Town Centre Management

The Secret To A Sense Of Place


There's a blog called Freo's View and it's jolly good.

There's an interesting dialogue going on over there about Place Management.

Diana Ryan asks whether all our places are going to end up looking the same.

This is my take on it.


Place management is about fostering assets.

Assets should be distinct. It's part of what makes an asset.

Place managers should be facilitating local assets for regional sustainability and local distinctiveness.

Local governments are recognising this in part, but too often just book marketing ads, run a festival or knit a bootie on to a tree.

A good place manager must be able to create a competitive community, and the local distinctiveness (born from its assets - people - locally) is critical for this.

The fundamental legacy of place management should be that local peopel (assets) have a community which self-develops as part of its day-to-day doings.

Because reinvention is necessary for vitality and competitiveness.

It's culture, really.

It's a different issue whether a local person or an interstate consultant can provide this best.

This is where the web of industry and communities wrap themselves up in conflict and contradiction.

No consultant probably believes he isn't completely necessary but should not be paid to help.

See? Web.

The answer I think is a sustainable system of self-development where extra, professional staff are less necessary.

Many cities have this: they are special area rate organisations who have a staff member to do their bidding.

But these are badly run sometimes so the outcomes are not there or not good enough.

Place management has a long way to go. The journey's exciting.

But hopefully, we're all unnecessary anyway.

A good place manager must understand how private property, the attraction of businesses, retail uses and business management affect community participation.

Must also tie bootie to tree.

Above: Le Bon Cake Shop, 93 Acland Street, St Kilda, Australia  Le Bon Continental Cake Shop on Urbanspoon


Below: The Imp, 863 Albany Highway East Victoria Park  The Imp on Urbanspoon

Tiny Tables are not just to get more bums on seats.

It is to engineer more incidental contact between strangers.

That is an essential service we come to coffee shops for - as much as the black stuff in the cup.

No, perhaps this is better.

Below: The always-supporting-your-community state-government Department of Housing 24-hr shopfront.

No mosquitoes can get in.

269 Albany Highway, Victoria Park.

Amsterdam And Other Miracles - Part 3 - Conclusion

☞ Go back and get part 1 first

Or part 2, if you're into that sort of thing.

In regards to this bin, Geoff, this is a 1999 problem with a 1922 solution.

Perhaps functional when all we disposed of was an occasional apple core, lolly wrapper, or maybe a used dead goat.

But now with a constant supply of commercial waste, starting life as packaging in retail outlets and handily donated by citizens throughout the city's watercourses, a more elegant solution must arrive sooner, please.

So the question, "Why did they put the bin there?" should be modified to "Why didn't they change it sooner?".

And the answer is poor place management.

Most place managers get themselves into a pickle when aligning commonalities of visible and invisible place management.

We know the bin is wrong.

But to provide a supporting argument during an engineers' budget meeting - a hostile meeting anyway because no department likes being told what to do by an outsider - especially one from within their organisation, from a different department, no less - and add to this the narcotic effect boredom from such meetings inspires, it all means this bin becomes just another headache in a long list of headaches.

Where it's fated to be ignored.

There is sits for 45 years with multiple other annoyances, incrementally picking at the fabric of the city, bringing the community to their knees.

And preventing any real community competitiveness and development.

*           *           *

I'm not making this up.

In 2012, wanting children to perhaps make it to the bustop without being slaughtered and if so to have a seat, perhaps, nearby, like which wasn't wet in winter or perhaps afforded them a bit of privacy or a place to put a bag - or, hey, even some dignity, I emailed my good colleagues with a photo to see if we couldn't place-manage a little.

As an amazing coincidence, they had discussed this very problem the day before - but not left their offices, of course.*

(*I can't prove that. Maybe they were just mean.)

My email: March 9

"Hi guys, I'm not sure who to email this to but ... it's critical that better and more seating options are placed here. The area has scores of people sitting on the footpath waiting for their bus without any seating options. Who can we talk to about this to try and get an immediate improvement? Please see photo attached."

Above: Bustop ouside Target, Adelaide Street Fremantle, Australia

(I couldn't find the original so took a photo of a print-out)

Their reply:

"Hello Nicholas. We discussed this at our divisional meeting yesterday and we all agreed that there is ample seating in this location and that if people choose to sit on paths that is their choice."

Of course.

It's their choice. What was I thinking? They should just sit on top of each other, like frogs.

And so it has gone with our Amsterdam bin and that view and that canal and that community.

The government has had 45 years since plastics began making their happy journey from injection molding factories through our shops and all the way to the inside of a tern's stomach - gloriously fanned out for us here as a rainbow almanac of it's menu at the Great Pacific Whirlpool.

