Fae Sarshoghi and Anna Kelderman discuss the goals and achievements of Leederville Connect, highlighting the power of rich community engagement programs, successful developer partnerships, appropriate project funding, and strong collaborations with local government.

Fae Sarshoghi continues her series of long-form interviews on Inclusive Placemaking with this generous, comprehensive and insightful discussion with specialist engagement consultant and Chair of the Leederville-based ‘Town Team’, Anna Kelderman.

Getting to know Leederville Connect

Fae: Tell me about Leederville Connect. How has it changed since your involvement, and what might the neighbourhood be like without it?

Anna: Leederville Connect is a civil society organisation. It started 15 years ago with a focus on boosting local businesses facing economic challenges. The businesses united to inject vibrancy into the area by organising events. Later on, these evolved into art-related projects, such as wall murals and graphics.

Over time, we expanded our scope beyond businesses, driven by a desire to improve our area and address societal gaps often overlooked. When I joined Leederville Connect, it was a fully functioning organisation, looking at the bigger picture of places.

At the time, the people involved shared a commitment to prioritise the creation of inviting community spaces over strict adherence to planning regulations or focusing solely on running businesses.

This dynamic mix of individuals is now divided into different groups, including a central committee (of which I serve as the chair), and subcommittees for design, neighbourhood, business, activations, and communication. This differentiates us from many other Town Teams, where groups typically attempt to handle all these aspects simultaneously.

Leederville Connect has now evolved to run a diversity of town activation projects. Determining what Leederville would be like without us is not easy. Many of our accomplishments may not be immediately obvious to a casual visitor or local resident in Leederville.

Considering these less visible achievements, how do you measure your success?

As a centre, Leederville continues to perform well. Currently, we’re collecting data on our visitors – who they are, how long they stay, and their spending habits. These metrics help us track foot traffic and economic contributions. However, measuring the growing enjoyment and comfort of Leederville is a challenge that we’re actively addressing.

Our social infrastructure framework’s criteria prioritise inclusivity and welcoming various groups, reflecting the ideas of creating a safe and inviting space that promotes wellbeing. This perspective aligns with our vision for Leederville, and the projects we support aim to foster these outcomes. While it may take time to see these results, we’re actively monitoring our progress.

We’ve been successful securing developer partnerships, project funding, collaborating with the local government, and fostering more community dialogue. These are the indicators that keep us on track. Winning an award for place governance (Place Leaders Asia Pacific) was undoubtedly a positive sign as well.

Our initiatives extend beyond personal interest. We’re committed to making a genuine impact. Others are taking us seriously as well through partnerships and collaborations with universities and organisations like the Heart Foundation.

Visible achievements

What are some of the organisation’s achievements that you are most proud of?

Narrative project  

We have aimed to reveal Leederville’s rich history, from its Indigenous Whadjuk Noongar origins as a meeting place along waterbodies to its early colonial history, including the establishment of a school, post office and police station, through to the disruptions caused by the construction of the freeway. This Leederville narrative attempts to address our aspiration to become a welcoming urban village.

Design Resources Toolkit  

Developed by the design subcommittee, this toolkit focuses on the character and spaces in Leederville. It provides valuable insights to developers into Leederville’s urban design. Given the area’s substantial development potential, this resource is vital to ensure thoughtful and context-sensitive development.

We must give credit to the City of Vincent, for supporting our efforts while respecting our autonomy. Our work complements their traditional planning efforts by focusing on the interface between the private and public realm, addressing the often-overlooked aspect of the public’s experience.

The private realm is typically dealt with through local design guidelines, while the public realm can be influenced by disruptive factors such as traffic engineering for road upgrades or front-end parking for businesses. The design toolkit is a valuable and replicable resource, especially in re-planning main streets in older areas like Leederville.

Social Infrastructure Study  

Based on a developed criteria for positive outcomes, this helped initiate discussions with several developers who had expressed interest. They recognised the benefits of our collaborative approach, viewing us as a community group focused on improvement rather than opposition. This collaboration has been mutually beneficial, with one of the first developers incorporating our suggestions into their approved project.

Success at a smaller scale

Five years ago we advocated to transform Newcastle Street from a one-way street with a central raised median into a pedestrian-friendly space. This change in street design encourages cars to treat it as a shared zone, even without any signage suggesting it.

Another success story is the introduction of six parklets, repurposing former car parking spaces along the main street. These spaces are now being adopted by business and activities. Leederville Connect’s persistent efforts, along with our encouragement of businesses to free up parking spaces, have been substantial in achieving this. People may be enjoying these improvements without necessarily realising why.

Power of partnership: community, developers and government

What are the main challenges of negotiating interests of the community, developers and the local government? How do you overcome them?

