Social experiment doubles visitors to Garema Place as community weighs in on potential revamp
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Social experiment doubles visitors to Garema Place as community weighs in on potential revamp

Garema Place is far from the hustling Canberra city centrepiece it was intended to be - and once was.

Only 300 of the 10,000 people who pass by on any day actually stop for more than a few seconds, according to Street Furniture Australia.

A pop-up social experiment was completed at Garema Place, Canberra at the end of last year.

A pop-up social experiment was completed at Garema Place, Canberra at the end of last year.

But a recent social experiment found all it took for the number of visitors to nearly double was a simple yet quirky makeover, with scattered yarn-bombed trees, real lawn, painted pavement, vibrant lighting and moveable chairs.

The results have lead to calls for a revamp of the prominent but underutilised area.

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The #BackyardExperiment was organised by AILA and Street Furniture Australia, in collaboration with the ACT Government and In the City Canberra.

The #BackyardExperiment was organised by AILA and Street Furniture Australia, in collaboration with the ACT Government and In the City Canberra.

The 10-day pop-up park was organised by Street Furniture Australia, in partnership with the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) and the ACT government.

The green and colourful facelift, which included the added perks of free Wi-Fi and book shelves, also boosted the number of people who stayed in the area for 247 per cent.

And in case you're wondering, not one of the 60 moveable chairs went missing.

The project, undertaken late 2016, was shared on social media with the hashtag #BackyardExperiment.

They gave drab, grey Garema Place a complete facelift, by adding moveable furniture, colour, lighting, yarn bombs etc. to test if people used the space in a different way.

They gave drab, grey Garema Place a complete facelift, by adding moveable furniture, colour, lighting, yarn bombs etc. to test if people used the space in a different way.

Seeking to test the power of design and place-making in underused spaces, the organisers wanted to experiment with how the drab and grey space could be used.

The secondary aim to attract more people to Garema Place was a success, according to Street Furniture Australia marketing manager June Boxsell.

"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," Ms Boxsell said.

"The lighting and yarn wrapped trees created an environment that felt magical and safe, families really seemed to respond to that."

Before the experiment, locals described the space as "intimidating," "rough," and "tired." many of the dwellers were people experiencing homelessness, and were rarely families or seniors.

Over the 10 days, 631 per cent more children engaged with the area. Groups of friends almost doubled, couples grew by about four times and families between five and eight times, depending on the time of the week.

Owner of the nearby King O'Malley's pub, Peter Barcley, said during the experiment that the pop-up park boosted his business.

"It's transformed it [the area]," he said.

"People feel safe; they linger. They can have a cappuccino, buy a pair of shoes and just be in the space and it's uplifting."

A whitepaper on the project's results found there was an opportunity to liven up the CBD out of working hours, with suggestions including green landscaping, more furniture and better infrastructure.

The ACT government undertook a survey of those who visited Garema Place during the experiment and will analyse the feedback to consider improvements for the area in the near future.

Clare Sibthorpe is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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