News / Education

Researchers hit the ground to discover what makes Brunswick tick

RMIT’s PlaceLab will operate in Brunswick for at least the next 12 months

“It’s about coming out of the campus and into the community,” says PlaceLab co-lead Kiri Delly.

Mark Phillips
Friday, October 28, 2022

A TEAM of university researchers have set up shop in Brunswick as they explore solutions to make the community more liveable and to nurture its creative industries.

Brunswick has been chosen as one of two locations for RMIT University’s PlaceLab initiative which embeds academics and researchers in communities to collaborate with local government and business to find shared solutions to problems such as sustainable housing. 

The Brunswick PlaceLab near Jewell station will be home to small teams of specialist researchers and academics until at least the end of 2023.

Instead of the usual practice of researchers parachuting into the field and then returning to their desks, PlaceLab’s researchers will spend six months in Brunswick for each project, holding events, exhibitions, forums and workshops, hosting artists in residence and talking to anybody who comes through the door.

The aim is to come up with policies and programs that can be rolled out in the community long after the research project is finished.

“It’s about coming out of the campus and into the community,” said Kiri Delly, who along with Brock Hogan, heads the two PlaceLabs in Brunswick and Carlton.

“It’s about breaking down those doors, not hiding behind them, and the community being part of the researchers. We want the workshops that we do and this activity that happens in here to have been led by the people who know the area best and what’s needed.

“It’s an overarching strategy that we have at RMIT – we don’t see ourselves as just a place where you come in and study or you do some research, we see us very much as being an urban university that really contributes to what makes a place a place.”

Two projects underway, more to come

The PlaceLab initiative has been funded through a $350 million Victorian Government package to support the tertiary education sector recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brunswick was chosen because RMIT was already involved in the Brunswick Design District and the area is a strong testing ground for new ideas that happen to coincide with some of the university’s research priorities.

The Brunswick PlaceLab is a ground floor space under an apartment building alongside the Upfield bike path and Union Street, just a stone’s throw from RMIT’s Brunswick campus.

Two projects are already underway, with both seeking to identify and strengthen “what makes Brunswick Brunswick”.

The first, Creatives, Communities and Economies, explores how creative practitioners are adopting hybrid and digital approaches to respond to the ongoing challenges facing the arts.

Researcher Hayley Thompson said the first step was to map the creative profile of Brunswick.

“We’ve been having a look at the sites of loss and opportunity within Merri-bek, where perhaps some of those creative spaces have declined or closed over the COVID period perhaps but also where there’s opportunity to reignite those spaces or create something new that sort of fits the environment now.”

The other project, Living Together, is an investigation into socially sustainable housing in Brunswick. Housing affordability and sustainability is examined with architects, developers, and residents through sharing their experiences.

Ms Thompson said the project would partly look at the concept of collective housing, where residents in an apartment building share some communal spaces such as laundries and outdoor gardens.

In both cases, Brunswick residents are encouraged to participate by joining workshops, attending events and answering surveys through prompts from large QR codes on the outside walls of the PlaceLab.

One recent event was a two-and-a-half hour workshop called Mapping Moods for Future Cities, where participants were encouraged to use paints and paper to illustrate what they felt was the “mood” of Brunswick.

“The aim is that we come up with some great research outcomes, which can then be transformed and put into practice, be they recommendations, policy suggestions, program activity, other activity that has a tangible, practical benefit,” Ms Delly said.

She said the PlaceLab will cycle through to two new projects every six months and some initial discussions had been held about what would be next in Brunswick.

While the research projects were hyperlocal, they also had a global lens so that the outcomes could be applied more widely.

The Brunswick PlaceLab is at shop 1, 17 Union Street and is open to visitors during business hours on weekdays.