4 November 2021

Banish the cars and bring on the Manuka mall

| Ian Bushnell
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Woman crossing road

Franklin Street transformed. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

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.

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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.

READ MORE Manuka hotel project on the brink over Canberra Avenue entrance condition

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.

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Remove parking spaces? OMG the world as we know it is over!

Predictable responses. Here’s some counter-responses:
1. How often when driving to Manuka has anyone ever actually managed to *get* a parking space in that street? The vast majority of the time you’re going to end up in the parking bays either end of the precinct, so nothing has changed there.
2. “People won’t come if they can’t park outside!” See point 1.
3. “Won’t anyone think of the disabled people!”. Valid, but how on earth do they manage to do things like make their way around the Canberra Centre, or navigate the bus mall? Or get from their car when the spaces are all taken (see point 1). Place some disabled spots either side of the street, and some in the back laneways. A drop-off spot in the street itself that is accessible by permit holders (so taxis, delivery vehicles etc can still get in). Problem solved.

Any number of European cities manage just fine with their large pedestrianised areas. The world didn’t fall in for them. I’m sure we can manage one lousy short stretch of street without bringing on the apocalypse.

Look how much more pleasant the space between Patissez and 1or2 is, without cars constantly buzzing by. Now picture all of that stretch of Franklin St like that. Bit of an improvement, right?

Surely those traders’ concerns are valid – after all they are the ones with the real skin in the game. It’s nice to have ‘pop-up bars and food stands, alfresco dining..’ but who is actually going to invest and put it all on the line so you can drop by once in a while? The developers are the ones selling it as ‘a little piece of Paris’ and then running off but the traders are the ones who have to make it work.

It would be great to see on Lonsdale Street too!

What a great supportive article. Thanks Riotact. As a hospitality business owner on Franklin street, we need positive story’s like this to help us rejuvenate the shopping strip, that is well overdue.

Finagen_Freeman11:01 am 05 Nov 21

Written by a non-retailer.
Written by someone who doesn’t recognise the basic utility value of cars for people like my mother who cannot move around without one.
Parking on a street near shops is not a luxury.
Go and sip your latte and smashed avo at the pavement seating or inside the cafe.

It appears that some of the retailers think this is a good idea (mainly restaurants/cafes that had to close down for long periods due to COVID) and some don’t so it’ s not a “non-retailer” opinion piece. Also, I don’t think anyone is arguing that private motor vehicles don’t have a utility value. If your mother is disabled then a disabled parking space may be utilised closer to the shops that she needs to access, People whose livelihood depends on making and selling those “latte and smashed avo” may disagree with your opinion. It is a trial based on injecting some much needed activity into a retail area that has been facing difficulty for some time.

And a positive response from a retailer. Good on ya Manny!

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