Pop-up lunch to celebrate car-free street

The trial closure of Harbour St is well timed for historic precinct advocate and tenant Donna...
The trial closure of Harbour St is well timed for historic precinct advocate and tenant Donna Demente whose new informal group Victorians in the Precinct, Artisans and Eccentrics is celebrating this Saturday’s start to car-free weekends with a pop-up lunch. Photo: Hamish MacLean.
When Oamaru’s historic Harbour St goes car-free for the next 11 weekends, locals and visitors alike should take the opportunity to ‘‘relax and enjoy the place’’, an advocate of the plan says.

The Waitaki District Council approved a weekend 10am to 4pm pedestrianisation trial period for the Victorian street on Wednesday. The day before, Oamaru artist — and Harbour St tenant — Donna Demente launched "an informal group of vaguely like-minded individuals with the aim of brightening and enhancing the Victorian Precinct with social events and activities".

Her group, Victorians in the Precinct, Artisans and Eccentrics, would hold a pop-up long lunch in the middle of  the street on Saturday at noon to celebrate the decision.

"It’s a small step but it’s definitely in the right direction," Ms Demente said of the weekend trial.

"Aesthetically, it’s just a no-brainer. You’ve got these beautiful facades and you want to preserve that integrity of the feeling of them."

Cars looked ‘‘out of place’’ on the single-lane 19th century street and the council’s pedestrian safety concerns were valid as foot traffic had increased over the years.

"My vision right from the outset was that Oamaru doesn’t really have a town square, like, Dunedin has its Octagon and Christchurch has its square, where people can congregate. Admittedly sometimes the weather’s not conducive for that here, but at the same time it’s nice to have a place where people can just go and meet other people from their town and loiter and linger and be there. It’s a nice way to just present that as an opportunity and see how it goes and see if people are keen."

A stricter, summer business hours restriction on cars was on the council agenda for approval at a November meeting last year, but was shelved after Harbour St businesses complained  about a lack of consultation. The trial weekend proposal came from a stakeholder meeting in December.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher publicly backed the closure before it went to the council last year, and yesterday said he supported Ms Demente’s initiative.

"We’re hoping to have a few things to attract people into the street, because there is the space," he said. 

While the results of the trial would be subjective, he hoped the effect of enforcing a car-free period on the street would be "brilliantly obvious".

"First and foremost, it’s got to work for the businesses," Mr Kircher said.

"If we don’t have the businesses, we don’t have the sustainability for the buildings and so on — that’s really important. And close behind that we’ve got to ensure we’ve got a good experience for locals and visitors."

The council would monitor parking during the trial to judge whether any issues had been created. It would construct a raised pedestrian platform, adopt planned improvements to the back lane behind Harbour St and bollards would be installed in Tyne St.

A temporary 30kmh speed restriction is already in place from the Itchen St, Humber St, Wansbeck St and Tyne St approaches to Harbour St.

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