A New Backyard

My nostalgia of the suburbs doesn’t particularly manifest within the family home but rather in its surrounds. The local park plays an intrinsic role in the suburban psyche. However for me (and I’m sure for many) it was not the turfed ovals or playgrounds that engrossed me but what I perceived as the ‘wild’ scrubby parameters. Much as the sand dunes offer a child a sense of discovery and adventure unlike an open supervised Perth beach. While this experience is particular to myself it is without doubt that the local park, playground, footy oval, cricket nets all are just as nostalgically intertwined with the Australian identity as the bbq or backyard. We therefore can’t discuss transformations in suburban dwelling typology without considering the spaces that tie together this fabric, embracing the humble suburban park as means to transform the domestic realm. Better parks can encourage and support a change in attitude towards a more sustainable higher density dwelling and co-living.

Our relationship with the natural environment in the suburbs is no better represented than in the form of the backyard and lawn; however its glorified place in our collective memory must be scrutinized. The irrigated lawn as central feature of both the backyard and the front verge echoes our colonial past as a symbol of manicured status; reflecting a settlers attitude towards native bush, the backyard was means to enjoy a more manageable Australian nature; ‘…the suburb a marvelous compromise. ..[it] realized the dream of bringing nature to town – nature tame and civilized, not red in tooth and claw.’[1] The backyard is the setting of where the egalitarian expectation of being able to have an intimate and private interaction with nature (or rather its representation) is met.

Expanses of turf extend from the verge to the grassy playing fields, which was the result of ‘recreation movement’ during the mid-twentieth century. ‘what were needed most were opportunities for citizens to exercise, to strengthen and discipline bodies, to temper immoral impulses, and to give people a place to vent frustrations and escape from urban life’. These parks tend to have little vegetation, large areas of irrigated lawns, and facilities designed to support team sports, such as clubrooms, goal posts, and cricket pitches.

[2]

An ode to the ‘recreation movement’.

The past relationship with the natural environment and expectation of a backyard feel very dated. We now have an understanding of the importance of our parks to have ecological value; to be ecologically connected; increasing native biodiversity and encouraging functioning ecosystems… After all a grassy oval is a desert to a bee. So perhaps the suburban park is the answer to both being sympathetic to our suburban psyche- to have a connection with nature (a need which is increasing being ignored along with our diminishing backyards) as well as to rehabilitate nature itself. If we want to seriously consider ideas of co-living we inadvertently must embrace the potential of the suburban park. They can therefore almost become spaces of comfort that encourage the acceptance of changing urban density. We must let go of the picturesque, artificial lakes and exposed expanse of grass and redesign on not only a human scale, but that of an ecosystem but for the native bee or coot and especially for the child who will in the future rediscover the wild local park.

The community driven transformation of Lake Claremont from 2008 to 2018, from golf course the native parkland. Nearmaps
Intimate spaces within Lake Claremont’s winding paths; also allowing for natural water drainage and filtration.

Bolleter, Julian. (2016). Squandering riches: can Perth realise the value of its biodiversity?. The Conversation. https://th

econversation.com/squandering-riches-can-perth-realise-the-value-of-its-biodiversity-63933 Accessed 12 Apr. 2019.

Bolleter, Julian &  Ramalho, Cristina E. (2014) The potential of ecologically enhanced urban parks to encourage and catalyze densification in greyfield suburbs,Journal of Landscape Architecture, 9:3, 54-65, DOI: 10.1080/18626033.2015.968418

Mortlock, G. and Neustein, D. (2016). Reinventing density: overcoming the suburban setback. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/reinventing-density-overcoming-the-suburban-setback-66411 Accessed 12 Apr. 2019.

Myers, Zoe. “Australian Urbanism.” Lecture, Australian Urban Design Research Centre, Perth, WA, October 11, 2018;

Ed. Goldberg, S. L. , and Smith, F. B. . Australian Cultural History Surry Hills, N.S.W: Cambridge University Press in association with the Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1988. Pg 35


[1] Ed. Goldberg, S. L. , and Smith, F. B. . Australian Cultural History Surry Hills, N.S.W: Cambridge University Press in association with the Australian Academy of the Humanities, 1988. Pg 35

[2] Julian Bolleter & Cristina E. Ramalho (2014) The potential of ecologically enhanced urban parks to encourage and catalyze densification in greyfield suburbs,Journal of Landscape Architecture, 9:3, 54-65, DOI: 10.1080/18626033.2015.968418

All photos taken by Sarah Brooke, Aerial map from Nearmaps