14 September 2008

Kibble Park Plans

You will be aware of the invitation to comment on plans for the improvement of Kibble Park.
If you have not done so, and think it will help, check the plan at the council website and act quickly.

The following is a summary of one response that will be sent.

Eliza Street Closure.
I fully support he closing of Eliza Street and consider that doing so is essential to any redesign of Kibble Park. While local shopkeepers might be concerned about loss of parking adversely affecting trade, in reality the number of spaces lost would be insignificant for Gosford as a whole, and the resulting improvement to the park as an amenity, and an attraction, would more than compensate. Parking should be last, not first, priority in urban design according to leading contemporary thinking, particularly given coming changes in transport due to climate change pressures. As it is, there is rarely parking space to be had in Eliza Street at busy times.
Eliza Street as it is destroys the parks major attribute as a place of repose and relaxation. In fact the car park in the Master Plan, if not removed altogether cold be reduced in dimension to limit the amount of paved surface intruding into the park. An argument could be made to confine it to only handicapped and ‘pram’ parking to service the library. Gosford’s parking problems will not be solved by keeping half a dozen parking places in the park, whereas the park, if well designed, will considerably enhance the attractiveness of the town.

Kibble Creek
Another beneficial aspect of the Master Plan is the celebration of the original creek with its meandering water feature reminiscent of the original stream. This is important in terms of historical identity and recognises the natura flow and form of the land. Its positioning is dealt with later in these comments.

A children’s playground is an excellent addition to the park. However if built in the position indicated on the draft Master Plan it would dominate the park’s ambience to too greater an extent, and together with the car park would still essentially bisect the park and so undermine the open space quality that people like.
A more sympathetic location for it would be where the proposed water feature is indicated on the plan.
As the parent of a two year old child, I would find the location near William Plaza a more comfortable place as the Plaza would extend the sense of space around the playground.

Entrance and egress. (Creating an initial impression).
The entrance from William Plaza would work well with the playground on the left and a path leading ‘upstream’.
Access from the corner of Henry parry Drive and William Street fails now due to a barrier of palm trees, but would work well with them removed. The eye would then be drawn into the park to a ‘feature’ (perhaps a planting with strong verticals rather than the ‘sculpture’)

Moving the taxi stand towards William Plaza and closing Eliza Street, would improve the entrance from The Imperial Centre, which at present is a nightmare of cars, smokers, taxies and people waiting for transport. Perhaps taxis could wait in Mortimer lane with two pick-up and set-down spaces in William Street west of the Shopping Centre entrance.

If a car parking area is retained near the Library, access from Donnison Street will fail on aesthetic grounds.

More thought needs to be given to the points of transition to give Gosford’s central park a clear identity. Visitors need to discover an example of civic aspiration, not a ‘backyard’.

Kibble Café.
The Kibble Café is a problem for the park. It is poorly patronised and its training function does not integrate with public space requirements. Perhaps it would be better to move the service industry training to one of the many empty shops in Gosford. If a food outlet is required in addition to those already in the vicinity, an example of one that is well patronised can be found in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney where good quality takeaway food can be eaten outdoors.
The existing facility would be better utilized for functions that add to the ambience of the park and entail activities that would increase the types of usage. In particular, uses that would reflect a change in thinking towards knowledge and creative industries as being central to establishing economic viability in emerging economies globally. The Cultural Spaces and Places Report, currently in stage two with council, and the Cultural Plan identify two possible options.

1. Contemporary Art Resource Centre. This is a clearly identified priority for the CBD.
2. An extension to the Library to house the local studies collection, including space for displays of historical documents and images.

Both would function interactively with other park uses for regular activities and special events, as well as attract tourists.
The building could also incorporate an ‘urban screen’.

People understand the language of public space in terms of central park, civic square, town common, village green etc. and have associations evoked by those concepts. These reflect a need that people feel in Gosford which has no town hall, meeting rooms and places for common activities and civic assemblies.

In this regard I believe that Kibble Park would benefit from re-orienting the Library so that the main entrance was from the park. Incorporating the library more fully in the plan would be a positive measure, not withstanding its uncertain future, as it symbolically places culture and learning at the heart of the town, which is struggling to define itself.

I would suggest that it be re-oriented so that the entrance was on ground level in Kibble Park. At present the ‘back’ of the library is dead space and the entrance from Donnison St. is unattractive, and feels ungenerous. Lines of approach through the park would add both to a sense of active presence for the library and inclusion with the life of the park.

Central path.
While this might work in larger parks, such as Hyde Park in Sydney, the scale of Kibble Park does not suit such rigid geometry. While it would be useful in establishing unity in design and creating lines of passage, in the Master Plan the central line does not link items of significance. The path in Hyde Park, as an example, links the Archibald Fountain and the War Memorial, in Kibble Park the path links the unknown sculpture with an empty seating space.
Unless there is a clear vision for the sculpture, perhaps it would be better as a planting (Gymea Lilies?). A feature in that vicinity could be useful, particularly if it lifted the gaze.

Rather than a straight path, perhaps consideration could be given to a meandering path, echoing the stream and leading past or near the water feature.

Water Feature and Fountain.
Moving the fountain, with its 1970s brown bathroom tile surround, and replacing it with a different water feature is a good aspect of the plan.
Perhaps rather than relocating it in the park, it could be installed as a static sculpture on the forecourt of the Council building in Mann Street. This would enhance the Council building, which at the moment is uninviting, and the styles would be compatible. The theme of the fountain (family) would be appropriate to Council’s public relations objectives, as would a gesture to culture. Importantly Kibble Park would be less cluttered.

