“Take action. Find a few like-minded mates and start something yourself. Don’t wait for others to afford you opportunity”: In Conversation with Valli Morphet, CEO CoDesign Studio

Ahead of her panel chat at our screening of The Experimental City, we ask CoDesign Studio CEO Valli Morphet how to enact community change and placemaking, and what role people versus councils need to take towards creating sustainable cities.

You recently became CEO of CoDesign Studio. What does CoDesign Studio do, and what community impacts do you strive to achieve?  

We are a purpose driven social enterprise that specialises in community-led placemaking, transformative place planning, creative engagement and play streets.

What does placemaking mean, what role does this play in creating a successful urban strategy, and what’s been your most successful placemaking project to date?

We are collaborative city makers, and love facilitating processes that connect citizens with each other, and building neighbourhoods that thrive. Our flagship program is The Neighbourhood Project, Australia’s largest community-led placemaking program. We recently launched our new ‘Guide to Community led Placemaking’ which is available open source on our website.

Part of your focus is making communities more cohesive and ‘resilient’ in just 90 days. How are environmental changes impacting the need for greater resilience, and what are some steps you recommend towards achieving this?

We love these words from Resilient Melbourne:

“Resilient communities know their neighbours. Resilient communities are informed and empowered, and understand how to self-organise, in good times and in bad.”

Community-led placemaking is a tool for fast-tracking community building – particularly in new communities such as urban redevelopment projects or greenfield areas. Nothing accelerates social connections like the process of working together. For a period of time, a group of individuals holds a common purpose, identity, and shared sense of accomplishment for having delivered their project for the collective good of others. Our Placemaking Fundamentals and Bootcamp training is the first step for redirecting communities on the pathway to resilience.

Why is green open space in urban settings so important, and what are some examples of simple greening projects which you have seen make a big difference?

Sometimes you need to just breath. I am lucky enough to live near the magical Edinburgh Gardens. This garden is my daily reset. I walk through it on the way to work at dawn, and then home through it again at night. I feel centred and connected to the universe when I experience this well-loved local place. Patting a local dog, listening to the dawn chorus, watching possums chasing each other in the trees, sitting on the grass; these are moments to treasure.

Melbourne has consistently been voted most liveable city in the world – a ranking which includes environmental initiatives. Does this mean we can ‘rest on our laurels’? Which city within Australia or abroad do you think provides a benchmark for liveability and urban planning?

City are things of wonder:  living, breathing ever changing multilayered complex systems. There so are many magical cities out there that I love dearly. Who cares where your favourite place ranks on the liveability ranking of the day?

Young people are typically left out of decision-making when it comes to urban development, with a recent study showing that two-thirds feel excluded from their city. With young people most vulnerable to our rapidly changing environment into the future, what are your top tips for getting involved in urban planning and environmental initiatives?  

Take action. Find a few like-minded mates and start something yourself. Don’t wait for others to afford you opportunity. As my awesome buddy Lucinda Hartley loves to say, “You can’t turn a parked car”. You are the future you have been looking for.

Some people would argue that it’s the role of local councils to create well-working, sustainable communities. Based on your experience, what is the recipe for creating best-practice sustainable communities, and what roles can individual members of the community play in this?

Mobilising civic leadership is an essential step in our collaborative city-making model. The ultimate goal of our placemaking processes is to enable people to lead the change they want to see in their local neighbourhoods, without dependency on Council support. I could spend hours waxing lyrical on this question, but instead I will let one of our project participants speak for me:

“At first it was just an idea I had to make use of under utilised land. Then I met more like-minded people who wanted to help, now we are an incorporated group and manage a whole community garden and workshop! I’ve never done anything like this before!” - Placemaking Project Participant

The Experimental City sees innovative thinkers planning for long-term sustainability thwarted by individuals stuck in the ‘now’. What can we learn from this film, and how can we avoid short-term thinking?

Porotype, test, iterate, iterate, iterate; my secret recipe for achieving systemic change.

Join us for a Q&A with Valli and fellow panellists Dr Paul Satur, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, and Dr Tanja Beer, Academic Fellow in Performance Design and Sustainability RMIT, led by Wendy Steele, Associate Professor in Cities, Sustainability and Planning RMIT.

This panel follows a screening of The Experimental City, 6.15pm Tuesday 16 October at ACMI, Federation Square. Book now via the ACMI website