The developers of the new hotel in Manuka say they want to bring a little bit of Paris to the once high-end shopping and restaurant precinct. So it was good to see a government trial of an outdoor hospitality area in Franklin Street to not only give local cafes a boost but gauge the potential for replacing cars with people as part of the long-awaited Manuka Renaissance.
Unfortunately, the all-too-familiar resistance to change reared its head with some traders complaining that they had lost customers by chasing the cars out of one side of the street and that it looked ‘terrible’.
You interfere with parking in Canberra at your peril, especially outside shops.
Yet surely Franklin Street is made for people and the above picture is hardly desolation row.
It’s amazing what a bit of artificial turf, some street furniture and pot plants can do.
But why stop there?
Bring on the Franklin Street pedestrian mall, complete with sunshades, more trees, pop-up bars and food stands, alfresco dining and outdoor entertainment.
Exchange the car park crawl with people spilling out of the shops into safe and protected spaces to enjoy a coffee, drink or meal. Or just somewhere to sit and read a book.
I never understood the attraction of footpath dining next to parked cars anyway.
And it won’t hurt people to use the car parks at either end of the precinct and in the other streets and walk a little.
If Manuka business people and the local community want Manuka to thrive and be a destination again, they must be open to change and new ideas.
They cannot continue to be enslaved by the idea that they will only have customers if they can park directly outside.
The goal must be to bring people back to Manuka and give them something to keep them coming back.
When the hotel and cinema complex is eventually complete, it will change the dynamic of the precinct and demand a response from businesses and the landscape around it.
Keeping Franklin Street as it is, more reminiscent of a country town main street than a supposedly sophisticated thoroughfare, would be regressive and a missed opportunity.
A Franklin Street mall or even shared space would complement that changing dynamic generated by the hotel development and the new residential apartments being built nearby, whose residents will look to Manuka as their main shopping and recreation area.
What government can do is work with traders to come up with designs for a space that will be distinctive and welcoming and supports them into the future, infrastructure including any compensatory boost to parking, and promotion – something that one trader said was missing from the trial.
It’s been a tough couple of years for business, especially in hospitality, so anything that might help should be welcome.
Whatever the lessons are from this trial, it is hoped that the central idea is kept on the table.