If the playground could to be located closer to the William Plaza/Mortimer lane corner, an ideal site for the water feature would be close to the site of the old Gosford wells. This would place it in an historically significant location and situate water, with its metaphoric links to life, centrally in the park in the heart of Gosford.

Consideration should also be given to the aesthetic quality of the water feature so that it could be of iconic significance for the town rather than just another suburban public space design element. An international sculpture/design competition would be a good way forward to achieve results as well as be good promotion for the town.

Exercise stations.
On a negative note, the inclusion of exercise stations is unnecessary and counterproductive.
They will entail maintenance and repair from vandalism as well as increase the risk of accidents. While the provision of these facilities on Council land is to be encouraged, perhaps it would be more practical to locate them at the waterfront alongside the walking/cycling/jogging track where they could be integrated with other exercise regimes.
As a gym member and exerciser, I think that after an initial burst of activity, the equipment would be under utilised and become a hangout for unenergetic youths. In addition, people using exercise equipment want a place to shower and change, and these are not included in the plan.
Further, they add unnecessarily to a sense of clutter.

The addition of more benches and tables is good, but care must be taken to ensure they are horizontal, unlike the bizarrely sloping picnic tables now installed.

William Street.
Retaining the covered wisteria walkway along William Street would be preferable to the all weather sails proposed.
The living wisteria is better ecologically and it provides a usage niche on a different and more intimate psychological scale to the rest of the park. Also it softens the ugliness of the Woolworth’s/Imperial Centre brick wall.

Drivers do not respect the shared road concept, and crossing to the park is hazardous even for able-bodied people. Perhaps extending the one-way system in Mortimer lane as far as the eastern end of the present Eliza Street intersection would help. If any parking must be kept in Eliza Street near the library, perhaps it could be restricted to ‘pram’ and ‘handicapped’ vehicles.

This would be of possible use if well designed, but should be of low priority, with potential vandalism issues.
I would be concerned about more humps in the ground when the natural slope from Donnison Street could be used (exercise stations deleted). I also consider that there would be advantages in moving the stream closer to the diagonal path that runs from the corner of Donnison and Henry parry Drive to where the underground stream is now. The path would then parallel the stream through the centre of the park passing to the south of the water feature (old Gosford wells).

The overall impression of the Kibble Park Master Plan is of unnecessary clutter despite a simplifying intention indicated by the closure of Eliza Street and the central walkway ‘spine’.
Local government plans often seem to try to please everyone (parents, exercisers, retailers, parkers etc.) with the effect that results are compromised and lack clear vision and a strong design statement. We are left with a malaise that afflicts many public space plans, of trying to fit in too much. Why Australians fear open space, other than as an opportunity to exploit, is a question for another time.

The idea of public space is changing. Some people want a civic square; a central park, an entertainment venue, a garden, a town common, a village green, a suburban playground. New ideas are coming from technology, such as Castell’s theory of the space of flows. We ask whether we want our experience to be inspirational, aspirational, or recreational.

Perhaps the answer lies in the vision we have for the future of the town, rather than in a list of wants based on present pursuits.

Open space is an asset with intrinsic value. It is place for tranquillity, repose, and reflection; a place to loiter without intent. It is in psychological terms, potential or transitional space, being flexible and undetermined. There is a feeling that the master Plan is over-determined, and as such will require future spending and remodelling.

Physical Context.
While the facilities and design are important, the flow between the park and its immediate and further surrounds is vitally important. This is difficult with Kibble Park as it is bordered by ‘dead zones’ - Henry Parry Drive, Donnison Street, Half of William Street and Mortimer Lane.

Outstanding features of Kibble Park are the views of the hills to the east and west.
More thought could be given to highlighting the lines of sight to these natural horizons. Interactive optical devices, sundials, sculpture and framing devices could be used to link the ground and the sky. The park needs to look upwards.

Kibble Park is a rare opportunity to set a vision for the town beyond simply its commercial function, important though that is. Alone that will not achieve a unique identity for the town, as we have seen.


Some information that might be of interest about two events that provided material upon which the above comments were based.

In March 2008 an open forum was held in Kibble Park. It was organised by Gosford Art Flux Forum and featured presentations by Professor Steffen Lehmann, Dr. Astra Howard, international artist Cida de Aragon and Professor Anne Graham amongst others.

Professor Steffen Lehmann is the Artistic Director of the ‘Back to the City’ project in Newcastle, a new biannual public arts festival about temporary interventions in public space. He is a German-born architect and urban designer and holds the Chair in the School of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Newcastle. He is Founding Director of the s_Lab Space Laboratory for architectural Research and Design (Sydney-Berlin).

As part of the event we conducted a psychography survey and mapping exercise where people were asked to mark the places to which they were most attracted on a large map of Gosford CBD.
From the results, it was clear that the eastern end of Kibble Park was the most valued place in town. Not one mark was placed on the western end. Without further research it would seem that green open space was desired while the paved, over-determined and cluttered western end held no appeal. The library itself had some positive hits.

In November, 2007, Sydney based artist Astra Howard brought her SPI Vehicle (a transparent booth with walls on which conversations could be written from inside and out) to Gosford city centre. Dr. Howard regards her artwork as action-research. She mostly works in public places where she can engage in “conversation” with people about things of interest to them.

She has worked in major urban centres in Australia and overseas, and also worked extensively with homeless people and other marginalised communities. She has adopted a social science methodology in her art practice with a goal of calling for greater recognition of the dynamic and interactive relationship formed between individuals and external urban environments – collectively envisioning a vibrant and vital public space.

The conversations that took place were documented.

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