Will the Todd Street North side of the Alice Plaza open its doors onto the street following the revitalisation works recently completed there? This was one of the expressed hopes behind the works but it seems that the short answer is no. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Parsons Street East, 3D rendering. Courtesy ASTC, CAT Projects, and Susan Dugdale & Associates.
The architectural design for the redevelopment of the northern end of Todd Mall and Parsons Street is all but complete. The key visual features of the design are the moth-like shade structures, which will be placed in a number of clusters along the eastern side of the mall and the southern side of Parsons Street. Their central poles will be used to support much of the street furniture that at present clutters the street-scape. This includes CCTV cameras, bike racks, rubbish bins and lighting. Some of the moth wings will also become the canvas for public art work, the brief for which is also nearing completion. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
The revitalisation of the CBD is about a lot more than the opening of the northern end of the Todd Mall to traffic ... but what exactly?
That people, including the media, find it difficult to say reflects the absence of any kind of everyday imagining about what it could and should mean. When the Town Council last Monday formally voted that it would proceed to spend the NT Government's $5m allocation on the recommended works for the northern end of the mall and for Parsons Street, they did so without a murmur. That brought to a conclusion a process during which the council, who are the trustees of the mall, have really never been heard on the subject of its revitalisation.
All along Mayor Damien Ryan was the co-chair (with Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton) of a steering committee involved in the planning. Whenever the Alice Springs News Online asked for a comment on where the process was at, Mayor Ryan said it was for the Minister to say – not his follow co-chair, but Planning Minister Gerry McCarthy.
When there was finally, right at the end of the process, a public meeting to present the projects developed by the design consultants, the Mayor was away on other business. The meeting was chaired by Deputy Mayor Liz Martin, who did make a few comments, but they fell short of expressing a 'vision' – an over-used word but nonetheless a necessary concept when it comes to thinking about and deciding where we, collectively, want to go. KIERAN FINNANE comments.
The ANZ carpark – from which all vegetation including mature trees was cleared on the weekend – is owned by Yeperenye Pty Ltd.
Alice Springs News Online asked the company why the trees had been chopped down and whether it was aware that it was recommended that these trees be protected as part of the revitalisation plans for Parsons Street. The company released a statement which says in part that the trees had caused "major water ingress problems" to the adjacent properties. The statement does not respond to questions about the revitalisation plans. Pictured: The scene of destruction last Saturday seen from Leichardt Terrace. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
If some businesses are closing in Alice Springs, others are opening and others still, adapting to the times. In the middle of the Todd Mall, former curator at the Araluen Art Centre, Kate Podger, is opening an art gallery in the venue vacated by Peta Appleyard. There's also movement on the corner of the mall and Parsons Street, at the site of the QC restaurant which closed some time ago following a fire.
On the fringe of the mall, in Todd Street, while a tourist business has recently closed, Rocky's has opened a gelato bar, and while his internet cafe has closed, Cameron Buckley has refocussed on his coffee shop, expanding its offerings, giving people more reasons to go there. Pictured: Top – Kate Podger and staff member Peter Astridge working on the hang of large works from Tjungu Palya in the new gallery. Below – Cameron Buckley in his coffee shop (he's holding a polaroid photo of himself in his coffee shop). KIERAN FINNANE reports.
In a process that began with the Planning for the Future forum in June 2008, the (hopefully) final consultation phase has arrived: the Town Council has put on display for public comment the proposed plans, although they have already selected the projects they want to implement with the $5m allocated by the NT Government.
Says Mayor Damien Ryan: “Because much of the plans involves public places we really wanted to get the whole community’s views on this. It’s an opportunity to literally help shape Alice Springs! So if you have some constructive comments on the plans, we’re eager to hear them.”
And if the public doesn't like what they see or proposes something quite different, what then? Back to the drawing board? That seems unlikely, so why doesn't council simply get on with it? – Kieran Finnane
The plans can be viewed at the Civic Centre or via council’s website. For full details go to the connecting @lice site.
All submissions must be made in writing, addressed to the Alice Springs Town Council - Chief Executive Officer, PO Box 1071 Alice Springs, NT 0871 by COB Friday 11 November 2011.
UPDATE: Realistically, revitalisation works could begin in Todd Mall by the middle of next year, says Town Council CEO Rex Mooney. Responses from the public to the current consultation will be considered by Council possibly at its November 28 meeting and if not, on December 12.
Council's decision to call for further public comment is in line with its public consultation policy, says Mr Mooney. He acknowledges that there has been consultation on the proposals but says when that happened Council had not yet indicated its priorities for implementation – that is, to open the northern end of Todd Mall to traffic and to develop the 'biodiversity corridor' in Parsons Street. (See Mike Gillam's creative brief for Parsons Street, this issue.)
I was commissioned to provide creative direction for the eastern end of Parsons Street from the ‘ancient red gum’ to the Todd River. Public art and design projects of the scale envisaged provide a rare, perhaps once in a generation opportunity to define our sense of identity and place.
The dramatic natural environment is regarded as the common ground that binds us all together and this is crystallised in the biodiversity corridor proposed for Parsons Street. I've also highlighted the critical importance of distant landmarks and the availability of winter
sun. Too often these public assets are only valued and recognised, when they are lost to the streetscape: casualties of 'progress'. MIKE GILLAM writes.
Pictured: Top –Right – Magpie Lark. These birds are frequent visitors at outdoor cafes around town. Photographs copyright MIKE GILLAM.
Owners of the Alice Plaza would welcome the re-introduction of traffic to the northern end of Todd Mall. Their representative, Tony Bruno, says they have always believed that the mall was too long and that traffic and some convenient, short-term parking would help bring life back to the northern end.
If that were to happen, would the Plaza consider re-orienting its business towards the street?
"Anything's possible," says Mr Bruno. "If the landscape changes that could be looked at."
UPDATE, posted October 7, 2011, 9.40am : Steve Thorne, of Design Urban Pty Ltd, who headed up the design team behind the proposals for revitalising Todd Mall, is "hugely encouraged" by the responses of Alice Plaza interests. "Unless there is a response from retailers and other businesses adjacent to the mall, it is not worth spending millions on bringing traffic back in." Revitalisation can't be done "half-heartedly", he says. "There's got to be a dramatic change in the environment. The mall has suffered 'death by 1000 cuts', through a lack of transparency, activity, vibrancy. "Without those things then what you get is the anti-social behaviour that people don't want."
While Mr Thorne's role in the CBD project has finished for the time being, he has been engaged by the NT Government to chair its Urban Design Advisory Panel and will be keeping a watching brief on what happens in Alice.
Pictured: Top – Musicworld with its back turned to Todd Mall. At left – Could this lively frontage, inside the shopping centre, face the Mall? KIERAN FINNANE reports.