Frequently asked questions
About the NSW Public Spaces Charter
What is the NSW Public Spaces Charter?
The Charter identifies 10 principles for quality public space, developed through evidence-based research and discussions with a diverse range of public space experts and closely aligned to the UN Charter of Public Space. These principles are intended to support all those who are engaged with, provide advice on, make decisions about, or undertake planning, design, management and activation of public spaces in NSW.
We invite NSW Government agencies, local government, industry and other organisations and groups who plan, design, manage and activate public space across NSW to sign up to the Charter and join us in becoming signatories.
What public spaces does the Charter apply to?
Public spaces are all places publicly owned or of public use, accessible and enjoyable by all free and without a profit motive. They include:
- Public open spaces: active and passive (including parks, gardens, playgrounds, public beaches, riverbanks and waterfronts, outdoor playing fields and courts, and publicly accessible bushland)
- Public facilities: public libraries, museums, galleries, civic/community centres, showgrounds, and indoor public sports facilities
- Streets: streets, avenues and boulevards, squares and plazas, pavements, passages and lanes, and bicycle paths.
Who is the Charter for?
The community and community organisations can use the 10 principles to understand the value and benefits of quality public space. The Charter will help the community to participate in the conversation about how public spaces should be planned, designed, managed and activated.
Public space managers can use the 10 principles to inform plans of management and the policies and programming that respond to the needs of their users. Strategic and statutory planners can apply the 10 principles as they develop planning proposals, local planning instruments and plans for precincts, local government areas, districts or regions. Public policy makers can incorporate the 10 principles within policy and advice that informs the NSW Government.
Local businesses and chambers of commerce can use the 10 principles to better understand how they can complement and advocate for public spaces in their area. Development professionals such as architects, heritage specialists and arborists can use the 10 principles to help inform the design process and delivery of a public space. Industry bodies can use the 10 principles to inform and support members involved in the planning, design, delivery, management, activation or evaluation of public space. Developers can draw from the 10 principles in how they plan for and provide quality public spaces within their developments.
How do I use the Charter?
The Charter's principles are premised on the understanding that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to public space. Every public space has its own unique history, heritage, context and is supporting the different needs and uses of a specific community. There are significant and important differences in landscape, climate, amenity, population density and social and cultural demographics across Greater Sydney and regional and rural New South Wales.
All these factors influence where and how people use public space and what the priorities are for their community. There are no set rules as to where and how the Charter applies –it could apply to the management of a national or regional scale parkland, just as it could to the design of a new pocket park. A practitioner's guide will be released in 2023 that will provide more information and ideas about how the 10 Charter principles can be applied when planning, designing, managing and activating public space.
Becoming a signatory of the Charter
Why should my organisation become a signatory to the Charter?
We encourage all NSW Government agencies, local government, industry and other organisations and groups with a role in the planning, development, design, management or activation of public space in NSW to sign up to the Charter.
By becoming a signatory to the Charter, an organisation will be demonstrating a commitment to delivering great public spaces outcomes for everyone.
Signatories to the Charter will have access to a Community of Practice and support from the department to apply the Charter, as well as promotional and data-sharing opportunities.
What is the process to becoming a signatory?
- Your organisation completes the NSW Public Spaces Charter signatory Charter application form.
- We review your application and determine your organisation’s signatory type.
- Your organisation is notified of the outcome and sent a link to the Charter Check-in.
- Your organisation completes the Charter Check-in within 1 month of becoming a signatory.
- After your Check-in is received, your organisation is sent a signatory partner pack.
- Your organisation will be invited to the Community of Practice.
- From 2023, your organisation will complete a short annual Charter Check-in every May.
If your organisation is involved in planning, designing, delivering, managing or activating public space and shares this commitment, apply now to get involved.
What are the types of signatories?
There are two types of signatories to the NSW Public Spaces Charter, advocates and supporters. The following definitions can help you determine your organisation’s signatory type.
- Advocates’ work has a direct role in the planning, design, management and activation of public spaces in NSW as part of its core business or regularly undertakes work that directly influences public space outcomes.
- The organisation is a legally constituted government or non-government organisation located or working within NSW. A legal entity must sign the Charter.
- Supporters’ work influences outcomes in public spaces but does not directly plan, design, manage and activate public spaces in NSW.
- Supporters’ raise awareness and publicly promote the Charter and its principles throughout their work and networks.
- The organisation is a legally constituted government or non-government organisation located within or outside NSW. A legal entity must sign the Charter.
We encourage sole practitioners working in planning, designing, managing and activating public spaces to sign up for the Charter. Individuals without a registered business are not eligible.
The NSW Government acknowledges the goodwill of those participants signing up to the Charter. However, the NSW Government reserves the right to remove or exclude participants from involvement in the Charter at any time, including discontinuing support through providing advice from the NSW Public Spaces Charter project team or providing access to a community of practice. The NSW Government also reserves the right to discontinue any service currently enjoyed by participants.
