Optimising development of public open spaces

The Forrest Research Foundation was established in 2014 to create a world-leading collaborative centre of research and scholarship. The foundation was made possible through one of the largest-ever philanthropic donations in Australian history, by Andrew and Nicola Forrest through the Minderoo Foundation. It aims to attract outstanding doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows to Western Australia and develop their potential to address the world’s most pressing challenges through research at one of Western Australia’s five universities. Forrest Scholars aim to make a difference to people’s lives by eradicating hunger, conquering disease, protecting the planet, developing new technologies and extending the boundaries of human knowledge. Here we profile some of these trailblazers.

How to optimise development of our open public spaces

Claire Doll is a Canadian applied economist undertaking a PhD in Western Australia, thanks to the support of the Forrest Research Foundation.

“Applied” means what it sounds like. Ms Doll is interested in how economic theory and analysis affects actual outcomes in what we like to refer to as the real world.

The real world she is most concerned with is that of the physical environment, land use and agriculture; which includes parks and greenery generally.

In a state like Western Australia, where water conservation is an aspect of daily life that concerns most of us in one way or another, Ms Doll is working on the development of a framework that will optimise the development of public open spaces.

Claire Doll

How do we provide the kind of spaces that people will enjoy and use, without wasting water or providing an unsustainable financial burden for local governments?

Studying and understanding public expectations and willingness to accept change is a vital part of her work. She has already found broad acceptance of the idea that sustainable parks might well need to change their appearance. These changes could include adding more native vegetation, or relinquishing the watering of some grassed areas of parks.

There is an understanding, especially in Western Australia, that water shortage is an issue that matters. It requires adjustments of behaviour and of attitudes.

There is an understanding, especially in Western Australia, that water shortage is an issue that matters. It requires adjustments of behaviour and of attitudes.

Watering when the sun is at its hottest or setting sprinklers to operate automatically on rainy days does not make sense. Nor does watering pavements and driveways. Many, if not most, are aware of this and aim to do better.

For Ms Doll, King’s Park presents a good model. The public has become used to its combination of different types of open space, shades and styles of green, indigenous trees and flowers; and flocks there every weekend.

Western Australians and their visitors embrace a park that sustains its popularity by making adjustments and conserving creatively. These design principles could be applied more broadly across local and neighbourhood parks.

While some sporting spaces might still require a good deal of irrigation water to maintain the playing fields of the cricket and football, which are such a strong part of Australian culture; other open spaces might well acquire a greater botanical mix.

Ms Doll, who prefers the outdoors to the indoors, wants to see climate-resilient parks that still meet the needs of the public. Parks are a public good, but maintaining them in ways that are both acceptable and affordable requires creative enquiry and research.

If we are really smart, we can save money and resources and enhance the beauty of our cities at the same time.

Originally from Vancouver, the beautiful city in the Canadian far west, she has fallen in love with Perth; and swears that she actually enjoys temperatures of over 40.

Queensland, a rival to Western Australia for sunshine, boasts that over there the weather is “beautiful one day, perfect the next”. According to Ms Doll, “Perth is perfect all the time”.

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