Friday, 20 July 2012

What my weiros (Pearl and Spiro) have taught me about placemaking

Pearl photobombing Spiro
In an alternate universe my wife is quite probably a crazy bird lady (a little like the crazy cat lady from the Simpsons but with better fashion sense). Our family consists of a couple of weiros - Pearl and Spiro - who have been with us for a couple of years now.

Pearl and Spiro have made themselves very welcome in our little apartment, very welcome indeed. Not only have they made themselves welcome, they've cornered the market on getting up to mischief as well.

Spiro has a penchant, nay a fetish, for my wife's makeup. He is obsessed with it. One time my wife and I returned from an outing to see Spiro head down and feathery bum up in her makeup case, conducting his own rigorous animal testing trial. My wife had made the mistake of leaving it open and in plain sight. It was obvious that Spiro had enjoyed a very special afternoon of excess. With the amount of makeup plastered all over his beak and face, Spiro looked like a character straight out of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

One of the best things about our little birds is that over the years they've given me an interesting insight into placemaking. It sounds a little weird, but keeping these little tyros happy in my role as their personal placemaker is a lot like placemaking for us humans.

I thought I'd share some lessons that I've learnt from placemaking for our weiros that are particularly relevant to placemaking for people.

Lesson 1: Food glorious food

Not only are our weiros professional mischief makers (and budding makeup artists) they happen to be gourmands as well.

The weiros helping themselves to some tucker
This is handy for budding placemakers. My wife and I have learnt to use food to entice them to a certain area (say away from her makeup nook). This tactic works brilliantly. As a placemaking nerd, I take particular delight in seeing Pearl and Spiro hanging out in an area of the apartment where we've put out some seed and other little delights to attract them.

We've seen this lesson applied in Henry Street and work wonders. Over the last four years, Moore & Moore Cafe has shown the value of offering a food option for this street. It has worked to attract people to Henry Street and to the art gallery.

The lessons learnt from this experiment could definitely be applied around Freo. Arthur Head immediately springs to mind. A quality cafe/restaurant/small bar in the J Shed would attract people to this part of Freo.

Lesson 2: Women have discerning tastes

I've noticed that Pearl, like my wife, is the classy one out of the weiros. With her more discerning tastes, Pearl is the linchpin in determining the success of my weiro placemaking experiments. I've discovered that if my experiments pass Pearl's test of placemaking awesomeness then Spiro is guaranteed to follow.

This is not dissimilar to what legendary placemaker William 'Holly' Whyte observed about us humans. Back in the 1970s he observed that "women are more discriminating than men as to where they will sit, more sensitive to annoyances, and they spend more time casing the various possibilities."

This rings true for me. Like Pearl, my wife is more selective when it comes to choosing where we hang out. Unfortunately this lesson has played out in a negative sense across many of Freo's less savoury places over the years. It'll be worth keeping this lesson in mind when it comes to carrying out the Kings Square redevelopment.

Lesson 3: Play on curiousity as a natural attractor

As well as being the classy one of the weiros and aside from my wife's makeup case, Pearl also happens to be the more curious bird.

Pearl's inquisitiveness means that when it comes to my placemaking experiments she is the early adopter of the weiros. I know that if I can set something up that plays to her curiousity - something she can interact with - I'm well on my way to a successful experiment.

Learning this about the weiros reminded me of the old adage that people attract people. This is also true of our weiros. Where Pearl goes Spiro follows.

Thinking about this lesson, I feel that introducing a little bit of fun in places like Old Port Project at Bathers Beach through interesting and engaging artworks would go a long way to attracting the more curious of us.

Lesson 3a: Cater to people's different moods

The different personalities (and moods) of my weiros also remind me that not only do people have different personalities, but that their moods fluctuate as well.

Weiros are helpfully outfitted with crests that are a good indictator of whether they're happy or uncertain (or in Spiro's case, bitey). Just like them, sometimes I feel like socialising and other times I'd rather be left alone. Often whether or not I'm keen to socialise determines how I use or feel welcome in a particular place.

This lesson will be useful when redeveloping Kings Square. Incorporating as many different ways of engaging with the space will be a sure fire way of being welcoming to people and their different moods.

Lesson 4: Try new things

A little like humans, the weiros have relatively short attention spans. I've come to appreciate the usefulness of a regular set of activities and flexibility.

When they begin to lose interest in a particular activity, my wife and I know that it's time to try something new or roll out an old activity that has been succesful but in hiatus. We've also noticed that Pearl and Spiro respond to certain activities being rolled out on a consistent basis - almost like a schedule of events. It begins with toast in the mornings, primarily to shove in their little gobs when they start to join the dawn chorus, and ends with a good scratch on the head at night.

Thinking about how important a program of events has become for my wife and I in keeping our weiros happy, I was thinking that this tactic could be particularly useful one for Arthur Head.

Including Arthur Head in Freo's festivals would be a useful way of applying this lesson. Taking this concept to the next level could include a bespoke Arthur Head program of events aimed at attracting people to the precinct.

Lesson 5: An active bird means a bird not getting up to mischief

Pearl and Spiro's dedication to the dark arts of mischief has taught my wife and I that expensive jewellery, furnishings, clothes etc and bored weiros are a match made in heaven.

Given the nightly shouts, screams and shenanigans coming from Kings Square that are audible from our living room window it would seem that this lesson can also be applied to Freo in the evening. Maybe with a bit more activity and natural surveillance this could become a good place to visit after dark as well as during the day.


Well, that's about it from the aviary that is our apartment. Five lessons from my weiros, Pearl and Spiro, for placemaking in Freo.


  1. Get Pearl and Spiro on to a council working group. I had a weiro wonce but it wan away ..