Property Australia

How do we measure the magic of place?


Australians understand the value of great places, but we need a new language to engage communities as our cities change. Enter the Property Council’s new research project, Creating Great Australian Places.

Hot on the heels of last year’s Creating Great Australian Cities report, the Property Council is commissioning new research to unpack the secrets of great Australian places. And the audience at the Future Cities Summit gained the first sneak peek.

“Place is now recognised as a key ingredient of city competitiveness,” said Dr Tim Moonen, managing director of The Business of Cities and co-author of the Great Australian Cities report. But, alarmingly, not one place in Australia makes the top 20 of the world’s most memorable.

Moonen’s research last year, commissioned by the Property Council and co-authored with Professor Greg Clark, found that the changing character of Australian cities risked locking in us in to a “low-liveability, low-amenity” future.

“The brand of most Australian cities is well ahead of the product – and this creates all sorts of missed opportunities,” Moonen said.

Now, the Property Council is diving deeper into this research to understand the ‘X Factor’ of great places.

“One of the great myths of placemaking is that [places] arrive by ‘happy accident’,” Moonen said. Great places demand “deliberate and intentional steps” at different points of the city-building cycle – and this is especially true for young cities like those in Australia. Leaving place to chance risks a “slide to low-liveability, low amenity cities,” Moonen warned.

Place is an important ingredient because it “creates stickiness for talent”, but it is also central to people’s sense of identity and belonging, Moonen added. “Place isn’t just something to enjoy. It is not just an enhancer of lifestyle.” It is central to how our cities perform, he said.

Moonen talked about common ingredients in great places: a shared vision, a positive psychology around city life and change, and recognition that great places deliver many benefits.

Great cities like London undergo a continual “reurbanising” process, Moonen argued. Creating a great place is “not a one-off endeavour”. Instead it is a “constant process” and even those places we once treasured, like La Rambla in Barcelona, can suffer unintended consequences when not carefully curated. “This is the journey that all cities are going through.”

But not all places are created equal, said Kate Meyrick, chief executive officer and managing director of Studio THI.

Meyrick and her team have been “inadvertently running a great places lab” for the last decade. During this time, Studio THI, better known as The Hornery Institute, has asked more than 10,000 people to identify the features that make a great place.

Meyrick said Australians are “very literate” about what makes a great place. And they can express it at any scale – from cities to rooms. At one end is awe-inspiring natural beauty – what Meyrick called “big nature”. At the other end is highly-curated cultural experiences – or a “big day out” with family and friends. In the middle is the “urban palette”.

People are very specific on what makes a great urban palette, Meyrick said. And when people are pressed to identify a great place they “default to cities”. Meyrick’s research has identified several key ingredients in these great places. They are effortless, friendly, individual, alive and have “bloody good coffee”, she said.

People are also very clear on what they don’t like. Transport and traffic feature highly, followed by cost and lack of things to do.

Australians are looking for “new city signatures” that reinterpret old places for new generations. They should be “distinctive” with “unique brands” that “make them stand out”. In other words, people want places with a unique personality.

Measuring the magic of place is challenging, but this is what the Property Council’s research intends to do, says chief executive Ken Morrison.

“Our research into what makes a great Australian city resonated with people, which is hardly surprising as 90 per cent of Australians live in urban areas.

“People understand that cities are places of opportunity – employment, educational, cultural and lifestyle. But the brand of cities is better than our product. We need a new dialogue to engage everyone in the conversation about how we shift to high amenity, high liveability places,” Morrison says.

“This project aims to create a language that everyone can use – industry, government and the community – so that we can take those deliberate and intentional steps towards great places.”

Keep an eye out for the launch events for Property Council’s next report, Creating Great Australian Places co-authored by The Business of Cities and Studio THI, in September supported by National Launch Partner Urbis.