How to get the CBD thriv­ing

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION - By NICK LEGGETT

To canopy or not to canopy? It’s not ac­tu­ally the real ques­tion. The Canopies cov­er­ing Porirua City cen­tre are com­ing down over the next few weeks, which has sparked de­bate. Views seem split be­tween those who see the Canopies as a ge­nius way to pro­tect peo­ple from the weather and those who think they were a claus­tro­pho­bic, light-block­ing mis­take.

Ei­ther way, the Canopies bring out strong emo­tions, which have been re­flected in a se­ries of ar­ti­cles in this news­pa­per.

The city coun­cil has faced some flak over the decision to re­move the sails and also seems to be bear­ing the brunt for a lack of rein­vig­o­ra­tion of the city cen­tre.

I wel­come the op­por­tu­nity the fo­cus on the Canopies has al­lowed for a deeper dis­cus­sion on what needs to change to im­prove what could be the beat­ing heart of Porirua.

We all agree we’d like to see a re­vi­talised and vi­brant city cen­tre. But let’s be hon­est: that is more about other fac­tors than whether the streets are cov­ered.

It’s about hav­ing more peo­ple, more shops and ser­vices, bet­ter pub­lic wi-fi, more cafes and bars, and great out­door spa­ces. It’s about pub­lic art and fun ac­tiv­i­ties. It’s about hav­ing more sig­nif­i­cant em­ploy­ers in the area so bet­ter con­nec­tions to pub­lic trans­port and the var­i­ous vil­lages of Porirua can hap­pen.

Imag­ine a bustling city cen­tre thrum­ming with en­ergy through the day and com­ing alive with peo­ple en­joy­ing the night life later.

That’s what will make the cen­tre thrive.

The coun­cil – in part­ner­ship with prop­erty own­ers – erected the Canopies at sig­nif­i­cant ratepayer cost in 1995 want­ing to im­prove the area. Over the past 20 years the city cen­tre has had to com­pete with an ex­panded North City and the Me­gaCen­tre for re­tail.

The cen­tre lost its sta­tus as the key spot to go shop­ping. Maybe more could have been done.

The lat­est blow was the loss of the Post Of­fice, which drew peo­ple to the area.

We are now look­ing for so­lu­tions. But those so­lu­tions are not just up to the coun­cil. They have to in­volve busi­nesses and the com­mu­nity.

We need to give peo­ple a rea­son to visit the city cen­tre, to want to hang out and shop and eat.

A good ex­am­ple of a small ini­tia­tive to give the cen­tre some life is the place­mak­ing site out­side the i-Site. The ping pong and pi­ano draw in peo­ple. It’s fun watch­ing peo­ple en­joy­ing them­selves.

The ini­tia­tive didn’t cost heaps and is a good ex­am­ple of how fresh think­ing can ac­ti­vate an area.

It’s easy to say the coun­cil just needs to spend a truck­load of money. Just re­mem­ber: it’s your rates and we do all we can not to im­pose un­rea­son­able in­creases on res­i­dents.

One idea I think would be a fan­tas­tic start would be to have more peo­ple liv­ing in the city cen­tre.

Apart­ments there would mean there were peo­ple who would need goods and ser­vices.

The coun­cil can help ex­pe­dite this through projects we put up for con­sul­ta­tion in our draft longterm plan. We could also help prop­erty own­ers tran­si­tion to of­fer­ing res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties.

Ev­ery suc­cess­ful town cen­tre now has an el­e­ment of res­i­den­tial hous­ing and there’s no rea­son why Porirua can’t do the same.

Other changes are afoot in­clud­ing green­ing Cob­ham Court, in­stalling new pub­lic toi­lets and pos­si­bly de­vel­op­ing a shared pedes­trian and road­way down the sec­tion that housed the old post of­fice to bet­ter con­nect with the court and Me­gaCen­tre.

The coun­cil is do­ing what we can to make the city cen­tre an invit­ing space. How­ever, it can’t wave a magic wand to im­prove the num­ber and va­ri­ety of shops on of­fer.

That has to come from the pri­vate sec­tor.

What we are do­ing with the Canopies is what has to be done for safety. Ex­perts told us the Canopies were at the end of their life and needed to be re­moved.

It’s just the sails be­ing taken down not the poles. That means we can put up new sails if that is what the com­mu­nity wants.

It would cost about $3 mil­lion to re­place the Canopies and they’d need to be re­placed again in another 20 years.

Views are mixed on what the best so­lu­tion is.

Let’s look at op­tions. It might turn out a mix of Canopies and open space works best. I’m keen to see an in­formed col­lec­tive decision about what so­lu­tion is best.

But whether we de­cide to canopy or not, what I re­ally want to see is a much stronger fo­cus on how we de­liver a thriv­ing city cen­tre.

The coun­cil can play a key role by work­ing with com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial in­vestors on op­por­tu­ni­ties in the city cen­tre. It’s time for some ac­tion.

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