Last week the National Mainstreet Australia conference was held in Melbourne. They were some really interesting ideas presented and I thought I’d give my quick reflections on some of the opportunities I saw.
Michael Baker gave us a tour through the US and its shopping centre design – they mimic mainstreets or town centre configurations. Why does this model work?
- They have places to gather such as open piazzas
- They include art or water features
- They include uses for a broad cross section of demographics (so places for kids, facilities for older people etc)
- They are using climate control options even on the ‘outside’ shops.
- They are plenty of dining options
This idea has been slow to catch on with Australia’s shopping centre developers (although Point Cook in Victoria is a recent example), which is an enormous opportunity for main streets. With a bit of tweaking, Australian mainstreets could be more inclusive, comfortable and pleasing to be in than any shopping centre. What are we waiting for?
Suzie Mathews from City of Sydney’s presentation on their approach to developing a night time economy was fascinating. For years they had been looking at how to reduce or stop alcohol related problems at night. They’d tried different initiatives like early closing but the impact was small – until they changed perspective.
Some parts of Sydney are as busy after midnight as they during lunch time. Why not cater to this market and create a thriving night culture in Sydney? So that’s what they are doing, with the goal of leading the Asia Pacific in food and live music (watch out Melbourne!).
Tourist info booths are now open til 11pm, the Museum is putting on entertainment on Tuesday nights, portaloos are being bussed in just as they would for a major event (the idea being every Friday and Saturday night is a major event in Sydney). Their goal is to encourage more small business to open later, and provide more options for people who do want to use the city at night.
If people want to gather, give them the opportunity to do so safely. City of Sydney has provided facilities, reduced red tape and other restrictions that were in the way of allowing a night economy to thrive. The economy continues to grow.
Some other learnings were the success of highlighting precinct character by the City of Melbourne, the opportunities to create something unique and different with pop up shops, how addressing traders concerns was key for continuing with innovative initiatives for one Melbourne council, and one council in SA uses community advisory boards extensively to plan community events and build cohesion.
I think what these presentations show is that with some holistic thought about what people want, where they are going, and how a precinct can encourage and enhance this for mutual benefit, main streest will thrive. Of course these are no easy quick fix solutions (although there will be some quick solutions in a long term strategy), and will take commitment and planning. But the rewards are huge, and help is available!
There will be more in this in next week’s post (haven’t even touched on my presentation yet)! Thanks so much to the organisers. I am excited by the innovative thinking I am seeing and the acknowledgement that there’s much more that we can do to create great mainstreet experiences, we just need to think outside the square a little.