In 2008, Wollongong City Council hired the NSW Government Architect’s Office to fix the Crown Street Mall. The 1986 pedestrian mall is ageing, dominated by a huge tubular steel ‘birdcage’ symbolising the area’s old reliance on the steel industry, and is visually clogged by centrally placed planters and street furniture. Pedestrian counts in the areas surrounding the Gateway have been dropping.
The NSW GAO put forward three options to simplify the mall, improve long distance sight lines, and improve passive surveillance. (April 2009 pdf report is here ). The options have different levels of vehicular penetration. It recommended the option with the least increase in roadway, which was carried by the WCC administrators in April last year. Since then there has been a building resistance to the plan from the retail sector, which the Illawarra Mercury has picked up on.
Local shop keepers recently fought off half-hour parking meters which they said were killing business. Local MP Noreen Hay has picked up their case to reintroduce cars into the mall, calling the NSW GAO’s work, “a cat’s lick”. She wants the mall to stop trying to compete with local shopping centres and to regain its street-style speciality shopping.
For Hay it’s not just about getting cars in there to boost retail patronage. Her other argument is that, “at night the mall turns into a no-man’s land and attracts the wrong sort of person.”
The main justification for putting the mall in in the first place appeared to be to discourage local youth from using the street as a drag strip at night.
This issue pops up all over the place – remove the cars and people feel less safe at 11pm – put them back in and the same wrong people loiter in their souped up cars outside roller-shuttered shops.
There are two malls, the mall by day and the mall by night. Seeing cars as the solution both for retail sector health and for after hours safety is a bit hopeful. Cars may appear to add some bustle to the daytime street, and provide some night time surveillance, but the central issue that isn’t going to go away under any of the plan’s options is that the centre of this city of 285,000 is pretty much dead at night.
The WCC says in a flyer: “This CCTV network has not… addressed the primary cause of the anti-social behaviour which is the lack of business and social activity in the Mall during the evening and night.”
The council and shop owners can’t expect a new master plan encouaging cars to solve that. Hopefully Hay’s desire to break away from the shopping centre model is the way forward. Shopping centres lock their doors at 6pm and the trading mix reflects that – so offer something different. But shopping centres have also shown us that squares can work and are necessary places for a community. Public space in the mall shouldn’t be reduced to footpaths without deeper consideration of the alternatives.
04.06.10 in urban-design
The rise of the consumer super-centre has led to the demise of what were once vibrant and eclectic main street malls.
Newcastle mall has experienced the same struggle against anti-social behaviour and relentless competition from commercial franchise stores.
Let’s hope that people return to these city centres and recognise the tastless excess of the super-center.