Cool, hey? (Photos pinched from Mr Chris Parker.)

It was Bill Bryson who said of Amsterdamers in his fairly brilliant book, Neither Here Nor There - in 1991 - that:

"Because they have been congratulating themselves on their intelligent tolerance for all these centuries, it's now impossible for them not to be nobly accommodating to graffiti and burned-out hippies and dog-shit and litter. Of course, I may be completely misreading the situation. They may like dog shit and litter. I sure hope so, because they've certainly got a lot of it."

Place Managers must:

  • accelerate strategies, care, attention and education to have
  • locally unique solutions to
  • preparing a community of lovers and vigorously productive people by
  • removing the offensive or repugnant to
  • foster development - the best type of development - a sense of place. 

What is known nowhere as the 'Must-Have-To-By-To' rule.

But instead of internal change management to affect better rates of personal communication, streetside improvement and local resiliency many place managers just book marketing ads and run a street festival - a domain not occupied by other city departments and hence where they have open paddocks.

Poor place management results in all of us suspending our personal development experiences for another place that returns our investment with like value.

But going somewhere else is not possible for the innocents such as the children or old people married to a place.

And that's criminal.

As well as a risky strategy, like having untrained soldiers.

The upshot of this story is the Amsterdam bin was removed in 2004.

You can see a sort-of-current Google Earth Street View of it here:

People still argue that rubbish is a symbol of bustling city life, and that a healthful conference of litter in every building recess is necessary bacterium to keep the surfaces of our civilisation healthy - using a handy but disproved cover version of Mr Gouty's Medical Practises For The Victorian Household as guidance - and that we're cleaning away the character of the street by being officious about litter or other squiggly legacies autographed upon our streets and walls, because those are the things that are leading our application toward the great ambiguous trophy known as 'urban grit'.

But they're just stupid and you should urinate on them.

- END -

☞ Go and start at part 1 again

Or part 2, if you're into that sort of thing.

Amsterdam And Other Miracles - Part 2

☞ Go back and get part 1 first

Back here in Amsterdam here we see a promise of a so-called simpler world where:

  • boys walk along with a fish under their armpit
  • shopfronts are swept with wicker brooms
  • women in headscarfs roll past on bicycles with little 'ch-chings', hailing a stripey shirted boy -
  • himself with a truncheon of bread under one arm and a felt hat
  • tobacco-stained and smiling moustaches with an accordion laugh loudly
  • arguments in front of cafes turn out to be only play
  • children get into mischief in ever-faster circles around their parents legs, and
  • a hollow orange light in upper floors at nighttime denote a warm family dinner, a subtle but beguiling view, and perhaps an evening stroll at sunset to pass by a friend's.

Place management is what engineers this, anything good and anything bad, and what we get or what we imagine we get is a Sense of Place (as listed) - a term that's been instantly reserved by the political side that would like nothing more for Xmas than a communal set of tie dyed ugg-boots - but this is a term that's ever as serious as streetlamps and bins.

And IKEA's place marketing is what falls out the other end because the sense of place, real or imagined, makes us pay for reminders that our self-development is out there.

And maybe one day, too, we can have a big sticking-out piece of bread and be 'ch-chinged' by a beautiful maiden on her bike.

So let's wind it all up then, shall we?

The question is "Why is the bin there?"

The sub-question, of course, is who's this invisible 'they' I blame so much for affecting your sense of place?

Largely, 'they' means local governments, who are markable for the reactions you get within a public place.

You have an interest in this Mr Government, you do, because your city's competitiveness, the resilience of the economy and the health and interestingness of your community is dependent on it.

There's a perpetual cycle of participation charged or not-charged by visible and invisible forces within our places, be it a bin in the way of our walking frame, filth in the river or the inability to find a good espresso and a stranger to to share it with.

In regards to this bin, this a 1922 solution for a 1999 problem.


I will be publishing Part 3 of this riveting story tomorrow at 5pm, GMT + 8.

Sign up (top right) to get the final answer to Mr Geoff Cohn's thunderous question.


Amsterdam And Other Miracles - Part 1

I'm an agony aunt and I like it.

Ask Mr Mainstreet I'm going to call it or perhaps The Retail Detective or better: Ask The Lord.

So please do write in with your mainstreet mysteries and I might just be able to unpick and solve them.

Mr Geoff Cohn has written in with the below photo and comments.

Thanks Geoff.

"Nick - I have always been fascinated by this photo attached – quite a famous one of Amsterdam which is well known enough to now be mass produced by Ikea."

