In areas subject to social and economic disadvantage where resources are scarce, the physical environment of the public realm is often identified as a place for investment by governments - a place where infra-structural improvements to the built environment, funded through government, may reap wider social rewards. In addition, specific social policy ambitions in Australia, within both state government and other welfare agencies, focus on social capital building and community strengthening initiatives. Yet the relationship between these crucial areas of government action - social welfare and community development, and the design of the built environment -is often disconnected.
This article describes an experimental pilot study for a prototype community engagement tool aimed at foregrounding the user in design for the public realm. The project, which will devise an innovative methodology for community consultation in areas of neighbourhood renewal and change, operates within the structure of a design studio at RMIT University School of Architecture + Design. The outcome - the Digital Map - is an interactive map website which acts as a mechanism for engaging people in the design of the built environment and the public realm, simultaneously providing a platform for social connected-ness and networking within the community. Embedded links to a repository of one-person film narratives, means that the map is an ongoing device for community participation: a transparent and open-ended alternative to the limitations of consultation through questionnaire, and a mechanism for building sustainable communities.
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