how to revive a dull urban area?


Sixty-six years ago famous town planner Frank Heath took a bite out of his hometown of Melbourne – from a safe distance. The Melbourne Herald was interviewing Heath in London. Likely causing straphangers to suffocate with their pipe smoke in red rattles across town, he told the newspaper:

Australia is 10 to 15 years behind modern thinking in planning and building cities… We don’t think broadly enough – we are just making the future difficult. Melbourne is a very drab city.

Then the wink:

Why are there no rooftop cafes, no outdoor cafes in Melbourne?

Earlier this month, the government of the state of Victoria released a plan for the Southbank Arts Precinct in Melbourne, then the Danish architectural firm Gehl offers major changes in Melbourne’s Docklands. Both recommend “to activate the street”. But how to make a street live in such a normative way?

Street life in the 80s and 90s

Heath was a modernist, with all that involved – a belief in progress, technology, and labor saving devices. He lived until 1980; he may have just seen the very beginnings of Australia’s entry into the era of a veritable urban renewal of the vital street.

Suddenly potted plants, trees, chairs and tables were on the sidewalks, perhaps, and even street entertainment – all of those things that, for most of the 20th century, had been seen as obstacles. what the streets were really intended for: easy access to traffic, on wheels and / or on foot.

The change (back) was inspired in large part by the legend of European (in particular, Mediterranean) street life and the writings of the New York architectural writer Jane jacobs, which celebrated the safe and satisfying life lived in public on the city’s mixed-use street.

Parisian street life.
zoetnet

The streets live, die and come back to life in remarkable ways. When Nicole Thibault opened her Scrabble thrift store in the early 1990s on Ann Street in Brisbane’s West End, there was only one other business among the empty storefronts: a men’s club, The Red Garter.

In Ann Street she was, she says:

a Lone Ranger… for at least a year and then a few other stores followed suit. The main ones were Silver Rocket, Kleptomania and Blonde Venus, Bent Books.

By the time Thibault sold his business and left, Rue Ann had once again become a popular retail business and the neighborhood had come back to life. It was still noisy and dirty, but instead of a place to walk through, it was a destination.

The task of the human funnel

The question is whether such stories are just building blocks of an organic and demographic ebb and flow, or if successful streets – i.e. vibrant and engaging – can be created or remade. .

Walk into any planned large residential area – Springfield near Brisbane or Craigieburn in north Melbourne – and you’ll find that the main shopping street is designed on a human scale model, to encourage interaction, rest areas among street plantations, coffee breaks and quiet contemplation (or, at least, window shopping).

That such blatant blows on the human funnel can really work is surely due to luck, happy accidents, and geography – the latter two basically no more than two other different types of luck.

Yet it is often the fervent wish of traders, townspeople and citizens that their main street, whether in a central business district or a major suburb, be livened up in a way that appears to carry the flag of a new wave not only of prosperity in itself but also of diversity, variety, eccentricity even… and maybe ultimately just interest.

The main shopping street poses a thorny problem because it is by definition a public space that needs people all the time – and a river of people that is constantly renewing itself – but it also needs certain spaces to be defined and reserved. to certain functions.

Antisocial behavior needs to be controlled, and indeed social behavior – stopping to chat – can in many cases be problematic, as it disrupts the flow, even deliciously.

Malls authors / designers perfectly streamlined the customer delivery process, only to be told that customers have changed – now they were looking for a comparison to a bohemian village or low rise shopping experience.

Sydney Road Street Party, Brunswick.
Tayser

Raised by the city

When I visited Queensland Springfield in 2011, the main shopping street ended with a billboard promising more than the large mound of dirt it was built to hide. Streets tend to work best when they go somewhere, although most people who use them will not go where the street goes.

Instead, users feed off the fleeting spectacle of automobile traffic and each other’s spectacle. In fact, they will often view automobiles with contempt: I have spent a lot of time in the main shopping streets of Sydney and Melbourne (I think of King Street, Newtown and Sydney Road, Brunswick / Coburg), every start of a major highway to Australia’s other major city. I have noticed that there is a cavalier and proprietary attitude among users of both.

People will blithely wander through traffic to get to the other side of the road, and the attitude seems to be (that was certainly how I felt when I was doing it) that the road is not for cars that drive. pass. It is for the daily local user, and sheer willpower creates a force field to prevent damage from the sometimes creeping, sometimes unpredictable local traffic.

This is perhaps the secret of an effective street: the feeling (not necessarily an illusion) that you are part of something bigger, that if on the one hand you are only participating in flaneurie (the act of walking around) one is also part of the body of the larger city, not just camping in a dead end of standing water.

The key to designing a busy street is definitely its integration into major developments or impressive backdrops. But an “impressive backdrop” is not just physical.

Streets can also be designed around cultural hotspots (ethnic or otherwise) or some other reason to make us think that we are not only pushing Pavlov to the sound bell of capitalism, but also experimenting – in a peripheral vision, in an intercultural vision, interclass encounters, and in the atmosphere – something uplifting and even educational.


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