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HomeIssue 9Master plan could turn around population and economic slump

Master plan could turn around population and economic slump

p2499 Boardwalk sign 660

Above: A ‘big picture’ master plan would help avoid this kind of completely unnecessary visual pollution in the Todd River and  also avoid the kind of ad hoc approach to infrastructure that the boardwalk represents. 

Alice Springs is presently in “a perilous state”: population growth has stalled over the last decade, with modest growth in the first five years matched by decline in the last five, to produce “net zero growth”.
A major reason for this is more people moving out of town than in.  But more worryingly, a recent analysis of ABS migration statistics by demographic experts* shows that the town loses more people in family-age groups – 25-44 years and 0-14 years – which impacts on the momentum for growth.
Turning this around requires a long-term integrated vision for the town, argues Domenico Pecoraro, architect and longtime campaigner for a more holistic approach to planning in Alice Springs. He spoke to the Town Council this week, to express his enthusiastic support for its recent decision to develop a master plan. The picture of decline painted by the statistics above, which he cited, makes it ever more urgent.
“I know that successful cities, such as Melbourne, and even my Italian home town of Petritoli, population 2,400, have not developed by chance, but through effective short and long-range planning regulations in line with a well-defined, long-term vision.”
p2499 Domenico @ ASTC 430Mr Pecoraro (left) suggested that a master plan for Alice could be developed over the next year, “with good news stories emerging within weeks of an announcement to proceed with the project”.
It is very much early days, however. The motion that has been supported by council, moved by new councillor Jimmy Cocking, commits it to inviting the NT Government to work with council to “initiate the process”. We don’t know what the NT Government’s response will be, especially as its Planning Commission has only recently announced its intention to update the Central Alice Springs Area Plans “to provide for long term growth in the Alice Springs CBD”.
Would this be enough to be getting on with for the time being?
Not in Mr Pecorari’s view. He sees the government’s renewed focus on planning as opportune but argues against narrowly-focussed plans.
“For decades now, I have seen many attempts to revive our town’s fortunes with project-driven plans, such as the Todd Mall Redevelopment Plan and the Regional Land Use Plan.
“These have not been as successful as they could be because they are ‘stand alone’ documents, not a part of, nor deriving from the ‘bigger picture’ that is a master plan.
p2499 Boardwalk signs 340“It’s as though, in designing a house, we have been putting all our effort into the individual rooms, without considering how they will fit into the overall design of the house as a whole, nor the conditions of the land upon which it is to be built.  A good house design begins with an integrated ‘big picture’ and works down to the individual spaces and details, such as taps and tile colours.
“A master plan for Alice Springs would be founded upon the fact that the issues affecting the well-being of a town or region are all integrated, and that solutions need to be developed in a holistic way.
Right: More visually polluting signs along the path towards the boardwalk at the river’s edge. They could be at ground level or integrated into the path itself. 
“Just as every part of a human body needs to be looked after for a person to be considered ‘healthy’, the well-being of the whole community needs to be addressed in achieving positive outcomes in all areas – cultural, social, environmental and economic.”
This accords with the emphasis of Cr Cocking when he presented his original motion earlier this month. He quoted from a document by JESSICA  (Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas) on what an integrated plan for sustainable urban development looks like and aims for: its “interlinked actions” seek to bring about “a lasting improvement in economic, physical, social and environmental conditions of a city or an area within the city”.
“The key to the process is integration, meaning that all policies, projects and proposals are considered in relation to one another.
“In this regard, the synergies between the elements of the plan should be such that the whole adds up to more than would be the sum of the individual parts if implemented in isolation.”
Mr Pecorari emphasises the importance of the master plan being  a “living document”, not an end in itself. It should continue to evolve and be updated “as the town’s issues are addressed and new issues arise”.
He acknowledges that it needs to be “a co-operative project” between council and the NT Government, but also “continuously and genuinely involving members of the public at all stages of its development”:
“It needs to be an independent and transparent process, involving multi-faceted interfaces with the public, including a website, social media and face-to-face information sessions, such as TED-style talks.
“From past public forums and similar ‘talk-fests’, we know Alice Springs is blessed with a high number of informed and interested citizens, eager to share their knowledge and experience in planning matters.”
He urges council “to take up its leadership role” in this next step towards setting in place the ground conditions, based on a shared vision, that are “essential to regaining the economic prosperity that our town has enjoyed in the past”.
*Source: “Regional Cities – are they growing or slowing? ”
Town planning: A commission for the people?
Disconnecting Alice


  1. Great potential exists here for Alice Springs to make the most of the opportunities of the next 3 or 4 years (and hopefully longer).
    So many planning and consultation processes in their early stages and now is the time to speak up on some key priorities for our town… let’s hold our elected leaders accountable to the promises, targets and plans that are out there.
    Re the abudance of planning and strategy documents, talking about population growth and the targets we can sustainably aspire to in the future seems like a sensible starting point.

