Oamaru business owner Annabel Berry is “absolutely thrilled” her vision to revamp lower Thames St could be a reality by Christmas.
The Waitaki District Council announced this week it had been awarded $100,000 by the Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency, from a $13.95 million Innovating Streets pilot fund, to make streets in New Zealand more people-friendly using tactical urbanism.
Tactical urbanism is the use of non-permanent features, such as planters, art installations and artificial grass, to create a community space from excess road space. The area of focus for Oamaru would be the intersection of Thames, Tees and Itchen Sts, council roading manager Mike Harrison said.
The proposed changes involved making the western side of lower Thames St, currently a two-lane, one-way road, into a regular road for traffic travelling in both directions. The eastern side would be closed to traffic and instead be a public, pedestrianised space.
As founder of the Oamaru Business Collective, Mrs Berry had been campaigning with other business owners for a change to the area.
“It’s something we’ve really wanted for a long time and it’s really a great start towards the revitalisation of our main CBD,” she said.
“It’s really about creating that central hub.
“I love the connection that corner provides towards the old part of town as well, and the harbour. We’ve got quite an awkward town roading plan and now what this would create is that direct sort of link between us [lower Thames St businesses], the old part of town and then also Tees St.”
Mrs Berry hoped it could be the beginning of a bigger town project, sentiments echoed by Mr Harrison.
“There’s a huge opportunity for the businesses, the public, to do different things,” he said.
“The beauty of it then, is to start looking at the rest of town and saying this in other places?.”
Mr Harrison said New York’s Times Square was one of the first and maybe most famous examples of tactical urbanism. First, the road was closed off to traffic, the next day tables and chairs brought in, and the way the space was used was completely transformed.
“It’s not an end result. It’s actually part of giving the public the opportunity to say, this, I don’t like that, this is how I want to use it’,” he said.
Mr Harrison said the starting point was to make the intersection work nicely.
“We need to make it aligned. There will be a change to the way the traffic flows, and opening up the space on the other side.
“That’s the one intersection in Oamaru where the traffic has the greatest lack of surety about what they’re supposed to do. It’s not an accident hot spot, but it could very easily be. We’ve got pedestrians, we’ve got cars and we’ve got a very twisted alignment. So that’s why we picked that one, and it gives us a greater space to reuse.
“The next stage will be to start talking with the business community, and the community, and we’ll work out what is an absolute requirement. So it’s not about reducing the level of service. It’s about repurposing the spaces. The only thing that is certain is, it will change.”
Mrs Berry said the collective was looking forward to working with council on this project.