The Pitts of the world!

One of the great debates that keeps urban planners and designers in fine loafers and Sonoma bread is whether to mall or not to mall. Whether closing off streets to traffic and encouraging pedestrian access boosts retail and other economic activity, increases social connectivity in that area, generally providing an explosion of urbanity.

The evidence is often limited. There are examples that show malls work, and then there are the ongoing debates about places in Sydney like Parramatta and Hurstville.  Shut the road. Open it to buses. Open the road. Shut it again, maybe just for some hours of the day. Let a bit of traffic through. Whinge, come back again in 12 months and do another study. And on it goes.

The mall boosters, and broader proponents of pedestrianisation and limiting car and bus traffic, often look abroad to places that are medieval in design, where squares and plazas have shaped urban living for 1000 years. There are principles that we can adopt, and examples we can emulate. But implementation without context is just imitation.

My view is pseudo tipping pointy – if a town is gonna boom, then a well planned and located pedestrian zone will flourish and may be “the icing on the cake”. Leaving aside the equity issues of which retailers and property owners benefit, this is a good thing. If we protect the other economic elements of the centre – the ability to access it or service businesses in it, THIS IS A GREAT THING!

But I also think that the relationship between calming and activity can be overstated. Some of Sydney’s more popular eating and shopping strips are far from calm. They work best when traffic slows, such as at lunch, evenings and weekends (clearways and bus lanes lead to faster traffic at other times). I walk these streets, often, and often with a pram. All of the dodgy footpaths and stop starts and broken pavers and missing kerbs are nothing, because there is somewhere to go at the end. I always vote for urban domain and activity as the best way to boost walking, over meandering paths along creeks and through parks. There is a reason that Marrickville residents walk more that just about anywhere else in Sydney – it’s interesting. Shops, street art, activity, clutter. Other people walking. Dogs. Kids. Planes. Trains. And food.

All of this is a long intro into a small rant. I walked through Pitt St Mall in Sydney at lunch on Tuesday. This is Sydney’s alleged golden mile – about 200m long, anyway – of high level retail and walkers treated as GODS. It’s recently had a very expensive makeover, and I will admit the new Centrepoint connection and the underground grungier retail works pretty good.

But it’s as lifeless as Andrew Lincoln’s acting (thanks James for that one.) There were about 100 seats placed around trees – of course, these are now the haunt of the remaining smokers who work in the area. I’m not kicking an addict when they’re down, but the air quality is dire. The worst thing is there is nowhere to eat. A global city. Temperate climate. Lunchtime. Pedestrian heart. Famine, where there should be feast. It’s unbelievable. Not sure how, whether there is any causal link to leases or property ownership.

But you can head into one of the retail complexes and find a food court with tens of food outlets, then either sit there away from the sun and air, or head back out and recreate a scene from a live gig in the 80s, cheer, cough, splutter.

The solutions are simple, I think. Chuck some cheap tables in the Mall. People will learn to walk around them. Encourage local cafes and restaurants and small laneway bars to find a way to do outdoor table service in our biggest and best laneway. I’m no fan of Brisbane, even though some of my best friends are from there, but their Queen St Mall heaves with bars and cafes on a warm Friday afternoon.

While I’m at it, I would extend the Mall south to Park St and north to at least Martin Place and possibly Hunter St. That would help spread the pedestrian activity over a larger area, making the Mall more about walking and talking and eating, rather than just shopping at a few, select retail outlets. The City, however, seeks to create a new world-class boulevard along George St. At least the re-introduction of light rail into George St and the rejigging of bus routes and traffic means something can change in Pitt St without crippling the rest of the CBD.

Then I’d attack Hyde Park. The prolific greenspace that abuts the City’s eastern edge is great to look at but suffers from the same listlessness. At select times of the year, we discover it’s a great place to sit and eat or have a drink. Festivals rule in our town. But for 300 lunchtimes a year, there are two very small cafes at either end and a great big void in the middle. Get another cafe in there. Or food vans parked along Park St. A business opportunity for picnic hamper providers – sheesh, our local cafe Petty Cash can set you up to have a nice picnic in Enmore Park.

