Garema Place social experiment sees visitor numbers grow, report finds
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Garema Place social experiment sees visitor numbers grow, report finds

Is something as simple as street furniture and patches of grass enough to make more people hang around in Garema Place?

According to the findings of a recent social experiment in the area, the answer appears to be yes.

Foot traffic almost doubled in Garema Place during the eight-day experiment.

Foot traffic almost doubled in Garema Place during the eight-day experiment.

Photo: Supplied

The eight-day experiment - where movable furniture, grass, knitting around trees and lighting were installed in the area in October 2016 - saw visitor numbers almost double in that time.

Recent analysis from the experiment, which was carried out by Street Furniture Australia and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), noted the number of visitors increased by 190 per cent during the eight-day period.

Part of the installation saw the bases of trees be covered by knitting.

Part of the installation saw the bases of trees be covered by knitting.

Photo: Supplied
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The number of people who stayed in Garema Place also increased dramatically, rising by 247 per cent.

There was also a large jump in the number of children and families socialising in the area, with the number of children increasing by 631 per cent, while there were eight times as many families in the area on weekends.

AILA chief executive Shahana McKenzie said despite Garema Place being in the centre of Canberra, the space was only used as a walkway and not a meeting place.

"You wouldn't stop to eat lunch or catch up with mates there, you would just walk through there to somewhere else," she said.

"Public space is something that people understand when it starts to be taken away or it isn't maintained well."

The experiment was carried out with the help of the ACT government and was six months in the planning.

Ms McKenzie said while some of the ideas were inspired by similar installations in Sydney and Melbourne, it was the simplicity of the additions to Garema Place that was the biggest success.

"One of the things that we showed was that temporary and relatively low-cost installations could have a massive impact," she said.

"Just having grass and the movable furniture changed the way people interacted with the space."

While there were concerns before the program began that the movable furniture would be stolen, none of the 60 seats were removed from the area.

June Boxsell from Street Furniture Australia said there was a large increase in pedestrian traffic after dark.

"This transformation was particularly marked at night," Mrs Boxsell said.

"Garema Place is a bit of a hot spot for adult nightlife, but during the experiment we noticed a lot more families with young children playing in the park after dark."

During weekends, the number of children in the Garema Place increased by 780 per cent.

There was also a boost in retail traffic in the area, with store owners reporting an increase in sales during the eight days of the installation.

Ms McKenzie said due to the experiment's success, talks are underway for a potential permanent installation in Garema Place.

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

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