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Any degree of change to one of the city’s cornerstones is going to cause friction. And that is precisely what is happening when it comes to the Dunedin City Council’s vision for George St.
Change can be scary at the best of times. It is often hard to see the benefit of moving away from tried and tested ways of doing things. Only in retrospect, sometimes years later, does it become clear that, perhaps, matters have improved as a consequence.
In the midst of a global pandemic — with Covid-19 exerting its malign influence over all aspects of our daily existence and its tendrils seeking out ever more ways of upending the life we thought we knew — it is even more understandable we would want to cling on to the status quo.
‘‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’’ has probably never been more relevant in some people’s eyes than now.
However, when it comes to Dunedin’s main street, it could not be claimed ‘‘it ain’t broke’’.
There have been rumblings for some time that George St retailers are not doing as well as they could be, if the thoroughfare could somehow be made more attractive to potential customers and interesting enough to keep them there for longer than just a half-hour visit.
At the moment, when the street is congested with traffic, it is not a particularly pleasant experience for anyone. Any buzz of excitement generated is easily offset by the difficulties faced by pedestrians crossing the road and for those searching for car parks.
Getting George St right for the next few decades — for pedestrians, shoppers, motorists and retailers — will be a delicate balancing act. Little wonder that the city council’s moves in recent weeks, to make it a one-way south route and a streetscape that is far more attractive for those on foot, have already polarised many.
Despite a stamp of approval for the revamp from the Otago Chamber of Commerce, once concerns about traffic flow had been dealt with and assurance given that work would stop to allow for Christmas shopping, some George St retailers have taken umbrage .
One of the most vocal is jeweller Brent Weatherall, who has personalised the issue by mocking up a dartboard with a photograph of Mayor Aaron Hawkins and effectively banning him from his shop.
Mr Weatherall has labelled the city council a joke. Previously he delivered a petition to the council bearing the signatures of 6500 people dead set against a redevelopment.
He doesn’t speak for all George St retailers, however, some of whom support the changes.
The question is, what initiatives have these retailers actually taken themselves to attract extra people to George St, be it market days or family days?
Mr Hawkins appears to have taken Mr Weatherall’s bombast on the chin, saying he understands there will be a spectrum of opinions about the changes.
The city council needs to put such personal invective to one side and focus on doing a fantastic job on Dunedin’s showcase shopping street.
We need to remember George St has a character that other cities would die for.