How to get the CBD thriving
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.