process with the Central Land Council’s (CLC) Community Development Unit. Under this process, the community plans and prioritises broad benefit projects with money they received as compensation from the compulsory leases the government took over the community during the Intervention.
“It would be good to have a place to sit outside and tell our stories,” local resident Gregory Corbett says when asked about the motivation behind the landscaping project.
Through the CLC, the community engaged local social enterprise Arid Edge Environmental Services (AEES) and a lengthy process of discussion and consultation refined the community’s ideas to settle on landscaping of public spaces to increase shade and reduce dust around the community. Alice Springs based Clarsen and Clarsen Landscape Architecture were brought in to develop designs, and eventually oversee on ground works – the community’s vision started to take shape.
“It was really important for us to ensure that the community was leading the design process and involved at every step of the way,” says AEES Manager Alex McClean when reflecting on the process. Drawing on the influential work of Paul Pholeros’ Health Habitat method, AEES and Clarsen and Clarsen used a ‘no survey without service’ approach, running small gardening projects throughout the consultation process, involved community members in site assessment activities, and designed hard works with local materials for replicability.
The success of this project rests with many individuals with a range of skills. It was guided by thoughtful spending and considered community consultation – the total cost of the project from engagement, consultation, designing and installing was a mere $23,000 for a community park.
A key aspect of the project’s rollout was the use of local labour for the construction phase.
“We are all so proud of our boys, they are working really hard,” local resident and health worker Rebecca Numina told us, watching the team of local men working on the project. Rose Davies, Architectural Designer, ASPECT Studios agrees: “Design and construct is fantastic on small scale projects – it proved more engaging for the community, the designers and the local workers.”
The social and health benefits of landscape are being increasingly recognised, not only in regional towns and cities, but also in remote locations across the globe. This project in Wilora shows how local knowledge of the environment and culture combined with a focused design process, can be a means for communities to address the issues they face and build stronger, healthier communities.
“This is the true gift of landscape architecture – to bring communities together, offer better environments and celebrate nature.” Elspeth Reddish, Senior Landscape Architect, ASPECT Studios.