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Your Voice, Your City: Urban Conversations

Amelia Chandler reports from the Department of Infrastructure and Planning’s Urban Conversations series where “guerilla” versus “strategy” debate lead the agenda.

Your Voice, Your City: Urban Conversations


July 8th, 2013

With charismatic broadcaster James O’Loughlin at the helm as Master of Ceremonies, the NSW Department of Planning & Infrastructure (DP&I) presented the second ‘Urban Conversation‘ talk in Sydney.

urban conversation NSW DPI angel place

Urban Conversations, Angel Place

The lively panel, consisting of Jane-Frances Kelly (Grattan Institute), the grass roots activists Jason Roberts (Better Blocks Project, Texas) and Dave Meslin (Toronto Public Space Initiative, Canada) entertained and inspired the audience, providing more (welcome) laughter than we’ve come to expect from a planning event.

Jason Roberts

Jason Roberts (Better Blocks Project, Texas)

The evening put forward some inspiring ideas, even if the “take it into your own hands!” messages espoused by the North American speakers was strangely at odds with the notions of ‘planning system’. It was an opportunity for the Department to promote the white paper for the new planning system and throw down the gauntlet – challenging the audience to get active and involved.

Dave Meslin Toronto

Dave Meslin (Toronto Public Space Initiative, Canada)

Jane-Francis Kelly described how Sydney was failing to operate effectively as a city. While working well for four million or so residents who live at the centre of the metropolis, the ‘other half’ in the outer areas are highly vulnerable in times of economic downturn: at risk of missing out on access to jobs, education and affordable housing. 

better block before and after

 Dallas’ first complete Better Block street project. 


 Kids getting involved with street art during a Better Block project in Dallas Texas.

Jason and Dave injected colour and creativity into the evening, explaining their roles in generating grass-roots improvements in their respective communities – activating dead public spaces and reconnecting residents.  Both TEDx veterans had used blogs, websites and good old face-to-face contact to agitate for change. Between them they have a track record of ingenious projects including guerilla gardening schemes, ‘pop-up’ street makeovers, fence removal projects and rogue park embellishments.

toronto public space

 Toronto Guerrilla Gardening 

By working outside the conventions of governance structures, both men have empowered their communities and facilitated a two way conversation between government and people. An outcome which Steven McIntyre (Deputy Director General of the Department) was keen to promote in his comments at the end of the evening.

Watch the Jason Roberts address on IndesignLiveTV.

Planning NSW


(Hero Image: James O’Loughlin (Master of Ceremonies) and Jane-Frances Kelly (Grattan Institute)

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