The NSW Government does not have any responsibility for ensuring that participants uphold the principles and outcomes of the Charter, or the manner in which participants choose to deliver upon these principles and outcomes. To the fullest extent permitted by law, NSW Government disclaims any liability that may arise out of a participant signing or delivering upon the principles and outcomes in it, or in acting on any advice received as a result of being a participant.
Why is the Charter voluntary?
There is no compliance or legislative requirement associated with the Charter. The Charter has been developed to be used by a wide range of stakeholders, from across all levels of government, industry and the cultural and community sectors. The Charter's principles have been deliberately developed so as not to have any binding policy or resourcing impacts on signatories to provide them with the flexibility to apply the principles to their own context, including existing policy settings. The Charter acknowledges that the NSW Government already delivers great public space outcomes through policy and strategic frameworks that span across the whole-of-government. The principles have been developed to align with and refer to these where necessary.
How will the success of the Charter be measured?
The Charter program specifically seeks to engage and influence stakeholders responsible for the planning, delivery, management, evaluation and activation of public space. The evaluation program for the Charter is in development and may include the number of signatories, number of strategies that now have public space embedded as a priority, and the positive outcomes signatories have been able to achieve.
Will signatories need to complete any reporting?
Each applying organisation is required to complete a Charter Check-in when signing up for the Charter and then an annual Charter Check-in every May. The Charter Check-in includes 10 questions comprising multiple choice and free text field responses. The Charter Check-in aims to understand your organisation’s current approach to planning, designing, managing and activating public spaces.
The sign-up Charter Check-in will create a baseline to track the future implementation of the Charter principles and the annual Charter Check-in can highlight key challenges and successes. Through this process, the uncovered lesson learnt will be shared and can contribute to the Charter signatories’ knowledge when tackling complex problems in public spaces.
The information provided in the Charter Check-in will not be shared outside the state government Charter project team unless we receive your organisation’s permission.
Will there be any ongoing forums or events to support organisations?
Yes, this is one of the benefits of becoming a signatory.
We hold quarterly Community of Practice for the NSW Public Spaces Charter. These will provide an opportunity for knowledge-sharing, discussing case studies, signatories' challenges and opportunities in implementing the Charter, and other capacity-building opportunities.
Is there any funding attached to the Charter?
At this stage there are no funding programs associated with the Charter. The Charter is focused on supporting great public spaces through building organisational capacity.
The Charter is one of the programs supporting the record investment in public space in the past few years, with the $250 million NSW Public Spaces Legacy Program, $50 million Places to Swim, Roam and Play, the $50 million Parks for People, the Metropolitan Greenspace (multiple rounds of funding), Streets as Shared Spaces and Your High Street.
Creating quality public spaces
What is quality public space?
Quality makes people feel safe, welcome and included. The quality of a public space is reflected not only in its physical form—how it's designed, maintained and integrated with its environment—but also through the activities it supports and the meaning it holds. It can be evaluated by asking:
- Am I able to get there?
- Am I able to play and participate?
- Am I able to stay?
- Am I able to connect?
In addition to the Charter, the department has developed an Evaluation Tool for Public Space and Public Life (2021), which has a series of questions to analyse the quality of public space. Anyone who wants to better understand the strengths of a public space and its areas for improvement can use this tool. The tool draws on research and globally renowned methodologies by Gehl and Project for Public Spaces, amongst others.
Are there guidelines on the application of the NSW Public Spaces Charter and the creation of quality public spaces?
There are no rigid guidelines, however there is a Charter draft Practitioner's Guide (PDF, 8.88 MB) that provides guidance on the application of the Charter in different contexts.
The Charter is a tool for organisations, and compliments more specific and technical guidance including the NSW Government Architect's Better Placed and Greener Places and the cross-government framework Movement and Place.
How can smart technology be integrated to improve public spaces?
Smart public spaces are streets, public open spaces, and public facilities using technology to improve the quality of life of our communities.
The data generated by smart public spaces can help improve the visitor experience; inform the way they are planned, managed and maintained; and drives innovation and business opportunity.
A few examples of how smart technology can be integrated to public spaces include:
- improving mobile coverage and providing wi-fi access
- interactive displays
- GPS tracking transport for live-transport data
- providing sensors monitoring waste levels in bins making collection more efficient and reducing litter
- live information boards on street furniture and multi-function poles, providing local information on park bookings, transport, weather, shade, events and culture
- augmented and virtual reality immersion experiences.
For more information on how to deploy smart solutions to help achieve the ambitions of a place and its people, refer to the NSW Smart Public Spaces Guide (PDF, 4.4 MB) and the Smart Places Playbook.
