17/12/2018 9:00:00 a.m.
17 December 2018
A viral video about heart-warming conversations between strangers had viewers wanting to try out a ‘Conversation Station’ for themselves. Now, in downtown Whanganui, they can.
Ellen Young, Whanganui District Council’s Town Centre Regeneration Project Manager says the ‘little park’ on Victoria Avenue – dubbed The Conversation Station – has just had audio permanently installed.
“Now, at the push of a button, the park will actually talk to visitors, encouraging them to ask a friend or stranger a fun or important question”.
The little park was added to Victoria Avenue (near the corner of Guyton Street) in April and is a structure with tables, seating and greenery.
Ms Young says, “Working out how to optimise connections between people in city spaces is one of the most important aspects of the Town Centre Regeneration project”.
With this in mind she dreamed up the idea of a promotional video featuring strangers having conversations in the little park.
Ms Young worked with Lamp Studios to create the promotional video, which was released in June this year. They set up a person with a microphone in a van, hid some speakers in the little park, and filmed strangers having conversations. The intention was simply to bring the little park to public attention.
Unexpectedly, the video went viral on Facebook, with over 170,000 views in one week. Locals came down to the little park, wanting to try out the experience for themselves.
According to Ms Young, a frequent comment from those who viewed the video was “in this day of smartphones we are losing the art of face-to-face conversation and an initiative like this encourages it”.
In response to the huge level of public interest, it was decided to make the audio questions in the little park a permanent feature. Last week solar-powered clean energy audio was installed, with local businesses Inc Creative and E-ology donating time to the project. Visitors to the park are now able to push a button, which activates a recorded conversation starter.
Operators are able to change the recorded questions from time to time, to keep it interesting and get people talking about topical issues.
“The Whanganui community is a very open and friendly one and the video really highlights this. It’s great to have something that encourages further community connection and normalises talking to someone you don’t know, in a way that makes you feel comfortable,” says Ms Young. “You can also use it with your friends because it instigates conversations you may not otherwise have had – and it’s fun.”
“Many out-of-towners commented that they really want one in their town, which highlights the fact this is a first for New Zealand and probably the world,” says Ms Young.
An artwork by Pakohe Papers – currently in the design phase – will be added to the back of the structure in the coming few weeks.
The Conversation Station video can be viewed on the Whanganui Town Centre Regeneration Facebook page or on Youtube: https://youtu.be/HqAPVLZCLbI