Practice-based Research

Placemaking Clarence Valley

Placemaking is a collaborative and Country-centred approach to improving the built and natural environments of neighbourhoods, towns and regions. It involves people collectively reimagining and reinventing public spaces, strengthening the connection between the places they share, and more broadly Country. While placemaking carries colonial distinctions of public and private space, its decolonising potential lies in its core aim of consensus-building and collectivism around spaces and places, a significant world view in Indigenous Knowledges. It plays between blurring such binaries, whilst still navigating the complexities of current day regulatory and land use hurdles.


The 2019-2020 bushfire season in Australia was characterised by its unprecedented scale and severity of destruction, devastating vast swathes of Country, communities and built environments, and marking one of the most intense bushfire seasons in the nation’s history. For many communities this catastrophe was compounded by the Covid-19 global pandemic, the 2022 Northern Rivers floods and ongoing bushfires since then. Placemaking Clarence Valley was achieved through the Fire to Flourish program, which uses a community-led, strengths-based approach to build resilience to disaster.


This project responds to increasing evidence that communities that have greater social and civic connectivity respond better to catastrophic events. A closeness and relationship with ‘place’ are what enable communities to self-organise and solve problems in a crisis. Such relationships affect social equity, which also influences social resilience. A ‘placemaker’ – as distinct from an architect, designer, planner or expert – is inclusive of all who make and sustain the quality of human settlements, including the people and communities who live in a place. ‘Placemaking’ is therefore an important ingredient of resilience-building processes, growing social networks, capabilities and long-term resilience, through both the process and the designed outcomes.


Project Location

Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr, Yaegl Country (Clarence Valley – NSW)


Lead Community Team (Fire to Flourish Clarence Valley)

Roxanne Smith (Wiradjuri/Ngemba), Cara MacLeod, Pamela Denise and Faye Neil


Lead Research Team (Department of Architecture)

Professor Mel DoddNikhila Madabhushi, Robert Lees


Supporting Community Members (Clarence Valley LGA)

Shakti Mudra, Leonie Pankhurst, Kaya Jongen, Wesley Fernando (Gamilaroi) and Jessica McPherson


Contributing Monash Architecture Students

Lilli James, Chantelle Lappin, Athiqah Ummi Salma, Andrew Gregory, Jessica Hordern, William Cupido, Ashley Ho, Hayden Brown, YeeWen Chuah, Huei Sze Yeap


Contributing Monash Urban Planning Students

Yuk Chun Kwong, Daniel Mersin, Sam Granger, Jason Lee, Ti Ju Yang, Mohanapriya Madurai Jawahar, Kiana Nabighods, John Momis


Placemaking on Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl Country


Working under a research-led service learning model, the research team partnered with Fire to Flourish Clarence Valley as part of their ongoing recovery processes. Four communities in Woombah, Glenreagh (Orara Valley), Nymboida and the Blicks River communities of Tyringham, Hernani, Dundurrabin (Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl Country / NSW) worked alongside the research team and Master of Architecture and Master of Urban Planning and Design students to bring diverse locally-led placemaking ideas to life. This included the design and facilitation of field-based co-creation workshops where local people were invited to share and develop ideas for places and spaces that contribute to broader resilience building initiatives in their locality. As this research-led studio contributed to a live program, the engaged communities have been provided with Strategic Placemaking Frameworks that reflect and synthesise the communities’ visions for building resilience. These key outcomes have aided community groups and individuals to engage in Fire to Flourish’s participatory grant funding program, through an auspice arrangement with Northern Rivers Community Foundation. These outcomes have also assisted locals to plan for future funding opportunities put out by government and non-government agencies.

Placemaking Clarence Valley has sought to disrupt standard modes of architectural production through working at the intersection of participatory design, community development and disaster resilience.


Participatory Granting


Clarence Valley Community Facilitator Pamela Denise describes the multi-stepped process of participatory granting that the design studio helped support:


“The participatory granting was a staged, nuanced process in which each community could engage in a facilitated conversation within a MADA-led placemaking workshop, about increasing the district’s resilience and disaster preparedness by improving public places. The community engagement process took over a year and resulted in a community-led decision making process through preferential voting over a 2-week period. The approved projects are anticipated to commence May 2024, and are to be concluded by October 2025.”


The following diagram describes the timeline and activities within the process advanced in Placemaking Clarence Valley including a link to the funded projects.