Collaboration among these parties is vital, benefitting everyone. Developers rely on local government and the community, while the community looks to both developers and local government for support. Local government needs acknowledgment of this interdependence. However, there are limitations on their engagement with developers due to legislative constraints, and they often focus solely on planning matters.

Fostering a strong community–local government relationship is crucial, with the community taking the lead in initiating conversations. This has been our approach. It’s essential to clarify that our collaboration with developers isn’t just about assisting them, but also ensuring outcomes for the community.

In your interview with Dr David Galloway, he explains how infill is not only about buildings but also considerations about technology, culture and more. How is this idea incorporated into the work you do?

As a planner, I’ve worked on projects involving bonus density and height concepts. It’s reasonable to create frameworks that exchange community benefits for higher density. However, in Leederville, our in-depth analysis of what was lacking enabled us to present the City of Vincent with a data-driven social infrastructure study, which has influenced their precinct plan to incorporate these community benefits. Consequently, the City’s structured plan now aligns with the efforts of Leederville Connect.

While fulfilling their governance responsibilities, the City values our expertise and can seamlessly incorporate the significant amount of information we share with them into their planning. We collaborate closely to ensure that our efforts mutually reinforce each other.

One impactful initiative is the User Experience Report, along with the second phase, UX2, including projects with university and organisational partnerships, extending beyond typical community group scope.

For example, our local food project is working toward formal partnership with a university and organisations like the Heart Foundation (Healthy Active by Design). Backed by our research, we’re exploring the utilisation of space in Leederville for local food production, a concept that developers may not usually propose. These initiatives hold significant potential for Leederville’s future.

Governance – challenges and opportunities

How did Leederville Connect determine that the Town Team Movement was the appropriate form of governance and direction to pursue?

We’re probably a historical anomaly because Leederville Connect predates the Town Team Movement, and some of its members initiated the movement. There’s a virtuous loop between them, leading Leederville Connect to adopt the Town Team concept.

From a governance perspective, starting a Town Team is a practical choice due to its resources and community-building methods. They offer valuable assets like project databases and accessible publications for members, providing ample support for initiatives.

For newly formed groups seeking guidance, the Town Team Movement is a valuable resource. They offer practical examples and tools for action ranging from $200 activations to $40,000 carnivals, and maintain a rich project database from across Australia.

Does the local council provide any financial support?

The City of Vincent strongly supports Town Teams, with six operating in its eight major town centres. These include the Beaufort Street Network in Mount Lawley, Leederville Connect, the Mount Hawthorn Hub, Northbridge Common, North Perth Local, and the Pickle District in West Perth.

The city offers an annual grant covering expenses like insurance. Last year, we used it for furniture and festoon lighting for nighttime events. This year, we’re applying for a grant to support an Indigenous yarning project, promoting inclusivity for the Aboriginal community in Leederville.

Additionally, the city has an annual events funding round, which we use to organise various events. While this financial support helps cover the costs of the visible aspects such as activations and events, the volunteer efforts are directed towards the less visible aspects, such as the user experience initiative. It may take some time for the results of this initiative to become evident.

Beyond funding, what else do we need to see more groups like Leederville Connect?

Money is the simple answer, but not the key factor. Capacity matters too. Leederville Connect’s success stems from our community’s strong professional backgrounds, financial stability, and relevant capabilities. We have the capacity to undertake these projects.

It’s relatively easy to address these matters from the ivory tower of Leederville. However, in disadvantaged or undereducated areas, building capacity is complex. Simply creating a sponsored role won’t suffice; you need community-wide involvement, which requires a group of people with capacity. This raises systemic issues like affordable housing, employment opportunities, access to quality education, and concepts like universal basic income to enable participation without financial strain.

The challenge of capacity is significant, requiring local governments to be willing to sponsor such initiatives and embrace community influence. This varies among local governments. Some trust their community, while others believe that community members are not at all capable of making complex decisions for themselves.

Local governments should create space and opportunities, if not fully fund these initiatives. Organisations like the Town Team Movement are helping local governments build capacity and support these exercises, involving time, skills and financial resources.

Here, we’re working on a housing project to provide affordable options. Recognising the need to provide housing for people who otherwise couldn’t afford to live in Leederville, we’re striving to determine the right balance for our community.

What are the primary challenges in advancing Leederville Connect, and how does your team tackle these challenges?

The investment of time and effort, primarily relying on substantial volunteer contributions. While local councils have place managers, they often face limitations within the government framework, preventing them from engaging with developers or brokering deals due to potential conflicts of interest.

Therefore, the idea of having dedicated individuals or a group developing the local area structure is quite exciting to me. Securing sponsorship for these roles is crucial, with funding ideally coming from sources outside the local government.

