Simple solution for a more appealing city

LAUNCESTON would be one of the few cities in the world to boast a mall that's used as a street.

The Avenue, the part of Brisbane Street running between St John Street and George Street, is the perfect mall. It has wide pavement, a narrow cobblestone road, a great atmosphere and no need for a capital upgrade.

Imagine during the summer the Avenue Mall being used as an extension to the Brisbane Street Mall, with shops in the Avenue given first right of refusal to have a stall outside their shopfront selling their wares, or allowing other stallholders to rent a space and to set up.

Imagine a bustling Avenue Mall with outdoor eating, arts and craft stalls and buskers or other entertainment. Artists could mount their displays, face painters could paint the kids, and folk bands could perform to a schedule set by the city council.

The Avenue is a bit like a natural attraction. It's there, and we take it for granted. For whatever reason our foresighted city planners built the Avenue to mall dimensions. It requires absolutely nothing to become a mall, just a new ordinance to restrict traffic to shop deliveries at both ends of the day.

The organisers of the Salamanca Market on Hobart's waterfront had less to work with, except a wide area in front of some old heritage buildings and a dreary looking wharf opposite, which has been modified to handle the Taste of Tasmania.

The Avenue is not a big area, just cosy enough to handle less traffic, free pedestrian access and a few stalls and outdoor eateries on either side of the road. It could be designed that way for summer weekends or the holiday season, between mid-December and early January. It would be a great attraction for the Boxing Day and post-Christmas sales.

You can't make a city attractive just by opening shop doors at 9am, alongside those empty premises where the business failed because fewer people are coming into the city.

You have to jazz it up and create activity. You can either gift-wrap a present in boring brown paper or super-wrap it up in glittering Christmas paper with tinsel ties. Presentation is everything.

At Salamanca Place on Hobart's waterfront, they brought the area alive in summer with simple fairy lights in the trees. There are places in the world that dazzle at Christmas with strobe and laser lights. In years gone by on Hobart's waterfront, huge searchlights criss-crossed and played across the sky. Just something different.

In Launceston our city beauticians have come across the most lifeless, boring set of Christmas decorations they could find and hung them on poles around the city. That's it for another year. Another pathetic lifeline thrown to the retail hub.

The Brisbane Street Mall is about as interesting as a boarded-up alleyway. Like Hobart's Elizabeth Mall, it has met its use-by date. The great advantage in Launceston is that there's a mall ready to go just over St John Street. Oh, but they did find a Christmas tree.

Launceston's central business district needs revitalising. It needs a makeover with more activity. The city comes to an instant standstill when the shops close, and some shops are closing earlier.

If you can create a place where people congregate, a hub of activity, others will surely come.

Converting the Avenue into a mall may take a little planning and organisation, but the cost is zilch. It's already a mall with vehicles. It just needs to become a mall with pedestrians.

Barry Prismall is a deputy editor of The Examiner.

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