COMMUNITY INITIATIVE FOR A NEW VISION
BRIDGING GOVERNMENT, LEADERS AND THE COMMUNITY IN AVALON
In 2012, local community leaders were motivated and driven to deliver a holistic ‘vision’ for the Avalon Beach Community when planning announcements left them feeling uninspired. The commercial centre was experiencing decline and occupancy rates were reduced to 65%. Local residents collectively believed that a bottom-up approach to future planning and self-determination would deliver a truly authentic vision for the area. They connected and mobilised to establish a community-led partnership that would deliver a new vision and master plan for Avalon Beach.
Sym Studio (community wellness + design) acted as the independent facilitator to form a bridge between government, local leaders, and the general community. The team collaborated with Avalon Preservation Trust (est. 1963) and other local professionals to harness best practice protocols; tease out local knowledge, and; leverage the high number of volunteer organisations. It was agreed that the study area would include both the ‘core’ commercial town centre but also the broader ‘zone of influence’, which stretched north as far as Palm Beach.
“The grass-roots initiative is potentially one of the first of its kind in NSW and an empowering move for the Avalon Beach Community.”
Pittwater Life, April Issue, 2016
By the end of 2014, after a two-year process, twelve key community groups had actively requested involvement, including:
Avalon /Palm Beach Chambers of Commerce,
Avalon Surf Life Saving,
Avalon Bowling Club,
Pittwater Natural Heritage Association,
Eramboo Artist Environment (ERAMBOO),
Claireville and Bilgola Plateau Resident’s Association (CAPRA) and,
3 North Ward Councillors.
Having a community-led partnership meant there was a freedom to explore individual ideas, however controversial. Ideas would ferment down to the core big movements, which resonated with the wider community. The engagement process combined place-making facilitation with physical form and character assessment that ‘grounded’ the project; responding to the tangible and intangible. The process is adaptable, measurable & scalable. The facilitator role was pivotal in steering the process forward to achieve productive outcomes that were positive and free of preconceived ideas and agendas. These thoughts, ideas, and aspirations became the ‘vision drivers’ and project ‘principles’.
“Having a community-led partnership meant there was a freedom to explore individual ideas, however controversial.”
The result was an uncompromised ‘Avalon Beach Place Vision’ document; a simple, easy to reference, synthesised, double sided A3 page. The look, feel, and the message was designed to be equally engaging for both planning professionals as well as the general community. This powerful tool will ensure all future planning is authentic, reflects the aspirations of the community and local government is held accountable for their decision making. The vision document depicts Avalon Beach as a ‘village haven’; a peninsula village that cultivates creativity, bio-design and quality of life, and calls for “contextual architecture and unrefined materials that enhance over time”.  As well as a vision statement, the document provides six key driving principles to ensure the future master plan responds to the vision of the community groups.
“This powerful tool will ensure all future planning is authentic, reflects the aspirations of the community and local government is held accountable for their decision making. ”
The guiding document was unanimously supported by all 12 Pittwater councillors and was adopted in March 2016. It will now operate as a reference guide for four separate master plan documents including Avalon Town Centre (1995); Avalon Golf Course (2003); Dunbar Park (2005), and; North Avalon Beach Reserve (2013). The Place Vision document was a product of shared council aspiration ‘‘that more villages and town centres would adopt this model to allow communities to self-determine the future of their local areas’’. 
When interviewed Pittwater Council Deputy General Manager, Melinda Hewitt, stated: “the work this group has done to date provides council with a local vision, a platform for further conversations, planning and designing of the Avalon village centre for the future” (Pittwater Life, April Issue, 2016). We are currently seeing the effects of this community activation both within Avalon as well as the surrounding areas, with Palm Beach residents requesting (in June 2016) to undertake the same community-driven process for their seaside village.
The process has also inspired fellow resident professionals to initiate secondary ‘ground up ‘initiatives within the Avalon community, such as Avalon Beach Cultural Mapping and Youth Arts Cultural Mapping projects. In April of this year, the Cultural Mapping initiative solicited 300 community responses and facilitated two workshops. The intent was to uncover strengths and gaps in Avalon’s social infrastructure to build upon the Avalon Beach Vision and ensure future planning acknowledges the rich cultural and creative diversity of Avalon Beach. 
With local governments in a state of transition - a constructive tool such as the ‘Avalon Beach Place Vision’, allows community leaders to be proactive in sub-district planning rather than reactive.