How I Visited Colombia and Ended Up With a Book Deal

Remember what you were doing on the 8th of June 2008?

I was leaving Colombia, having visited Bogota (the capital), Medellin (the city you’ve seen on the news), and Bucaramanga (the city you may never have heard of, high in the mountains).

My visit to this fascinating country was possible because I’d been fortunate to win a travel bursary, awarded by the Centre for Subtropical Design here in Brisbane.

In my bursary application I'd proposed visiting Medellin, a city that had been brought to its knees by cocaine, but was fighting back with a determined vision to re-engage its people with their hometown.

A public transport system of metro, buses and cable cars was in place. New public parks and plazas had been built all across the city: high quality, well-designed places, nearly all paired with public buildings such as libraries, museums, council offices and schools.

 The Orchideorama, at the Medellin Botanic Gardens

The Orchideorama, at the Medellin Botanic Gardens

 Plaza de Cisneros (known also as Plaza de las Luces or Plaza de la Luz- Light Plaza) with the EPM Library in the background.

Plaza de Cisneros (known also as Plaza de las Luces or Plaza de la Luz- Light Plaza) with the EPM Library in the background.

In Medellin, parks were being used as agents of social change.

Bucaramanga was different. I wanted to visit Parque del Agua, a public park built by the local water authority on its grounds. The water treatment plant had operated here for many years, with locals using the land around as an informal park.  This eventually stopped as the plant grew, and the authority moved its headquarters into town.
 In 2001, the manager moved his operations back to the original site, and with support from the mayor, proposed a public park for the site.

 Administrative and treatment functions are co-located with public parkland at the Parque del Agua.

Administrative and treatment functions are co-located with public parkland at the Parque del Agua.

 The park is lush, cool, and incredibly popular.

The park is lush, cool, and incredibly popular.

In Bucaramanga, Parque del Agua showed one way to co-locate a park with another public utility.

From Colombia I travelled to the United States, where I'd arranged to meet with Friends of the High Line.  At the time, work had just begun on transforming the disused, elevated rail line into a park, but there was already a buzz about the project.

 Renovating the structure of the High Line in 2008, prior to its reinvention as a park. The Standard Hotel is under construction over and above the rail line.

Renovating the structure of the High Line in 2008, prior to its reinvention as a park. The Standard Hotel is under construction over and above the rail line.

 The same section of the High Line in 2010, a year after opening. The Standard had also enjoyed its first year of encouraging guests to wear robes when standing adjacent the full height windows, lest they startle park strollers below.

The same section of the High Line in 2010, a year after opening. The Standard had also enjoyed its first year of encouraging guests to wear robes when standing adjacent the full height windows, lest they startle park strollers below.

In New York, the High Line was showing how a park could link and reveal previously disconnected places.

From each of these places the germ of an idea was born.

On my return to Australia I was interviewed for ABC Radio's long-running weekly radio show, By Design. And that interview was heard by the fabulous Mr Ted Hamilton at CSIRO Publishing, who presented me with an opportunity to develop my fledgling ideas into a book.

Three years later I had visited many more inspiring parks, and read about the work of visionary designers, researchers, artists, managers, governments and communities around the world.  All of them had the courage to address the urban challenges they were facing, and to think differently about the ways public parks and people places could provide solutions.

It's been a long time coming, but finally, this week, Future Park: imagining tomorrow's urban parks has left home to be printed.

One of the hardest things has been stopping: with new, creative approaches to making city parks emerging every week, it’s been a constant temptation to include ‘just one more’.  Now, when I find projects that look interesting and relevant I share them on Twitter.

One of the most amazing things has been the encouragement and contributions of so many brilliant people.  There may just be one person tapping at the keyboard, but the human infrastructure supporting this project has been extraordinary. In particular, I had the extreme pleasure to collaborate with Nicole Phillips as my book designer.  When you see how great the final product looks, I think you'll agree that she has done a damn fine job.  It’s a cliché to say it wouldn’t have happened without all of you, but it’s true nonetheless.

So there you have it.  For everyone who has asked how it all came about…now you know!

There’s usually only one final question - now what?

The book is due for release in September.  If you’re in Brisbane, there’s going to be a launch event at Avid Reader bookstore in West End on Wednesday, 25th September. 

Come along and say hi!