While traffic management is in the hands of others I’m …

Comment on Revealing the spirit of Parsons Street by Mike Gillam.

While traffic management is in the hands of others I’m happy to provide a personal view.
At least two dedicated east-west bicycle / pedestrian pathways linking existing pavements that flank the Todd River and Stuart Highway are urgently needed. Given the flatness of terrain and favourable weather, it seems unbelievable that Alice Springs is not leading the country – a fantastic bike path network is long over-due.
While some locals deride the importance of bikes because they don’t own or use one, the same people think nothing of taking long walks or riding a bike to relax when they’re on holiday. To create a network of commuter bike paths we may need to lose some parallel car-parks but that shouldn’t pose a problem because safe dedicated bike paths would encourage many more people to ride bicycles. Some streets are wide enough to accommodate bike paths without loss of car-parks but roundabouts are seriously problematic.
The south side of Wills Terrace for instance, with some minor modifications to pedestrian refuges, has easily enough space for a full length bike path. The south side of Stott Terrace has similar advantages.
Like many Alice Springs issues I’d be surprised if bicycle riders have not already done the lobbying and provided the authorities with all the strategic information necessary to plan an amazing network. Returning to your question about Parsons Street.
My outline for Parsons Street notes the following: “While this ‘directions’ document does not detail the northern side of Parsons Street (a much narrower pedestrian zone) the Stuart Highway beckons and the potential for this northern edge of Parsons street to provide a dedicated bike / walking path needs investigation.”
I’d also highlight the advantages of open space opposite the courthouse (north side of the street) versus the future impacts of traffic (south side) accessing basement carparking within the proposed five storey development of the old Commonwealth bank site.
Anyone who questions the justification for bike-paths in Alice Springs should check out the number of bicycles chained to Monte’s front fence on a Friday night. I hope the Town Council and NT Government can address the bicycle path network (or lack of it) before some-one dies.

