Overcoming limited resources and legacy processes to make a better city centre

City-makers like Keegan Aplin-Thane (Urban Planner/Place Facilitator) at Palmerston North City Council are challenged to make progress on new city-making goals with limited resources and legacy processes.

Limited resources and legacy processes are a symptom of the values of the organisation changing. In this particular, case Keegan was overcoming city-making values which prioritised vehicle-oriented design of streets and allocation of space, and a high level of control over businesses use of public space. Now the Council’s new values prioritise the activation of public space by businesses and a more open-minded approach to how space is used. One particular change was the flexible use of public space (for parklets) as outlined in the PN City Centre Streetscapes Plan.

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The Project

An agile approach to policy development for flexible use of public space meant that the challenge of legacy processes could be overcome within weeks rather than months. Keegan and the Project Team followed a five-day design Sprint and a service design process facilitated by Urban Kin. Real world prototypes followed with early-adopters.

This sprint process meant that talking to customers and developing a customer centred view was critical from the first day and that stakeholders were engaged at milestones throughout the week. Urban Kin took the project team through a collaborative journey of creating and prototyping solutions. The proposed solution was a unique ‘platform plus’ approach to parklets supported by a ‘one-stop shop’ approval service. The solution allowed for customisation by businesses, and gave certainty from Council asset managers who have to approve and maintain assets in the city centre streets. The Sprint culminated in a demo day with stakeholders and customers who provided critical feedback on the prototype.

With the service prototyped, real-world experiments began with the first few businesses that wanted to host parklets. Using resources allocated for placemaking projects the team created new benchmarks for quality design and hassle-free execution of parklets in the city.

Through multiple iterations of the service Keegan has been able to continually improve how the service works within the simple framework. What was previously an area full of exceptions to legacy processes now operates smoothly.

Benefits

Focus

Now that the Parklet and Flex Space manual has defined processes and how resources are allocated Keegan can focus on other aspects of his Place Facilitation role. This includes other flexible and temporary uses of space.

Agility

The flexible approach to design and delivery has been enabled by the disciplined creation of a service and principles. Within this disciplined approach, it is easier for Keegan to innovate utilise his time on making progress rather than fighting against the organisation.

Network power

Keegan is able to demonstrate leadership in his area of expertise in national and international networks by talking about his learning on Linkedin and at industry events. Through many successful placemaking examples and raising the quality of public space experiments more people (who have avoided engaging in the past) are now joining the network of people working to make a better city.

Geoff Wilkinson