Meet the IPM: Interview with Craig Grocke

Craig GrockeWith a background in urban and regional planning, tourism development, urban design and recreation planning, Craig is responsible for economic development, managing strategic projects and industry research for Regional Development Australia – Barossa. Craig has had a career in Local and State Government over the past 15 years working for the Department of Planning and Local Government and the South Australian Tourism Commission in South Australia, the Department of Conservation and Land Management in Western Australia and the Dunedin City Council in New Zealand.

Craig is also a part-time PhD candidate at the Institute for Regional Development of the University of Tasmania, researching the “Influence of Place Attachment and Social Capital on Community-led Place Strengthening Initiatives in the Barossa Region of South Australia”.

In his spare time, Craig runs a cycling group for new and rusty riders looking to train towards a personal cycle challenge event.

“Economies don’t start and stop at local government boundaries and taking an integrated design approach, moving away from silos based on function to holistic place-based thinking is how we like to approach regional economic development.”

Craig Grocke, you are an Economic Development Executive (Spatial Planning & Place Management) at Regional Development Australia Barossa, a not for profit organisation that supports regional economic development and jobs growth. Can you tell us exactly what the organisation does and what your role in it is?

Craig Grocke: RDA Barossa’s role is close to what most people understand when taking a place management approach – facilitating and coordinating projects and programs between tiers of Government, business, industry groups and community to create a more vibrant, resilient and viable regional economy.

My role within that is focused on urban and regional planning advice, township economic development, grants, tourism infrastructure and all the odd bits that fall in between. No one day or week is the same as another. One day could be matters relating to freight transport, a business needing planning advice to expand, a town group seeking a grant to revitalise a public space or a regional tourism group looking to improve tourism signage.

How is place management involved in regional economic development? Aren’t they two different things?

Craig Grocke: The success of both often requires careful intersection between people (businesses and residents), the place (the resources) and the politics that govern management practice of both. We tend to act as a more independent (often invisible) third party within the Barossa Region, encouraging a wider spatial consideration beyond local ‘mental’ boundaries and within a context of a larger often global economy. Economies don’t start and stop at local government boundaries and taking an integrated design approach and moving away from silos based on function to holistic place-based thinking is how we like to approach regional economic development.

Do you find that there are challenges particular to the Australian context that we do not find on other parts of the world?

Craig Grocke: In Australia, regional often mean large spatial areas where the density of population, infrastructure, businesses, and investment means economies of scale are not the same as many European countries. This means similar programs or practice are hard to translate to make economic sense.

The alternative to that in Regional Australia is that we see many bottom-up community or business-led initiatives driving place management and development. Possibly more freedom to do this and a tradition of self-help rather than waiting for Government to do something for them. This makes places in Regional Australia more resilient I think.

You worked in the tourism sector in Adelaide for many years. As you know, at the IPM we have a Special Interest Group on Responsible Tourism. Does that resonate with you?

Craig Grocke: Yes, even though ‘Sustainable Tourism’ was the buzz word when I was working in the tourism sector, which also requires operators being responsible, particularly in natural settings. In most cases Australia hasn’t (but for a few locations) reached a tourism capacity that has generated any real adverse experiences for residents and the environment unlike many parts of the world. We are remote and large enough that we don’t see the high visitor numbers concentrated in one location. So sustainability is a more popular term as it is the changes within the natural environment from climate change (Great Barrier Reef bleaching, intense bushfires) and industry pollution (fracking for gas) that poses the greatest threat to our natural environment and fauna which is what most people come to see in Australia.

You recently participated at the IPM study trip to Berlin. What did you find particularly interesting in what you saw there? Are there any lessons from Berlin that you could transfer to your work in Australia?

Craig Grocke: I think the way public spaces are curated and used to generate a sense of community, social connection and balance between the built and natural environment. I was in a big city, but in many areas I also felt like I was in a big park or street where I could dwell and still hear the birds. That balance, the scale between width and height of the buildings in the streets made even an Aussie like me who likes big open spaces feel more comfortable to explore the streets. So the urban design ‘feel’ was good for me and how a thread of place history was woven between the new and old built fabric of the city.

The interview was conducted by Ares Kalandides

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