Mike Gillam Also Commented

Revealing the spirit of Parsons Street
I’d like to explain my support for re-opening the north end of Todd Mall to answer some queries I’ve been getting. Opening this section to traffic was a fait accompli, at least in principle, when I was asked to provide creative direction for an expanded “footpath” at the eastern end of Parsons Street.
Proposed road-works would see traffic re-connected from Wills Terrace through the existing Mall to Leichhardt Terrace. Turning east on Parsons Street the traffic lane would be confined to the northern (ANZ) side and the pedestrian zone would occupy the southern (Youth Hostels) side. The proposed pedestrian zone is 145m by 7.8m and extends from Leichhardt Tce westwards to just short of the old Commonwealth Bank building. This was the focus area of my work.
If I did not believe in the necessity of re-opening the northern part of the mall, I would not have accepted this commission. I’ve summarised my reasoning:
• I believe the strong resistance to opening the northern part of the mall stems from the public’s instinct to protect even low-grade pedestrian spaces at all costs in a town where cars seem to rule, bicycle riders fend for themselves and pedestrians want more. Certainly much of this frustration and dissatisfaction is fueled by the obvious improvements to public spaces and the success of amazing “place-making” projects in other parts of the country.
• Lets face it – the built environment is pretty dull and we are rescued from mediocrity by the natural landscape that provides an extraordinary town setting. I should mention here a dwindling number of heritage buildings that do make a significant contribution in Parsons Street.
• Why can’t we actually lead the country and highlight our distinctive sense of place and identity when other communities, even those working with the ordinary, seem to be doing it better?
• Many people can see and sense the potential of Alice Springs and are starting to believe that the blandness of our public spaces has something to do with the government meekly taking its cues from business. Is the re-opening of the mall another case of vested interests getting what it wants? On this occasion, is the proposal in the public interest? Yes and yes.
• Our instincts to defend the public domain need to be tempered with basic analysis and facts. We might also consider quality, diversity, sustainability and the economic viability of the whole. Narrowness of choice and repetition of experience are unlikely to attract public support or tourists and even less likely to give small business a fighting chance to succeed. Ultimately the integration of public spaces with appropriate enterprises is essential to maintaining reinvestment in the street. High value public spaces are renowned as economic multipliers and small business at its best, offers a level of stewardship and care for the street that governments are unable to match.
• So supporters of the public domain need to look beyond quantity to the richness and function of contrasting spaces that offer a multiplicity of uses and speak to a population, residential and tourist, that are not easily impressed.
Todd Mall is a narrow pedestrian zone trending roughly north-south and lying parallel to the Todd River, the town’s spiritual heart. The river’s future potential to enrich the public domain is best appreciated from the elevated site of the new IAD café on South Terrace. Hopefully this trend will continue as more businesses see the advantage of facing this amazing corridor of red gums.
• Todd Mall is approximately 450 meters long and our population of say, 30,000 is small, tourists not-with-standing. With a population of 1.3 million and tourists the successful Rundle Mall in Adelaide is slightly longer at 500m. The Townsville Mall, built in 1979, at roughly the same time as Todd Mall (semi mall 1978, full mall 1987) and with a city of 160,000 has been scrapped after decades of poor performance.
• Todd Mall is prone to cold south-easterlies in the winter and because of its orientation the benefits of warm winter sun are reduced. In summer, breezes from the north give some relief but shade is inadequate and discontinuous. Gardens beds have a neglected look and the Mall generally does not project regional design, innovation or basic quality for that matter.
• People are quick to point out the success of cafes that give life to the southern end of the Mall but the insertion of more daytime trading cafes into the northern Mall is unlikely to prove viable for business owners and would not address the low numbers of people using the space in the evenings. A careful mix of businesses and services addressing the street combined with appropriate access is needed to achieve general improvements to trading and security. Eventually a residential population in the upper levels would help and this needs to be actively promoted, possibly through genuine rating relief that will encourage developers to make the substantial investments required.
• Cafés are labour intensive and margins are very tight. Protection from cold winds and the ready availability of winter sunlight, particularly in the mornings, are elementary and desirable features for any café. Parsons Street is one of the few locations where this occurs – pedestrian amenity on the street is the missing ingredient. With its north facing orientation Parsons Street is a hidden gem but this needs to be protected from the clumsy development of tall buildings on the northern side of the street that would block out winter sunlight.
• When the mall was built, the dangers of allowing a large stand alone entity such as the Alice Plaza (previously Ford Plaza) to locate along side and draw people away from public spaces were well understood. This is a classic example of narrow commercial interests triumphing over the longer-term future of their neighbours and the community at large. Certainly many of the remaining small traders who depended entirely on Mall frontages (by now a diminished activity interface with no vehicle traffic) were severely damaged by the Plaza’s design and its internalized pedestrian precinct.
• The plight of small businesses on the Mall worsened as Plaza retailers facing the Mall gradually severed their connection to this public domain eg. blocking sight lines (windows) with graphics and locking doorways onto the Mall, because it improved security and allowed them to operate with fewer staff.
• Priceline Pharmacy (formerly Amcal) provides an interesting case study of momentum in the Mall stalling by degrees. Concerns for the safety of staff leaving work and the public’s nervousness about walking into a lonely mall after sundown to collect medications influenced the decision to close earlier at 6pm instead of 7.30pm. This extended hours / essential service was moved to Yeperenye, a location that offered the convenience and safety of vehicle access. This seemingly minor loss of Mall activity at just one shop front from 6.00 to 7.30 pm. almost certainly impacted subtly and negatively on the confidence of people venturing up the Mall to look for a restaurant.
• Given our small population the Mall is probably too long and too monotonous and everybody, even those who shop online and support an unseen industrial zone in a major city, should be concerned by the future of the town center.
• When I commenced work on Parsons Street, designers working for the NT Government were developing conceptual plans to improve pedestrian amenity in half a dozen projects across the CAD (CBD). These included youth facilities to the north of Wills Tce, a multi use meeting place occupying a large site between Adelaide House and Hartley Street and the linear pedestrian corridor along Parsons Street leading to the Todd River.
• Imagine the possibilities for young and old, for families and cultural tourists if Alice Springs could develop such a rich suite of public spaces. At present only Parsons Street has some limited security of funding and I would hope the potential of this east – west pedestrian zone would readily compensate for a loss of Mall space as cars return (with appropriate traffic calming features in place) to the northern end of the Mall. I’m also hopeful that public energy can be directed towards ensuring that a greater mix of community sites, as highlighted at the recent public meeting, will be supported and funded in the near future.