Recently, we’ve been talking amongst ourselves about the possibility of creating a Leederville Board to oversee various aspects and compensate individuals or groups for their work, addressing the challenge of volunteer-driven efforts. Scaling these initiatives is the obstacle, but it’s been worthwhile for Leederville, especially given the expected amount of development in the area.

This approach allows us to carefully curate Leederville’s unique qualities while addressing its shortcomings. Achieving this balance is crucial, but many places may lack the capacity to do so.

Can developers get involved in initiating and funding place governance?

I believe that if it’s just one developer involved, it’s almost impossible to prevent it from becoming primarily a marketing exercise for them. However, a consortium of businesses or organisations has potential. Similar initiatives exist elsewhere. For example, the Department of Transport had a paid role at Hillary’s Boat Harbour to bring traders together, which was quite effective. In an ideal situation, traders would independently pool resources without state government involvement.

Developers can contribute to support these initiatives, but it’s crucial to keep them independent of local government control. Being tied to government regulations can inhibit progress. To truly succeed, flexibility is key. You should be able to collaborate freely with anyone without fear of jeopardising your job.

Inclusivity in Leederville

How do you ensure inclusivity in the vision for Leederville Connect?

We’ve been very conscious that Leederville is experiencing a shift towards a more homogenous population, especially with new apartment towers attracting predominantly affluent white middle-class residents. This trend might create discomfort and insecurity among more diverse groups in Leederville.

To address these concerns, we’ve conducted interviews with various community groups and individuals to better understand the current demographics of Leederville, including those we want to ensure are not excluded. One notable observation is the absence of Aboriginal people in Leederville, despite the cultural significance of the land, especially Lake Monger, which served as a meeting place for Aboriginal people before colonisation.

We have a specific project in progress to establish connections with our Aboriginal community and create a safer and more inclusive space, but this is just one of the groups we’re focusing on.

We also acknowledge that Leederville may be less comfortable for women, particularly younger women, at nighttime. We’re actively working to address this issue.

We’ve been proactive in collaborating with developers to advocate for social and affordable housing in new Leederville developments. While some promising outcomes are on the horizon, they have not been realised, and we feel the urgency to accelerate progress in this area.

Improving accessibility is another priority. Road surfaces and ramps need to be enhanced to accommodate those with mobility issues, making Leederville more user-friendly for everyone, including cyclists, scooter users, and those with disabilities.

We’re committed to inclusivity, and continuously explore mechanisms to engage with a diverse range of people in the community. Our yarning circle project attests to that. We actively seek input from young people too. We’re considering more innovative ways to engage with various groups, such as using the skate ramp in the middle of Leederville, as a platform for communication with younger groups.

We are dedicated to fostering a more diverse, inclusive and safe Leederville. Despite challenges, we are actively working on projects and initiatives to improve the quality of life for all residents and visitors.

What are the primary obstacles to engaging with a diverse range of community groups?

I draw from my experience beyond Leederville Connect. I think the reason why some people feel excluded in society more broadly is the reason why they don’t want to get involved. They don’t believe their voices will be heard. I believe that sometimes the broader exclusion of people leads to an almost self-exclusion locally.

To engage diverse groups effectively, offering modest compensation has proven successful. It enhances credibility and accessibility, particularly for those who may need time off work. For our Leederville yarning circle project, we’ve secured funding to compensate participants, creating an ideal environment for meaningful discussions. If successful, we may apply similar strategies for youth and cultural communities.

In a previous consulting role with the City of Vincent, engaged in strategic community visioning, we directly reached out to numerous organisations, including culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Despite one-on-one email outreach, the response rate remained low. This underscores the existing inclusion barriers, which should not deter us from trying.

Authenticity is vital in addressing exclusion. People can discern genuine intent, so approaching inclusion with sincerity is crucial. Groups that have felt excluded are attuned to whether actions stem from goodwill or ulterior motives.

From a woman’s perspective, what is your ideal vision for Leederville?

Most of my experiences, viewed through a female perspective, revolve around the idea of controlling space. When I find a place truly inviting and accommodating, it’s often because there’s a notable absence of power and aggressiveness.

Personally, I advocate for reducing the number of cars in Leederville, expanding pedestrian and seating areas that aren’t solely controlled by specific businesses. I envision places where people can sit without feeling confined to a particular establishment’s alfresco seating. This generosity of space is what makes me feel safer and more at ease, a quality I believe is lacking in Leederville. A significant part of this issue is the attempt to accommodate a high volume of cars in the area.

Improving public transportation and creating communal spaces is essential. A welcoming park with nearby cafes provides a space that people would comfortably use. Currently, there is a park near the freeway end of Oxford Street. It’s enclosed and doesn’t feel secure, which discourages people from using it. I don’t think women would ever feel safe in such a space, especially at night.

