“Public space is for living, doing business, kissing and playing. It can’t be measured by economics alone. It must be felt with the soul,” said former Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa.
So, when did we decide that the heart of each city was within its CBD – a place where deals are made and money changes hands – rather than in the galleries, libraries, museums, sporting arenas and public piazzas?
After all, the pulse of every city is felt in its social and cultural expression, not just in its financial transactions.
Great cities are defined by their public realm. It is in the pocket parks and piazzas, buildings, walkways and waterways that a city’s character is defined, and the imagination of its citizens captured.
Many smaller cities around Australia are recalibrating their vision for their CBDs, recognising that vibrant, diverse cities are not ‘monofunctional’ places to do business, but ‘multifunctional’ places that attract people night and day.
Adelaide has plans for more buzzing laneways, year-round sporting and cultural events and pop-up retail outlets and restaurants within the parklands to attract people to the CBD. Geelong and Rockhampton are also investing in pop up retail and art galleries to make their city centres beat once more. Newcastle has gone crazy for artworks that form the backdrops for the world's coolest selfies. Townsville has developed a strategy to ensure 30,000 people are living and working in its city centre by 2030.
In Canberra – where the CBD currently has an 11.5 per cent office vacancy rate and 9.1 per cent retail sector vacancy rate – the public and private sectors are working together to transform Canberra’s heart into a crucible of creativity and entrepreneurship.
According to Malcolm Snow, chief executive of National Capital Authority, “a strong city centre is important to the image, status and future success of our national capital.”
The Property Council agrees, and recently hosted a workshop together with Canberra CBD Limited to explore strategies to transform Canberra’s city centre.
Ideas on the table include revitalising commercial spaces by repositioning them as apartments or incubators for budding entrepreneurs, introducing year-round events programs, pop up galleries and pocket parks, supporting public art installations, child-friendly play spaces and more urban greenery.
As one participant said, it’s about “finding the diamonds in our own backyard.”
And that’s what all our clever, creative city builders around Australia are doing – making our CBDs sparkle once more.