Public spaces cannot be created or managed by local councils or landowners alone. How often do we see empty pocket parks and plazas with a lot of investment and little use? How often do we see dead plants along a main street, rubbish-filled planters and broken glass on footpaths because the users don’t feel ownership of the place?
Small Shift is a social enterprise that responds to this in two ways: shifting the mindset of the community by supporting them to create or improve small public spaces; and hiring socio-economically excluded individuals to service major public spaces.
Our multi-faceted approach to city-making is based on three principles: citizen-led, inclusive and replicable. Small Shift specifically focuses on the following opportunities that are waiting to be unlocked.
Community Self-organisation: Often effective and easy improvements to the public space such as book shares and pot plants don’t get implemented because there is nobody to look after them periodically. People have innate ability to self-organise and generate creative solutions; they just need resources, leverage, and support to get things started. Peer-to-peer support is also critical for people to have the confidence and resilience to initiate and implement ideas.
Underutilised Public Space: Many public space initiatives are driven by local governments whose knowledge of how public spaces are used is limited, compared to a local resident who walks by the underutilised space every day. Residents involved in the design and implementation processes are likely to see the public space as an ‘extension of their sphere of influence’, and unlikely to feel dissociated from its care and maintenance.
Desire for Social Connection: A sense of belonging and social trust is fundamental to wellbeing, but Australians are spending more time alone. 24% of all households in 2016 were one-person households. Other groups who experience social isolation include: single parents living with dependent children, people with limited English, older people and people living with disabilities. Socially isolated people are often left out of city-making.
Untapped Human Potential: Meaningful work – whether paid or volunteer – increases wellbeing and social trust. Long-term unemployed people are more likely to have mental, behavioural and physical health issues. Both long- and short-term unemployed people cite too many applicants as the main difficulty in finding work. Current expenditure on Newstart Allowance is $8.4 billion per year.