Another issue is the inappropriate behaviour of groups of men towards women. This is a complex problem without a straightforward solution. While creating more open, family-friendly spaces won’t entirely solve this issue, it can contribute to a more welcoming atmosphere that may discourage such behaviour. While I don’t have a definitive solution to this problem, I believe that providing more space is a step in the right direction.

Positive impact

What do you enjoy most about this work?

Personally, I find great satisfaction in this work. While we don’t have everything figured out, we’re consistently seeking ways to make Leederville a better place. We’re really thinking about and addressing deep-rooted issues like homelessness and creating a happier environment for children.

Leederville’s vibrant town centre is something we take pride in.

 We are able to experiment without the pressure of getting everything 100% right each time.

We have many positive signs of progress, with tangible successes and people actively engaging in discussions about our ongoing projects. This is what keeps me going.

It must be very rewarding to be part of something that’s making a real difference in the community.

When you encounter an organisation that wholeheartedly works toward positive outcomes, it exudes a sense of generosity and a contagious energy. An example is a group that operates in a similar vein as Leederville Connect, although they may not be officially part of the Town Team Movement. They’ve been remarkably proactive and positive within their neighbourhood about future development. It’s the kind of atmosphere that makes you want to get involved, where everyone is embracing the ‘yes’ part of the equation.

I know many community groups often organise themselves around a ‘no’ equation. However, there’s a distinct feeling of inspiration when a group’s focus is on action, collaboration, storytelling, community building, and the shared goal of making a place truly exceptional. Witnessing such efforts is something truly special. It’s akin to the warmth you feel when walking down the street with a smile and receiving smiles in return – it’s simply delightful.

Lessons learned

What lessons have you learned from Leederville Connect that you would like to share?

  1. Stay in touch with your local government for opportunities related to their plans and infrastructure improvements. Avoid making decisions in isolation. For instance, it can be beneficial to discuss ideas like parklet bump-outs or tree installations with the council. It’s easiest to replace an asset with something functional if you know that the asset is about to be replaced so money is already about to be spent.
  2. Try to keep on top of staff turnover at the local government level. Build a rapport with council staff to ensure open communication about potential departures.
  3. Prioritise efficient document management. We were fortunate to have someone organise our files and documents neatly into a shared drive. Now, when we apply for grants, we don’t have to start from scratch. This approach saves a tremendous amount of time and effort.
  4. Though it may seem impossible, try to persuade your local authority to consolidate related forms into a single document. This can significantly streamline and simplify the process.
  5. Review your communication strategy. Initially, as a small volunteer organisation, managing our own website and social media accounts proved to be overwhelming. However, we transitioned to a community-run page, akin to a neighbourhood or buy-nothing group. This shift has transformed it into a content-rich platform where the community takes the lead in generating various content, spanning from babysitters to local events. This has proven to be an exceptionally effective strategy.

Any last comments?

I would love for people to take a moment to explore the projects on our UX2 website and contemplate whether, in their own neighbourhood, they can envision a couple of transformative projects. Town centres often have a considerable amount of underutilised space, and this is an opportunity for change.

For example, one of our projects involves the Water Corp drain, a significant drainage easement that serves a practical function but cannot be developed in an extravagant way. However, we can enhance it through landscaping and transform it into a pathway. We’re actively advocating for this project. Similarly, there are small pockets of unused land scattered throughout every neighbourhood where a tree or a park bench could make a significant difference.

I believe that if people in various parts of the world took a moment to survey their own neighbourhoods, they might discover a small change they could make to enhance their surroundings, using spaces that are currently underutilised. It’s these small, impactful improvements that could truly be remarkable.

Fae Sarshoghi and Anna Kelderman

Anna Kelderman is a specialist engagement consultant from Boorloo (Perth). As Director of boutique engagement and planning practice Shape Urban, and Chair of the Leederville-based ‘Town Team’, Anna has embedded community empowerment and knowledge sharing into all aspects of her professional and civic life and is committed to shaping the future through democratic decision making. Passionate about equality, sustainability and civic inclusion, Anna is a Certified Practicing Planner and a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia and holds a Bachelors Degree in English with a focus on social policy and feminist studies.

Fae Sarshoghi is passionate about the interrelations of architecture and social sciences, with a focus on social sustainability and inclusive placemaking. Fae was born in Iran and spent much of her life there, where she practised interior design. Coming to Australia a decade ago, Fae worked in the interior fitout space for a few years and then started pursuing her passion in urban design while working on wayfinding and placemaking projects. Fae excels in analysing spaces holistically, integrating innovative practices into projects. Currently studying her Masters in Urban Design at University of Technology Sydney, her ultimate goal is to transform cities into harmonious and inviting spaces, where everyone feels connected, valued and welcome, while fostering a positive impact on the environment.

Photos: Courtesy of Leederville Connect