ellen grove centre co-design project

The University Of Queensland

Project Description

How can we revitalise suburban areas meaningfully and respectfully through engaging communities in the design process in a way that is authentic, low cost and high impact?

Ellen Grove is one of the most socio-economic disadvantaged suburban area in South East Queensland. Where traditional planning processes routinely fail this community, a placemaking strategy was implemented to leverage renewal around Ellen Grove’s shopping centre. The Ellen Grove Centre Co-Design project was a placemaking initiative of the University of Queensland’s Bachelor of Regional and Town Planning second year planning studio in 2018. The idea of the co-design project was to enhance the Ellen Grove centre to create a community ‘heart’. The shopping centre is a vital community hub adjacent to the State primary school that is facing issues of amenity, liveability, use, extreme heat and was identified as an important project by the local project champions, a community of concerned residents looking to improve their community.

In association with residents, service providers and shopkeepers in Ellen Grove, the UQ students, Brisbane City Council officers and John Mongard (urban designer ) worked together to reimagine and redesign the Ellen Grove centre. The result is the inspired Renewing Ellen Grove Centre Plan and student-produced video. The Plan was presented to Brisbane City Council for inclusion in the Village Precinct Program. Students were quickly upskilled to take on the role of facilitators to meaningfully engage the community in a half day community engagement workshop. Student’s collated the community ideas, presented those ideas back to the community for feedback and delivered a set of designs and implementation strategies.

Learning Methodology

The subject was delivered to second year planning students over the course of semester 2, 2018. Led by Dr Laurel Johnson and supported by professional urban designer, John Mongard, students were exposed to urban planning approaches of co-design and placemaking as a means to address the challenges of designing for lower socio-economic suburban areas. This subject provided an opportunity for students to develop soft skills such as deep listening, empathy and verbal communication in order to shift from the role of designer to facilitators and placemakers.

Importantly, this subject exposed students to a live community engagement process, working collaboratively to design outcomes which would have a real world impact. Through this process, students were upskilled to take on the role of facilitators and apply those skills in a real world setting. This allowed students to gain theoretical knowledge in the class and importantly take that next step to practice what they had learned in a way that was meaningful and genuine.

How does this studio match PlaceAgency Objectives?

The studio created an opportunity for students to work closely with the local community. Students learned how to approach stakeholders, how to collect data from them, and how to engage the community thoughtfully and playfully in their design process. They explored the challenges of how to co-design for place by working with community members. Students were encouraged to adopt the role of facilitator rather than designer.

Activities – Studio Outline

ActivityDescriptionKey dates for activitiesKey learning objectives
Week 3Preparation and skills development9 AugDeveloping soft skills
Week 4Community co-design engagement day11 AugCommunity engagement
Week 5Community Co-design debrief16 AugReflective skills

Location Description

Ellen Grove QLD 4078


Studio Leaders
Laurel JohnsonLaurel Johnson
Project champion


John Mongard

John Mongard

- Planning

Project Updates

Student final designs

Following the conclusion of the studio, a team of students lead by studio leader Laurel Johnson produced a final report, The Ellen Grove Renewal Plan which was delivered to Council. In this report you will find insights into the co-design…

Detailed learning methodology

This studio was run in tandem to Brolga Lakes eco-development studio, the first placemaking studios for University of Queensland as part of the nationwide Place Agency Consortium for tertiary students. The purpose of this studio was to take students through…