  2. If anyone reading this article can highlight any government policy, planning document or academic study that refers to population considerations and possibilities I would be appreciative… (Alex Nelson?)

  3. The major impediments to Alice Springs population increasing, more than doubling, has long been the lack land for housing priced so low that medium incomers can afford. show land starts from $150,000, thus beyond the ability of low to middle income earners.
    This lack of affordable land results in the rental prices being artificially higher then reasonably should be expected.

  4. Before there can be a long-term integrated vision and plan for the future of Alice Springs, I think two things need to be acknowledged.
    The first is that Alice Springs is no longer “a town like Alice” sitting in isolation at the end of a dusty track with half of its internal roads being dirt, no street lights, and so on. We are a major and modern regional hub in the middle of modern Australia. Let’s embrace that and plan our future accordingly.
    The second is that the Todd River between the Telegraph Station and The Gap is part of our urban environment. Let’s embrace that and develop it in partnership with all the residents living here.
    About the boardwalk – it is part of a well developed and much used bicycle and pedestrian loop using both sides of the Todd River. For the longest time there was a missing piece in front of Meyers Hill.
    The Traditional Owners of that particular area refused, as was their right, to have the track built into the bottom of the hill. So a boardwalk was built to go around it, the loop was completed and the river is as free to run as it ever was.
    I do agree that the self-congratulatory sign is an eyesore and could be incorporated into the boardwalk itself, if it needs to be there at all.

  5. Alice Springs awaits government reports – LOL- while the rest of the world promotes tourism via budget flights. Alice already has the goods to solve economic and population decline.

  6. @ Cherry M: Yes, The Alice is HOT, and seems to be getting hotter with every year. However, as a town, we should be addressing this with better building and urban design.
    For example: designing and retro-fitting our buildings to incorporate passive design elements would minimise our dependence upon air-conditioning, reduce our living costs and make our town a more affordable place to live in.
    Another example: greening our town’s central business district would counter the heat sink effect of concrete surfaces, provide a shady canopy at street level which, when combined with water play, can reduce ambient temperatures by as much as five degrees.
    But all of this will not just happen on its own. It requires a masterplan to provide the vision, the big picture of the town we want, before we can looks at ways it may be achieved.

  7. @ Hal Duell. I couldn’t agree more on the two points you raise.
    Yes, our town needs to re-define itself, as our once iconicTown Like Alice has been well and truly destroyed beyond resurrection.
    And, yes, we do need to embrace the Todd River, as well as its associated riverine environments such as the Coolibah Swamp, as part of our urban landscape.
    But there is so much more to consider and a masterplan will tease out the issues that need to be addressed, with input from the whole community.
    It is a discussion we need to have.

  8. So long as it’s a plan to support progressive business, not just a return to the long running boom and bust of construction cycles that the town has been exposed to for 50 odd years.There are more empty premises around town than can be occupied.
    “Master plan” sounds ominous. Didn’t Hitler have one of these 🙂

  9. We need to have industry and not the Federal and Territory handout industry which we currently have. Many have taken advantage of this and have become very rich.
    No one wants to fix or solve the economic or social issues if thus town, because of the moneys and jobs it creates.
    Why would any one want to come and live in a welfare town if it were not for work. They come make their money and leave.
    Housing is ridiculously expensive not to mention the rent. Why would you not want to live in a more prosperous state like Victoria, where there us cheaper housing, cleaner, and prosperous.
    We need more car parking in the CBD. We need police who do real policing and not just baby sitters for our Indigenous.
    We need real industry! Such as a solar panel manufacturing plant. We have the sun.
    These problems have been ongoing for over 40 years and as far as I can see, nothing has been achieved to them. All talk no action. If you are going to write a plan for the town, you need to take it seriously and place action behind it.

  10. Thanks for that link, Kieran. Some interesting reading there.
    Over the last week or so I have been trying to get through all of the planning documents and strategies out there … and have been making population a focus.
    I will keep the Alice Springs News Online updated but one early finding is that very few planning documents, agencies or strategies etc make reference to any sort of rationale such as “based on our future population target for Alice Springs of (x), we are going to implement (y) and prepare with infrastructure (z)”.

  11. The Planning Commission has the 32k (short-term) and 40k (longer term) targets.
    Based on these figures (only recently released) perhaps the way forward here it to request an update from the NT Government on some of their signature policy documents (i.e. the Economic Development Framework) established much earlier in the year?
    I’m sure the NTG would welcome the opportunity to reiterate all the great things that are planned for our region … but it also gives Alice an opportunity to ensure the next three years are on track for our town.
    One example I would encourage Alice residents and policy watchers to stay across is international education. It is an $80m+ export industry for the NT.
    At this stage (until I read or hear otherwise) we have no clear allocation for the significant investment spend in this huge growth industry.
    Darwin by contrast has a target for for 10k international students by 2022 and a whole heap of CBD infrastructure planned.


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