"My life purpose is to open the hearts and minds of humanity to a life nourishing story"
The Island Village Life and the Magic of Place, Communing and Community.
I was born in a small village on the exotic island of Mauritius, where the streets are alive and full of life, day and night. My large extended family and I lived the village life – playing, eating, and dancing together. The market and village well were at the core of the village – where people met and celebrated, old people sat and watched young people play, street food and snacks were all part of the everyday connection to place. Here lies the magic of place, communing, and community.
Here lies my first lesson of placemaking:
places are for people and streets are places
Eclectic and Diverse Dandenong and the Gift of Generosity, Beauty, and Connection to People.
When I was just five years old, my mother courageously packed everything up and moved us to the unknown world of Dandenong, a small town in Victoria, Australia. Despite the tragic death of my father, she created her own destiny. I came to know Dandenong as a low-income area and melting pot of different cultures and people. I learned that even though you may be poor – the ones who are rich were the ones who had an extraordinary extended family and inner and outer life full of connection, music and food. I learned to believe in the inherent goodness of people, and that diversity of difference was so important to create an authentic sense of community and place. We created beauty in the most desolate places and it was really about bringing people together to express beauty and creativity.
This led to my second lesson of placemaking: the power of the free and gifting back to others comes back tenfold.
At this time, I was lucky enough to receive free tertiary education and healthcare from a forward-thinking government. This system created a net for people like myself at the time, who were quite vulnerable. I quickly realised one of the most powerful forms of placemaking is equity and access to the formidable foundations and basic human rights.
This is my third lesson of placemaking: the importance of placemaking as a tool for equity and access.
The Theatre of Retail
Throughout my early twenties, I worked at a range of retail and dining institutions. I was fortunate enough to work for Myer Melbourne and learn about merchandising, visual merchandising, customer service, curation, theatre setting in a department store, and the detail of the welcome. I also worked at several five-star restaurants – here I learned about immersive customer experiences, service, and the importance of storytelling, humour, and play. After University, I landed a job at Myer in store planning and design – which immersed me in the intricacies of design through interiors and architecture. Through these collective experiences of consumption and exchange,
I learned my fourth placemaking lesson:
it’s all in the details – the importance of place curation and tactical urbanism.
The World of Shopping Centres and Consumption.
The next stage in my journey would see me working for two shopping centres, one small and one not so small. I started off by helping launch a cultural narrative of place for a small, retrofitted shopping centre in Altona, Melbourne. This initial experience prepared me for what was about to come – managing Chadstone Shopping Centre, Melbourne – the largest shopping centre in the Southern Hemisphere. My role was to create high performing consumptive environments, to make people linger longer, stay longer and love their experience. I worked on extending the customer’s stay through programming, curation, place activation, food experience through amazing fresh food and dining, and encouraging young people to come to a fashion and design centre. Voila, the repositioning of Chadstone as a fashion capital was born and became a huge success.
I learned my fifth placemaking lesson:
The power of immersive customer experiences that activate the senses
Swimming with the Dolphins - the Start of a New Path and Journey.
I commenced an inner journey of searching, sparked by a relationship break-up. In my despair, I decided to go on an organised dolphin tour with a friend but, the tour was cancelled due to an electrical thunderstorm. However, we happened to stumble across a pod of wild dolphins just out of Port Phillip Bay. That was the beginning of the end and the start of my new journey. Through swimming with the wild dolphins, I had an epiphany – I must trust in creating my own destiny and vision for the world. I discovered that my path in this life is to open the hearts of humanity to a life-nourishing story – and Village Well was born.
I learned my sixth placemaking lesson:
nature is our teacher and we are all radically interconnected
The Birth of the Placemaking Movement
Here I started my new journey. My first job as a placemaker was at Queen Victoria Market – creating a new vision for the market and refurbishing the deli hall using all my tools of commerce, design, marketing and branding. For the first ten years, Village Well mainly focussed on re-activating and repositioning mainstreets and small towns under the threat of big shopping centres and supermarkets. One of these projects was the activation of Flinders Lane and Degraves Street, which catalysed the renewal of laneways in Melbourne. The first decade was about experimentation, innovation, creativity, partnerships and gifting. Alongside others, we were birthing the placemaking movement in Australia.
At this time I co-founded two not-for-profit groups – Spiral Connection and the EPOCH foundation. Spiral Connection created large community gatherings to celebrate dance, connection and community activism in an alcohol and drug free environment. Many people would attend every month to build their capacity as citizens through dance and connection to something larger than themselves. In this space emerged my fifth placemaking lesson: the significance of holding and curating sacred space that can activate all the senses, transforming people’s hearts and minds through deep and immersive experiences – the power of ritual.
The other institution I co-founded was the EPOCH Foundation – Melbourne’s first ethical business foundation. Here we believed that business could be a force for good, and that small business is the driver of new ethics and an ecosystem of local economic and community development. We encouraged mid to large corporations to shift their mandate from purely extraction and shareholder wealth to regenerating communities, gifting back and creating better environments for their workers.
Here lies my seventh placemaking lesson:
business can be a force for good.
Time for a New Story.
I have been blessed to work with over two-thousand cities, towns and places over the past thirty years all around the world. In Austrlaia, placemaking is now a movement that is embedded in most council’s and developer’s mandates – the importance of place, not just temporary interventions, but a strategic place narrative formed by community and stakeholders, that builds economy, culture, liveability and walkability. I feel humbled and proud as we move onto the next chapter of the journey with a talented team of young villagewellians and wise elders.
It is time for a new story – the narrative of regenerative placemaking and the new local will inform our next decade as we move into a climate change and post-COVID future. Resilient and regenerative people, communities, cities and cultures will be integral and critical as a foundation for how we not only survive but hopefully thrive in the next decade as we rebuild our cities, places and ecosystems around the pillars of social, ecological, cultural, economic and spiritual change.
We look forward to a new story of place, one where the next generation begins to value both non-human and human rights to live in harmony in thriving ecosystems.