The Charter defines public spaces as free and publicly accessible. Does this apply to public facilities that charge an entry fee or booking fee, for example exhibitions at museums and art galleries?
Public space is publicly owned or of public use, accessible and enjoyable by all for free and without a profit motive. Public facilities that are public space and freely accessible to the public may at times have an entry fee to recover the costs of specific programs or special exhibitions being delivered in a section of the facility that also offers freely accessible benefits to the community.
How can the Charter support the creation of new urban public space?
The Charter supports more, better and active public spaces. The Charter is a tool for organisations, and compliments more specific and technical guidance including the NSW Government Architect's Better Placed and Greener Places and the cross-government framework Movement and Place.
We have also developed a draft Practitioner's Guide, to support organisations with tips and practical guidance on how to apply the Charter based on each organisational context.
There are also tools available through the Great Public Spaces Toolkit, such as the Evaluation Tool for Public Space and Public Life.
How do you implement the Charter in agricultural areas, rural areas and smaller regional centres?
The Charter was developed to be principles-based so it could be applied to many contexts. The Charter acknowledges that quality public space needs to respond and reflect local character, and so its implementation could look very different depending on a community's unique needs and context. The Charter principles can also help prompt conversations with your community about what success looks like to them.
If you have any questions or require any support at all, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the team. You can reach the team by email at PublicSpace@planning.nsw.gov.au.
What are some of the ways to improve the inclusivity of public spaces?
The Charter has three core values that resonate strongly across all the principles and should always be considered when applying the principles. These values are Connection to Country, Equity and Inclusion, and Community Engagement.
A principle that highlights inclusion is ‘Open and Welcoming', which demonstrates that for public space to be inclusive, it must be culturally, physically and socially accessible, and perceived by the community to be so.
Inclusion can be promoted by different approaches such as:
- Developing strategies for ongoing engagement, governance and management; and
- Engaging with Aboriginal Knowledge Holders and Traditional Custodians and communities to identify cultural or heritage sites.
Charter strategic context
How was the Charter developed?
The Charter principles have been developed through:
- Preliminary research undertaken into Australian and international literature and research about public space and best practice planning, delivery and management approaches.
- Expert interviews with ten Australian and international experts in a range of fields of public space practice and knowledge, including economists, public health researchers, urban geographers, and transport planners.
- Public exhibition and consultation seeking feedback on the draft principles from the community and also from NSW Government agencies, councils, and industry about what support they would need to become signatories to the Charter. A full summary of the engagement and feedback can be found here.
- Peer review including detailed feedback on both the Charter and practitioners guide from over 20 subject matter experts.
How was the community consulted on the Charter?
The Charter has been developed to reflect the community's expectations and aspirations for public space, as well as the needs of organisations and practitioners who will use it.
Between 20 October 2020 and 1 December 2020, the draft NSW Public Spaces Charter was placed on public exhibition to get feedback on the principles and how they could be applied.
Over 190 individuals and organisations provided feedback on the draft Charter through seven workshops, the online survey, digital engagement hub and online/email submissions. This included representatives from NSW government agencies, local councils, non-government organisations, community, environmental and recreational groups.
During this time a targeted program of engagement was also undertaken with Aboriginal Knowledge Holders and communities to seek their feedback on the Charter. A full summary of the engagement and feedback can be found here.
For more information, view the NSW Public Spaces Charter Engagement Report (PDF, 4.86 MB)
How was feedback on the Charter responded to?
Feedback from the public exhibition was reviewed and incorporated into the NSW Public Spaces Charter through a range of mechanisms, including the introduction of over-arching values for the Charter and refinement of the language and framing of the principles.
Where does the NSW Public Spaces Charter sit within the broader urban context and existing documents and those in development?
The Charter plays an important role in supporting and building capacity for different organisations that are working in a range of contexts, including the planning, design, activation, construction and management of public spaces.
The Charter was developed for organisations as both a standalone document and to complement specific guidance across multiple disciplines. We have also developed a draft Practitioner's Guide, to support organisations with tips and practical guidance on how to apply the Charter based on each organisational context. The Practitioner's Guide refers to more technical and specific guidance and we will continue to update the Guide to align with relevant documents being developed across NSW Government.
How does the Charter align with other key policies and strategies?
Through consultation with policy experts across the broader NSW Government during the Charter's development, it aligns with, draws on and refers to other key NSW policies and strategies that support green, public and open space.
By reinforcing the importance of high-quality design within the Charter, we have aligned it with the Government Architect NSW's (GANSW) Better Placed design policy (2017), Greener Places green infrastructure design framework (2020) and Connecting with Country draft framework (2020) The Greater Sydney Parkland's 50-Year Vision for Greater Sydney's Open Space and Parklands (2021) is also a key document the Charter aligns with. Ensuring alignment of the Charter with future strategies and policies supporting public space will be an ongoing activity during its implementation.