The ultimate might be to connect Hyde Park to the city, by closing Elizabeth St to traffic including buses at lunchtimes, encouraging existing food outlets to claim the roadspace for tables and chairs, give people on the eastern side of George St somewhere to sit. And eat. And think. And blog.

What do you think? What works where you are? Where do you walk and why? What’s your ideal lunchtime food scenario?

The last word goes to one of the most underrated bands, with an underrated song from a killer second album. As Chrissie says, “you’re the Pitts of the world!”

Thanks for reading.

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About peterwarrington65

geography, street art, cricket, Richmond Tigers, PJ Harvey, View all posts by peterwarrington65

14 responses to “The Pitts of the world!

  • Kenny McFaber

    Nice stuff son! Quite a complex issue. Some might argue that Pitt St Mall has become a privately owned (or at least privately managed and controlled) space since the Westfield and Mid-City Centre redevelopment either side. Basically an outdoor extension to what happens behind the walls either side of the street. Whereas Bondi Junction and Parramatta have malls that provide sitting and eating alternatives to the adjacent bix boxes, Sydney’s mall doesn’t, as you highlight. Where are/will the alternatives be? George St mall with trams as per Bourke St in Melbourne. From Hyde Park/Elizabeth to Town Hall via Park St? The light rail will provide the opportunity to think outside the box, so to speak. Unilke much of Sydney’s planning history, however, don’t let it be led by the developer (eg Westfield). Lets do some great Government-planned public works for our CBD. Something to hang your hat (or choker) on hey Clover?

  • peterwarrington65

    Not a bad line from Ms Hynde that sums up my blog rationale:

    What I can’t carry, bury!

  • Jack Hawks

    What about an abundance of food vans / street food showcasing the many and various cuisines of oz in First Fleet park, next to the MCA? Would capture both the workers on weekdays and the tourists all week. Gorgeous views but seriously underwhelming if you’re after a decent affordable meal on the go.

  • peterwarrington65

    The more the merrier.

    I reckon the fish markets stink, too. The Hobart one has that sense of being a fisher’s wharf, rather than a low rent 80s shopping court. All that first by sea, and we turn our back on it.

    Other than that, Gotta love this town :p

  • Jack Hawks

    Vancouver rocks re Darling Harbour / fish market type scenario. They got it right, but then they do have an absolutely gorgeous coastal city, half-surrounded by mountains advantage.

    • peterwarrington65

      Yes every time that delightful Air Canada 777 slides overhead I think I should go to Vancouver.

      I thought they should have moved the fish market to Barangaroo. Closer to the city and a reason for locals to go there. Then you get a nice site in Glebe for a park or something useful, maybe it could stay and be the service outlet for the new market. Or, God forbid, have two markets! A market for markets. What next?

      • Jack Hawks

        The fish markets at Barangaroo is a great idea, and surely would have appealed to the moneymen as far as attracting those not yet wooed by the gambling fixation.

        Packer would probably think it an eye-sore that would detract from the majesty of his imperial palace.

  • peterwarrington65

    Does anyone else think any other city than Sydney would have a regular flower market in Hyde Park on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Or maybe even use it to get the place back into Martin Place?

  • James Cosgrove

    Pitt Street Mall is lifeless especially at night after the shops close. There is no where to have a coffee/tea or a meal unless you venture inside the buildings which are only open during the day. Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall is alive and buzzing with people and activity all day and night, it is a focal point of the city where people come to shop, socialise and relax, not just a closed off street for access to expensive, over the top, indoor retail complexes. I hope we will not repeat this “dead zone” with the George Street pedestrian/tram proposal.

  • JR

    Yes PW. And on this…..how about Belmore Park. It joins Central with Chinatown. Why can’t it be a SE Asian night food hawker market? Every night.

  • peterwarrington65

    Fantastic history here of Sydney fish markets. Great work by Jan Pittard!

    http://alicewritlarge.blogspot.com.au/

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