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.
By KIERAN FINNANE
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.”
Mr 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.
“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?