Safeguarding the quality of public spaces can be a significant challenge for local governments. In Melbourne, the City of Yarra has developed a unique approach to improve liveability, engaging the community to inform the design of innovative smart technology solutions.

Yarra is an inner-city municipality which is home to a diverse community of about 103,000 people. Within the local government area, Victoria Street is one of its busiest precincts, which has historically been known for its diverse culture and vibrant dining and retail spaces.

More recently, a range of social challenges have impacted amenity and perceptions of safety in the area. In response to this, Yarra is delivering the Safe and Liveable Victoria Street Project, with funding by the Victorian Government’s Community Crime Prevention Program.

The project brings together the community, council and other stakeholders to work alongside each other to co-design a solution for the precinct.

It explores the use of integrated and complementary smart technologies, blending advanced lighting, specialist surface materials, light-in-the-dark wayfinding, and interactive lighting art installations.

The project aims to activate public spaces to build community confidence, get people excited about re-engaging within Victoria Street, and generate community, social and economic benefits for the area.

City of Yarra’s Night Time Lighting Walk, which highlights the hands-on community approach and demonstrates how the participants gained a better understanding of the impact of lighting on perceptions of safety.

Partnerships with industry

Yarra have collaborated with Arup on this project, leveraging their significant experience across similar initiatives around the world.

“We were impressed by Arup’s human focused approach to the study of lighting and perceptions of safety,” said Megan Turnley, Strategy and Transformation Lead at Yarra CityLab.

“Arup blends the human experience with the data and the technical components of lighting design – this aligns closely with Yarra’s smart city approach, which places people and our community at the centre of everything we do.

The project also showcases the environmental technologies of SmarterLite, a well-regarded designer and manufacturer of the world’s most advanced photoluminescent and solar illuminated signage and lighting systems.

Arup and SmarterLite have worked very closely throughout the project to date. Mrs Turnley said this was an element the team was really excited about for this project.

“Being able to bring together lighting specialists and smart technology specialists to work side-by-side and with the community will return the best outcomes,” said Mrs Turnley.

“Our project partners have the knowledge, commitment, community and industry expertise to really increase opportunities for Victoria Street.”

Both Arup and SmarterLite amended their usual approaches for this project, with SmarterLite exploring customisation of their product range.

Both parties state they’ve learned significantly from each other which is another key benefit to arise from the partnership approach.

Community engagement

Yarra engaged Arup to conduct a Community Night Time Lighting Walk which brought together council, business, Victoria Police and diverse community members of different cultures, age groups and walks of life.

The interactive workshop aimed to actively involve the community in the planning process of the project to enable a better understanding of how light impacts the way people use, engage with and experience Victoria Street at night.

The three-hour walk covered a 1km area within the Victoria Street  West Precinct, and throughout the hands-on event, participants learned about the lighting techniques used to improve perceptions of safety.

They worked together to prototype lighting designs and explore the range of lighting sources being considered for the project, including solar powered photoluminescent materials.

In delivering the Safe and Liveable Victoria Street project, it was critical to really understand and explore the space in real-time, in a lived experience with the people who are directly impacted by the current state and will be impacted by the interventions that are put in place as part of this project.

“One of the exciting parts about this approach is that the community insights and data we gathered on the night are being used to design the integrated lighting and smart technology concept for the project area,” said Mrs Turnley.

According to Mrs Turnley, the team at Yarra have actively sought to provide the community with a platform to share their unique and collective perspectives, confront the big issues, question assumptions and use their experiences as the basis of design.

This has facilitated meaningful discussion and enabled the community to actively contribute to the development process to inform practical and actionable solutions that address real needs within Victoria Street.

City of Yarra’s Night Time Lighting Walk, which highlights the hands-on community approach and demonstrates how the participants gained a better understanding of the impact of lighting on perceptions of safety.

Smart initiatives

A number of smart approaches will be used within the project to create a sense of community, intrigue and play for all ages. According to Mrs Turnley, the data and insights collected during the night time lighting walk have shown that the community wants:

  • To have warmer and more welcoming spaces that attract activity to the area
  • Consistent lighting levels and smoother lighting transitions
  • Vibrant and interactive lighting, creating a visible change to the area that is apparent to locals and visitors
  • Awareness and visibility to be ableto detect potential danger and environmental features
  • Layered lighting with minimal shadowing and more efficient  natural light are preferred

Yarra is now working to align the community’s insights with the suite of smart technologies. Concepts being investigated include colourful recycled glass surfaces to reinforce the direction of travel and provide a sense of play during the daytime; the strategic use of bio luminescent ground coverings; beacon and diffuser lighting to showcase community artwork; a photoluminescent art wall installation which will enable people to write temporary messages with their mobile phone light or anotherlight source; and smart signage and wayfinding materials.

In addition, smart sensors including Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and infrared, will be deployed to provide data on people’s engagement with the smart interventions, and their impact on the space.

Continuing the conversation

Yarra has continued to connect with the lighting workshop participants over the past few months, sharing with them photos and highlights from the night, the workshop report, and more recently a short video of the event.

A concept sketchbook is being produced in partnership with Arup and SmarterLite, with designs informed by data and themes from the workshop.

Following the delivery of the sketchbook, Yarra will go back to the community to get their input. Yarra is also currently working with local business and Yarra’s Youth Arts team around the photoluminescent art wall installation, to incorporate the smart lighting material with graffiti artwork.

One of the key intended outcomes of Yarra’s co-design approach is that the Safe and Liveable Victoria Street Project will address the real needs and values of the community.

In collaborating with broad stakeholder groups and ensuring the community voice informs the design, this project will work to reengage public spaces, improve perceptions of safety and create a sense of interaction and connectedness within the Victoria Street precinct.

For more information on this initiative, head to www.yarracity.vic.gov.au/the-area/smart-technology-and-innovation

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