How can Victoria's regional cities *bring home the gold* from the Commonwealth Games investment?
Back view of female athlete with prosthetic leg getting ready to run outdoors, backlit by the sun
Placemaking tips to ensure Victoria's host regions don't end up losing the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to have been working in citymaking for over one hundred thousand laps of the sun (three decades *ahem*) have likely worked, in some capacity, on projects to support large sporting games. Like the sun, these grand sporting events are cyclical in nature.
In preparing for next week's Placemaking for the Commonwealth Games webinar, that Village Well is delivering with ARM Architecture, I was reflecting on the question: What could *great* placemaking look like for Victoria's Commonwealth Games investment? But we learn most from our mistakes, so I flipped the proposition and reflected on what poor placemaking can look like instead. Unfortunately, I have lived experience to share on this topic!
Back in 2001 I was a young landscape architect working for a multinational design and engineering firm. Our team had won a number of infrastructure projects for the Manchester Commonwealth Games. The competition was tight, the budgets constrained and timelines were miniscule. We jumped into the project, ensured our response met the technical requirements of the sports in question, then focused all our energy on maximising design outcomes with the limited resources available. A bare skerrick of consultation with future users. No engagement with local stakeholders. No long-term vision. No consideration to broader social and economic impact. No planning of the asset management and/or disposal.
Twenty years later, and a whole lot wiser, these kinds of projects are now a source of shame for me.
I now recognise that if there is no social, economic or broader eco-system uplift from your project then you are failing at placemaking!
The 2026 Commonwealth Games are barrelling towards us. There is actually very little time in the race for Victoria to get ready! It is a matter of personal importance to me to use my own voice, and sphere of influence, to shine a light on my mistakes of the past so others may learn from them.
So how *can* we leave lasting eco-system uplift and a positive placemaking legacy for host regions from the 2026 Commonwealth Games investment?
1. Get smarter with industry partnerships and shared asset use
Design accommodation to positively address housing shortages and meet local community needs. Universities, social housing providers and the private sector have appetite to co-develop, co-manage and even co-fund shared assets. Athletes village assets can become 'resource hungry beasts' and should be designed to meet local cultural and community needs. Birmingham Athletes Village is composed of 1 & 2 bedroom flats that fails to cater to its culturally diverse community where intergenerational families with over 6 people is the norm. Lets learn from this!
Our world is transforming rapidly and customer preferences are evolving sharply. It is critical to not just keep your finger on the pulse of the currently customer, but invest time and energy to understand the customer of the future, their needs, desires and aspirations. The world of retail is a race. Don’t be left behind.
2. Embrace local collaboration!
Enhanced community pride and social capital can be achieved if businesses and residents are engaged in infrastructure design, local events and more. Previous Australian Games has seen an overflow of positive spirit with people flooding the city streets to celebrate together. Rich collaborative outcomes may be unlocked by bringing together local communities, stakeholders, Government and authorities to co-design and co-deliver events programs to support community celebration and encourage visitors to linger longer and 'stop, stick and spend.'
3. Enhance liveability, health & wellbeing in city centres
Focus Games assets near urban centres to minimise expensive transport infrastructure investment in what is ultimately a 2-week event. Keep the investment centralised on areas that already have mobility infrastructure, accomodation and facilities in place to host large scale visitation.
4. Maximise use of existing facilities
Refurbishing venues where possible rather than building new assets. Only 2 of the 13 venues were newly built when Brisbane hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1982. Refurbishing existing facilities multiple years prior to main event preparations means community can use the facilities and strengthen an ongoing sense of ownership.
5. Put people first - before, during and after
Provide places people want to be in and keep them on site for work, play and socialising. Ensure large scale public spaces, designed to accomodate tens or hundreds of thousands, may also be easily adapted to be finer-grain, human scaled once the games have moved on.
6. Enhance visibility and tourism in regions through savvy marketing
Over half a million visitors will be dispersed across the host regions within 2 weeks for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. But international Games visitors are often on a tight time schedule. Great tourism marketing will be required to boost regional tourism numbers outside of the Games fortnight. In 2019, an Australian Queensland Outback tourism campaign attracted more than 1 million visitors. Let's target this kind of tourism impact for Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Gippsland!
7. Measure social impact of the 2026 Commonwealth Games
To date, the impact of previous Commonwealth Games across the globe has only been measured in GDP in the immediate years after the event. Hats off to Birmingham who, this year, is measuring the social impact for the first time. This provides a new benchmark for Victoria to consider applying to understand the true positive legacy of its investment.
We are excited by the possibilities that the 2026 Commonwealth Games will bring to Victoria and the host regions. Village Well is partnering with ARM Architecture on a new webinar conversation series on Placemaking for the Commonwealth Games. Jesse Judd and I will be inviting friends and collaborators to unpack what the roadmap to positive legacy can look like. Register for the upcoming webinar here, which is being held on 5 October @ 12noon AEST.
Feel free to get in touch with us anytime on firstname.lastname@example.org or 03 9650 0090 if you are seeking placemaking and collaboration support. We would love to help.
Blog by Valli Morphett, CEO of Village Well
Valli is a placemaking thought leader, webinar guru and co-design engagement specialist who has spent decades driving systemic place-based change within Government & the consulting sectors in Australia and the UK.
As a ‘systems nerd’ she knows that sustainable citymaking requires an eco-systems approach that leverages local strengths to create economic, social, cultural, environmental and political value for urban precincts.