New research shows that even the smallest humanising interventions can have a dramatic impact on the way a public space is perceived and used.

#BackyardExperiment, a pop-up park and social experiment that ran for eight days at Garema Place in Canberra, set out to gain insights about the way people spend time in public spaces.

As part of the 2016 International Festival of Landscape Architecture: Not in My Backyard, the project was a collaboration between Street Furniture Australia and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, in partnership with the ACT Government and In the City Canberra. A short documentary and whitepaper were created to document its findings.



A bright pop-up park, designed by landscape architecture firm Context, was built to attract people and make the area more family-friendly, on a limited budget. Three time-lapse cameras were installed to observe and compare data on how people interacted with Garema Place before and during the experiment.

The project aimed to:

  • Attract more people to Garema Place
  • Make the space warmer, softer and family-friendly on a limited budget and timeframe
  • Extract key learnings for future design outcomes


Six key tools were used in making Garema Place feel more welcoming, including movable seats, art and colour, lighting, lawn, digital, and community collaboration.

Movable seats
The new furniture was freely movable, not fixed to the ground, to allow visitors to sit as they pleased.

Art and colour
To soften the vast hard surfaces, volunteers hand rolled chalk paint onto individual pavers, creating a mosaic of colour around the trees.

The lighting aimed to beautify the space at night, making it feel more welcoming and safe for families. (what sort of lighting? How was it positioned?)

Living lawn was an important element of the pop-up park, to soften and ‘green’ the space as well as signal opportunities to spend time (doing what?) and relax.

As a Wi-Fi hotspot, the park was able to offer connection to all of the community present.

Community collaboration
The park was built by the community, for the community, with knitters, painters and local businesses pitching in.



Time-lapse cameras recorded Garema Place four days before the experiment, and for the eight days during the experiment.

In only (delete repeated words) eight days, foot traffic increased by 190 per cent, from 27,530 people to 52,195 people. There was also a 247 per cent increase in dwellers in the public space.

The most significant change was the demographic diversity. Friends, couples, families with young children, retirees, professionals and the street community were seen together in the one location. The transformation was particularly marked at night. The nightlife of Garema Place usually consisted of adults but during the experiment a lot more families with young children were present.

View the white paper here, and the documentary below.

Images: Street Furniture Australia