The International Cities, Town Centres and Communities (ICTC) is an annual conference which explores the revitalisation of town centres and main streets. This year’s event was held in Newcastle, a town that has experienced firsthand the revitalisation of its foreshore regions and its central business district.
The development patterns and urban form prevalent since the 1960s is unsustainable and ‘big box’ shopping centres while long regarded as an anchor for suburban retail expenditure are a detriment to creating liveable and vibrant suburbs. Through an urban design movement known as ‘new urbanism’ there is a push to revitalise traditional ‘main street’ shopping districts to provide places for the community to shop, interact and provide a variety of entertainment and commercial possibilities.
A number of cities within the UK and the US are designating central commercial areas as ‘business improvement districts’ allowing the business community to take direct control over the streetscape and the improvement of the commercial retail mix. Within Australia a special rates scheme, such as the scheme provided within Main Street Croydon, provides the implementation of a similar concept.
The equivalent of ‘main street’ within Ringwood is Maroondah Highway, currently a six-lane road which splits Ringwood Station and the commercial and retail precincts into two. Maroondah Highway is its current form is a detriment to revitalising the centre of Ringwood and the State Government must ensure that Maroondah Highway is narrowed to at least four lanes once the Ringwood Bypass is completed. Pedestrians form the lifeblood of any commercial district and pedestrian amenity must be improved to transform Ringwood into a vibrant commercial and retail centre.
Among the topics covered there was a presentation by Ian Robson from the Public Transport Authority in Perth. Ian covered the success that Perth and the Western Australian government has had in achieving urban renewal through genuinely integrating transport with land use planning. The Perth equivalents of Melbourne’s ‘activity centres’, known as Transport Orientated Developments (TOD) provide true integration between the creation of vibrant suburban centres and the provision of improved public transport infrastructure of services. Unlike the increasingly flawed process of Melbourne 2030, the Perth Metropolitan Strategy provided more than just rhetoric but a detailed implementation plan that has seen the establishment of new rail lines and improved bus services.
Community engagement is seen as critical and this was covered in both a local and statewide context. Thorough and genuine community engagement is required to ensure the development of plans that are acceptable and beneficial for the wider community and this ongoing engagement must be strengthened as we strive towards creating sustainable development.
ICTC demonstrated that the return to pedestrian friendly vibrant centres is not only desirable but also possible if leadership is provided by relevant the governments and their agencies. The opportunity to transform Ringwood must not be lost.
For further details on the International Cities, Town Centres and Communities (ICTC) Society or on the conference please visit www.ictcsociety.org.