Where are 'Cool' and 'Creative' Wollongong?

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For the CAMRA research in Wollongong - headed by Professor Chris Gibson - a mix of conventional and Web 2.0 mapping techniques are being used.

Hard-copy maps were used as the basis of a community cultural mapping exercise conducted at Wollongong's largest annual festival, Viva La Gong, in November 2009.

In the lead up to the festival, local people were invited to take part in the research through postcards in local cafes and on local television, radio and newspapers. 

At the Festival, people were asked to use a map of the local region to answer two questions: 'Where is cool Wollongong?' and 'Where is creative Wollongong?'.

The 'pop culture' format of the questions was combined with a mapping methodology in the hope of revealing local cultural activities, feeling and preferences - and in doing so, enable a larger picture to emerge of cultural planning needs and alternatives for Wollongong.

Festival Mapping Lounge

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Left: CAMRA researchers, Ben Gallan and Andrew Warren, staff the Mapping Lounge at 2009's Viva La Gong festival (Photo: Chris Gibson).  Right: One participant's mapped point-of-view on where 'cool' (blue) and 'creative' (pink) Wollongong are.

2009's Viva La Gong Festival Cultural Mapping Lounge

During the festival, a stall staffed by five CAMRA researchers was decorated with posters and maps and the festival audience were invited to participate via a recorded 'vox-pop' interview and asked to draw on a hard-copy paper map of Wollongong where they thought 'cool' and 'creative' places were - and what made them so (see base map example). No pre-determined ideas of what constituted 'creative' were assumed (indeed, interviewers at the festival encouraged participants to think laterally, to list literally anything they considered to be 'creative'), and participants were free to answer as briefly or as comprehensively as they wished.

160 maps were completed on the day of the festival, representing the views of about 250 people - with many single maps drawn by two or more people. More than 900 'cool' and 'creative' places were mapped. Interviews recorded during the mapping process varied in length from three to 45 minutes, with a diverse range of respondents, including whole families, young adults, retirees, Buddhist monks (Wollongong happens to be a major centre of Buddhism and features Australia's largest temple), and many well-known figures from the local Aboriginal community.

The average age of participant was 41. More women (62 percent) participated than men (38 percent). Frequently participants mentioned that they had seen recent television media coverage and were keen to 'fill in a map and have their say'.

The Maps

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Left: Respondent's views on where is 'creative' Wollongong (in pink). Right: 'Cool Wollongong' (in blue)

After the Festival, drawn maps were scanned, digitised and combined for analysis. Rather than discuss fully the methodology, breakdown of results and technical steps undertaken, a brief consideration of what the maps generated reveal the contours of a public geography of cultural activity in Wollongong and that what are perceived as 'creative' places are often not always the same as 'cool' places

Creative Wollongong

Respondents most frequently identified 'creative' places as those parts of the city centre with high-profile cultural institutions  - such as the eastern part of Wollongong CBD, which houses the city art gallery, theatre/performing arts centre, entertainment centre as well as cafes and restaurants - and the northern strip of beachside villages from Thirroul to Stanwell Park, considered 'arty' because of the well-known arts communities based there.

Cool Wollongong

But cool places were more dispersed and were frequently parts of the region enjoyed for natural amenity (beaches, mountains, the region's prominent escarpment, which is part of a chain of national parks in the area) or were more closely linked to people's own residential location and cultural activities. Participants themselves involved in surfing, knitting groups, local choirs, amateur theatres, skateboarding scenes, community gardens (including some illegally established on fragments of public land otherwise neglected by local authorities) tended to list 'their' places as 'cool', reflecting a high degree of localised cultural activity and attachment in Wollongong.

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Network topology, place of residence and 'cool' (blue) and 'creative' (pink) places identified, all flows combined

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Network topology, in-flows to Wollongong city centre, 'cool' (blue) and 'creative' (pink) responses

InternalCreativeColourInternalCoolColour

Network topology, internal in-flows - 'cool' and 'creative' responses same as suburb of residence

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Left: Network topology, in-flows to selected south-side suburbs, 'cool' responses
Right: Network topology, in-flows to North Wollongong, 'cool' responses
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Reflections

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A cursory reflection on the findings suggests how they might be useful: diverse vernacular forms of creativity are present, and a high degree of localism pervades the city, with respondents tending to identify cool places within five kilometres of home (this is especially 'local' given Wollongong's linear geography, stretching for 50 kilometres in a thin strip along the coast, hemmed in by escarpment). These qualities invite future cultural planners to think in a flexible and decentralised manner about cultural infrastructure provision. Whereas predictable, high visibility 'creative' spaces were readily identified by participants (wherever they were in the region), these same spaces may not regularly engage the whole city's population in a more everyday manner and thus did not show up so often as 'cool'. Our maps and interviews, by contrast, tracked some measure of grass-roots cultural activity, and the spaces valued for this. Should local councils provide centralised 'flagship' venues, or dispersed, flexible community facilities? Our maps go some way to informing debate about this question.