What next for Dunedin's George St?

The Dunedin City Council is consulting on the future of George St's retail zone. With a pot of money to spend, necessary maintenance work to do and a long gap since the area's last major investment, it is George St's time for renewal.

Many of the discussion points raised by the council explore the area's future ideal mix of traffic and pedestrians, from the status quo to full pedestrianisation.

But is pedestrianisation the way to go? It is easy to cite cities with wonderful pedestrian areas and expect, with a few new road signs and some cobbles, the same could work here. The truth is more complex.

For most people, the best pedestrianised city centres are those of Europe, where old buildings line cobbled streets, shop windows lean over footpaths and throngs of cultured continentals congregate, despite the lack of car parks.

This image is true of almost all European centres with a long enough history. And therein lies the problem. Even in Europe, few recently-developed towns sport such idyllic pedestrianised centres. In fact, they look much the same as New Zealand's.

But the old towns were built to serve different needs. Life and death depended on their design and construction as bands of soldiers, bandits, wild animals and more threatened. Towns were effectively fortresses.

Labour, planning and consenting laws were also different in the Middle Ages. Cars didn't exist and goods were delivered in small loads from short distances. Customers weren't buying bulky whiteware or huge televisions. And when it was time to go home, it was to inner-city abodes. Sprawling suburbs outside the walls were too dangerous.

Today, those towns are not just suited to pedestrian meanderings; they are also catastrophically unsuited to much of modern life.

That is not to say there is no place for pedestrianisation in a city like Dunedin. But it needs to be discussed and understood with the same basic ethos used in the Middle Ages: will this help our people survive?

Today, survival is less about bandits and wolves and more about jobs, about bricks and mortar businesses staying economically viable in the face of the internet revolution. It is about our city remaining a community despite there being ever fewer reasons to leave the house.

Simply put, we must engage more than romantic ideology when we consider what to do with George St. The priority must be the health and profitability of the businesses who depend on the area for their livelihoods, and the health of Dunedin as a community.

With the right approach, pedestrianising part of central Dunedin could be a boon for the city. Certainly, Dunedin seems purpose built for such a move. The buildings are pretty and the city is compact. Its lack of suburban mega-malls means residents converge on George St to shop. Cultural and artistic events are common. It is a beautiful place to be.

A successful pedestrian centre could be the envy of the rest of the country and, with the exception of parts of Wellington, be impossible for other major centres to replicate. It could become a point of pride and profit.

But only if residents can access it, and there is little indication most people would do so on bikes or buses. We are a suburban culture and we use cars. Therefore, without more central, multi-storey parking options it seems unlikely Dunedin would adapt to a pedestrianised centre.

Of course, delivery and emergency vehicles would also need accommodating, as would those with mobility difficulties. A solution to night-time delinquency - heightened by the lack of civic surveillance traffic provides - would be needed.

Pedestrianising central Dunedin could be an antidote to some of the city's major challenges, but only if done well. Healthy consultation will be needed. It would be wise for those with well-considered views to partake in that consultation.

Comments

The definition of insanity - tarting up George Street, while at the same time cutting down the car parks so fewer people will go there.

Definition of criminal insanity - spending $60 million ratepayer dollars (over $1300 per household) to tart up George Street, while cutting car parks to make sure even more businesses go bust and the boarded up shops increase in number.

As a recent arrival in Dunedin, from Christchurch, home of ugly mega malls and a city center that is still far from rebuilt after the earthquakes, I agree that Dunedin is ripe for a pedestrian friendly inner city precinct. I've observed that Dunedinites are far more likely to walk from A to B, and the inner city streetscape is welcoming and inviting, compact and accessible. Remove cars from George Street, allow enough parking nearby for those that choose not to walk far or simply cannot, and it will work, guaranteed!

A slow decline and decay is what is going to happen to George St as internet shopping crushes retail shopping,a true fact.

My ideas:

- Reduce speed to 15-20km/h, from the current 30km/h
- In the centre of every block have some sort of art installation (fountain, sculpture etc)
- Maybe brick or tile the road instead of tarseal it
- Remove/reduce footpath curbing (except for drainage, drain holes may need to be increased too) and replace with bollards, so the whole street becomes more pedestrian friendly (hence the further lowering of the speed limit)
- Keep current car parking and loading zones as is - maybe add in more, where the bus stops are now

Basically the aim of my ideas is to slow traffic down further (because a lot of people don't do 30km/h), beautify the street, and to make it safer for pedestrians (see: Beach Street, Queenstown. Google Street View is a good tool to see it).
With the speed limit being lowered further, you'll find that less people drive down there because it's not as much of a shortcut any more.

This is basically my alternative plan for those people out there who want the whole street cut off to cars.

The exact same idea will work at the Esplanade too, lower the speed limit to 15km/h, and perhaps install speed bumps to slow the law breakers.

 

drivesouth1.png

drivesouth2.png