Alfresco cities

Article image - Alfresco cities Businesses in cities all over Australia and the world are being encouraged to take up outdoor dining in reclaimed spaces and laneways such as in Sydney’s Barrack Street.

As Australia moves out of COVID-19 crisis management and into recovery, building a future based on our outdoor lifestyle looks like becoming our saving grace.

Hobart City Council, like many others across the country, is preparing to implement infrastructure changes allowing businesses and neighbourhood communities to spill out onto pavements and trade their way out of the post-pandemic recession.

Speaking last month at Street Smart, the first in a series of public online discussions called CityTalks, Lord Mayor of Hobart, Anna Reynolds joined the discussion to look at redesigning cities to accommodate ‘the new normal’, incorporating behavioural changes such as social distancing and small group gatherings.

Guest panellist was Director of the Global Designing Cities Initiative at the United States National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), and author of Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery, Skye Duncan. 

This practical new resource for local government, offers examples of small cities around the world doing big things in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Duncan’s advice was to start small, cheap and flexible and engage the community for feedback on what works and what they will utilise before implementing major permanent changes to streets and public open spaces.

By using paint to provide colour, witches hats for temporary traffic diversion and planter boxes to redefine different use areas, along with pop-up cafés, market stalls and food carts, the streets become part of the solution, Duncan said. 

Global lessons
Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery is a new design and implementation resource providing the most updated street design approaches cities around the world are using; from pop-up bike lanes to shared streets to streets for outdoor dining.

Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and former Mayor of New York City, said, “The global pandemic has made public spaces in cities – including streets – all the more valuable. 

“In many places, elected leaders are adapting streets in ways that are helping to promote health and safety. 

“This new resource collects strategies that are working in dozens of cities around the world, and we hope it will help more governments make better use of their streets – both during this crisis, and over the long-term.”

Councillor Reynolds said the restrictions of the past six months had allowed the people of Hobart the opportunity to rediscover their own neighbourhoods. Enhancing neighbourhood centres, upgrading strip shops, supporting and encouraging local events and improving the walkability of local neighbourhoods were easy places to begin the journey back.

“Communities have become more familiar with our city streets and public spaces during the pandemic, including walking, cycling and just spending more time in the local area.

“As we look to the future, it makes sense we take time to learn from global examples of small cities taking innovative steps to create safer, people-focused streets.”

Bike lanes grow
Both City of Melbourne and City of Sydney are members of the Global Design Network, exemplifying the endorsed hierarchy in which streets are designed around pedestrians, cyclists and public transport rather than the traditional way of designing streets for cars first and people last.

City of Melbourne has a plan to reshape the central business district to make it more suitable for outdoor dining with funding from the Victorian Government to the tune of $100 million.

The ‘kerbside dining encouragement package’ includes grants up to $5000 to help hospitality businesses fund practical items for outdoor dining such as; umbrellas, outdoor furniture and training. 

Two kilometres of protected bike lanes have been installed in the City, with a further 4km under construction as part of a plan to fast-track 40km of new bike lanes over two years. 

The new bike lanes while making it safer for cyclists, will have the flow on effect of freeing up space on trams and trains helping to address the issue of social distancing on public transport.

Elsewhere in Victoria, local councils are being offered a share in $87.5 million to develop outdoor dining areas.

While not advocating redesigning roads and footpaths, the South Australian Government has offered Adelaide small businesses $300,000 to enhance and activate existing outdoor areas. To better enable social distancing, the City of Adelaide Outdoor Activation Grant can be used to fund street level improvements including painting murals, adding bi-fold doors or windows to enhance the character of shop fronts.

Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Sandy Verschoor, said, “Businesses can make improvements such as fixed external heating and cooling devices, non-fixed outdoor dining furniture or even greening elements such as planting vines, green walls or window boxes.”

Pedestrian –friendly streets 
The New South Wales Government has allocated $1 million to help the City of Sydney create an additional 9000 square meters of public space for pedestrians in the heart of the city. 

Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore said, “As people cautiously return to the city while seeking to maintain physical distancing, wider footpaths and more space will be critical.”

The pedestrian-friendly streetscape upgrades are expected to attract more footfall for businesses over time and provide more space for people to congregate responsibly while maintaining physical distancing.  

The works are aimed at generating a 24 hour city economy, promoting cultural enterprise such as busking or creative pop-ups from adjacent venues, boosting the city’s identity and encouraging people to travel to the city for leisure beyond work and business activities.

“Over the last decade we have proposed the light rail and helped create a pleasant, people-friendly George Street, we have paved laneways and campaigned for small bars,” the Lord Mayor said.

“Now it is more important than ever that we build on this by increasing our outdoor dining and culture opportunities to make our city even more special.

“We must work together to get life back into our city centre while ensuring the safety of residents,workers and visitors.”