Carolyn Hendriks is an Associate Professor with a background in both political science and environmental engineering. Her work examines democratic aspects of contemporary governance, including participation, deliberation, inclusion and representation.
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All around us in our cities and towns are ‘dead’ spaces – unused and often unloved grassed areas, verges, and laneways. But what if the communities around those spaces could adopt them and transform them into something those communities wanted or needed, and could help tackle climate change as they go? That’s the thinking behind the ‘Stomping Grounds’ project involving Crawford School’s Associate Professor Carolyn Hendriks.
In mid-June, Carolyn and her team of neighbours, design professionals, and school kids that live down the street from her entered the “Remaking Lost Connections An ideas Competition” an initiative of the ACT Chapter of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects in partnership with the National Capital Authority, the ACT Environment Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate, and the City Renewal Authority. Their project took home the $10,000 first prize.
The winning team also included Jennie Curtis (Landscape Architect), Barbara Payne (Landscape Architect), Chris Curtis, Sophie Heinsohn and Sam Heinsohn.
The competition invited interdisciplinary teams to explore issues around climate change through retrieving or re-inventing ‘lost connections’ in Canberra’s cultural, natural and built environments. Teams were encouraged to include a mix of design and planning professionals, social scientists and students.
Speaking to this week’s Policy Forum podcast, Associate Professor Hendriks said her team’s idea was giving people agency in deciding how unused spaces in their community might be used, and in doing so opening up ways for community engagement in tackling climate change.
“Our team really wanted to look at both the social and democratic connections, and of course, the broader theme being climate change – how can we think about connectivity as the city adapts to a changing climate?” she said.
“A big element of tackling climate change is community resilience, being able to have some sort of agency and that people can contribute themselves.”
Associate Professor Hendriks said that how the spaces were used would be a decision for the communities that use them – they might choose a community pizza oven, a children’s play area, community garden, or even an urban forest.
“Stomping Grounds are under-used or neglected public spaces that citizens claim in the city. Think about the dead spaces on our verges, at the ends of our street – they are sites of potential connectivity, sites where people who live in the area might want to meet to grow things or have a conversation.”
The judging jury, which was chaired by internationally renowned urban and landscape designer Adrian McGreggor, described the winning team’s idea as “transformative and transferable.” The jury concluded: “The term ‘Stomping Grounds’ provokes multiple meanings that are subversive, creatively destructive and even reveals the potential to confront the realities of European occupation (settlers and their cattle stomping over the fragile landscapes). This creates an opportunity for dialogue.”
With the project, Associate Professor Hendriks and her team are also hoping to reduce bureaucratic barriers to use verges and empty spaces around cities more effectively.
“What we wanted to capture with our proposal is that there are lots of citizens out there that want to do something in their local neighbourhood. And at the moment, when communities want to do this sort of thing they confront what they see as a lot of bureaucracy and urban planning red tape. These can stifle community energy.
“As part of the Stomping Grounds idea, if a citizen group was to initiate something, the approach would be more one of co-design. The ACT Government is working more and more towards this approach.”
Associate Professor Hendriks’ team is now committed to investing the $10,000 prize into a pilot project.
“We need a group of citizens who want to do this – to become stompers. One idea is to approach community associations and social housing cooperatives, because we want to make sure that this is an idea that a diverse range of people can get involved in.”