Recent Comments by Mike Gillam

Melanka building would obscure unequalled backdrop
While I broadly support the views of the writer, I’d like to correct what is clearly a typo.
The building height limit in the CBD is 14 m. not 8.5m, and for the record, I won’t be making a submission to the NT Planning Commission, a Statutory Authority advising the NT Government on planning matters including building heights in Alice Springs because I don’t regard the public consultation process as genuine.
Recent calls by the Chief Minister for expressions of interest in the development of land at Whittaker Street, just outside the western boundary of the CBD and in an area with a LOWER height limit, makes a mockery of this public consultation.
The artist’s impression shows a building that dramatically exceeds the stated limit for this area, from memory, not even 14 m but currently 8.5m.
Of course, the nature of legislation, regulations and town plans may be subject to the extraordinary powers granted to the responsible Minister who can always find some justification.
In closing I would give credit to the NT Planning Commission for its recognition of the value of protecting some critical east west sight-lines across the CBD.
However the town’s future shape and collective massing of buildings will be determined to a large extent by the uncoordinated actions of individual developers and politicians in the decades ahead.
Ultimately this is a game of chance and DESIGN, that elusive collective vision for Alice Springs, appears to be taking a back seat in the process. As a struggling tourist town we can and should do much better.

Festival broadens ambitions of Alice Cinema
At a time when the town’s commercial centre is under great stress we are very fortunate to have such dynamic and progressive people directing the cinema complex.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the tip …
Delightfully zany, elegant, rigorously conceived and resolved, an asset to the landfill and the town. Congratulations to the artist for her uncompromising effort and those on the Town Council who placed their faith in her and dared to make this happen. I hope the obvious quality of this public art has raised the confidence of decision makers and they feel vindicated to do it again with equal rigour. Perhaps in time, as the town’s artistic side is further highlighted and revealed we may regain some of our reputation as a tourist mecca.

Dancers take over after dark
Not denying there is an equivalent need for the hard core stories but surely this is the Alice Springs News at its very best.I’m kicking myself for missing the event.

Residency is at risk, says heritage group
Hal, where to start…If you peddle misinformation some readers might hyperventilate. But I think you’re ignoring the elephant in the room here…no-one likes their time being wasted and that’s how I feel trying to unravel your torrent of opinion and innuendo. Time prevents me from responding to more of your posts. It’s not simply that you distort reality by describing The Residency as “…current inactive state…” or that it’s preposterous and insulting to say, “Have you considered that Heritage Alice Springs’ dogmatic approach to these matters contributed to the Old Riverside not being given Heritage listing?” What an outrageous example of shoot the messenger by some-one who has not seen the nomination by HAS. But wait there’s more, “…I often think the heritage crowd exceed their brief…” Really? They’re the main reason you can cite the example of the Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame at its fantastic heritage location. And again, “…We don’t have very many buildings worth listing. Too many tin sheds, and who really cares…” Your regard for vernacular architecture including sheds is out of step with rising national interest and ignores much of the development history of Alice Springs.
PS Re. leasing the Residency for use as a cafe, I reiterate the issue of onsite car-parking. From memory, 6 parks are required for every 100m2 of net floor area and any alfresco dining areas – so I’m guessing this site would have to at least double the existing parks – this reasonable condition may be waived by the Minister BUT it’s in the best commercial interests of cafe owners to provide viable parking to lessen the impact on the street during periods of peak trade. And no, the idea that a new venture would be allowed to free-load on existing public car-parking is unlikely to win much support. The RFDS has it all, why try to replicate that experience with less at the Residency?

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