"Anyway they have taken a beautiful photo with the bike being featured in the foreground alongside an overflowing bin with paper bags and empty whiskey bottles etc – Ok so its a realistic depiction not cleaned up just for the photo I guess – but why is the bin there where all the overflow just falls and blows into the canal instead of at either end."

"Do you want to take this one on!!"

"Cheers Geoff"

*           *           *

The reply:

Hi Geoff,

First, a story about the photo:

This scene was taken at the intersection of Brouwersgracht and Binnen Weringer Straat Amsterdam in 1999 by Fernando Bengoechea (deceased) who is missing and presumed dead.

The beach he was lying on in 2004 was incoveniently reclaimed by the ocean in one large gulp, by what we now call the Indian Ocean Tsunami. 

His photo marinates me with a sense of place pulleyed-up from the undergrounds of my memory and in this case it's where buildings are skinny, roads are made with a million little stones set out in patterns, streets are smaller like leprechauns live there, people wander about and say 'Hoi!' to eachother, and food and love and sex and childbirth and old age and dying and parties and laughter all happens around a track of walkways neatly binding all of your future and past experiences so they're nearby for visiting just like an old friend.

It's a neighbourhood.

The type of place Jane Jacobs talks about in the Death and Life of Great American Cities, where incidental contact is the Royal Jelly to motivate the hive as well as being the ultimatum for constantly re-building it.

Which brings us to the Athen's Charter.

The Athens Charter is a rather olivey tasting name given to a new discipline of city planning fomented after 1933 and really hitting its grapes by 1945, and nowdays being unwound because of generally unpalatable outcomes of unpopular - even devastating - places with separation between shops and houses measurable in miles, not feet, and other domestic crimes, although it did give us the jolly interesting word 'suburban' meaning 'less good than urban'.

In Fernando's photo there is a promise of cross-dimensional travel just an aeroplane ride away, made more poignant for us in Perth and perhaps for others around the globe for whom such a bucolic visit is a once-in-a-lifetime expense.

And because of this melancholy, this photo is beautiful.

The problem we're stuck with right now is negotiating that word because there's never confidence, is there, that 'beautiful' has sufficient starting weight to stand its ground in a bout over cities and their priorities.


☞ Go forward and get part 2

Below: Jane Jacobs, titan of place management and author of The Economies of Cities, Cities and The Wealth of Nations, The Nature of Economies, and The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and others.

Below: More from IKEA's Vishult series.

Hi, I'm Jan Gehl, I taught Nick everything he knows about The Athens Charter.

I'm a bloody Master. I'm also a fond advocate for the use of super-hyper bokeh☟

Gehl photo selfishly ripped off (by me) from the Planning Institute of Australia website and obviously depriving the photographer of many hundreds of dollars and starving their Guinea pigs, and making their daughters cry. Please send angry emails to:

Below: Do not try this at home.

This is what you get with the Athen's Charter: Sprawl.

Sprawl is unnecessary consumption of what-they-call 'Greenfield sites' (land which was most recently virgin bush, forest or prairie).

Sprawl also gives us 'Dormitory Suburbs': places for sleeping and that's about it.

No shops, no jobs, no incidental contact, just washing Bintang in the driveway.

If you are 4 and live here there is no corner shop to go and practice out that 'please' and 'thank you' malarkey you've been taught, only a columbine basement where you will be borrowed for fifteen years at no rent until your parents find you with a helicopter.

☞ Go forward and get part 2

A Message For Mainstreets

We should never have to complain that our place is not vibrant. And we don't have to.

The lack of so-called vibrancy in our towns and high streets is because local governments, I'm afraid to say, don't manage them well.

A well managed city must have a shopping-centre-style focus to reduce vacancies, attract the right businesses, and have effective deisgn management.

Want a street full of shops?


Want a street full or pornographic bookshops? Tattoo parlours? $2 shops? No.

Want a street full of unique and interesting experiences all paid for by the business operator? Want your essential services back in town so when we're old we can walk to the shops to buy a stamp, or do the drycleaning, or meet our chums? Or perhaps you would like a street full of empty windows, vandalised shopfronts and fly-posters instead?

Have you got the resources to locate and seduce the best independent businesses for your mainstreet, one by one, like the way it's always been done: the hard way, the correct way?

The real estate agents do that, right? That's the landlords problem.

No, it's not.

It's your problem.

*           *           *

Managing vancancies

Your street is full of vacant shops, your community is on the nose, your kids and old people are being let down.

You're indirectly telling people to go somewhere else where the prospects are better.

Yes, the landlords and their agents should beaver around and do the right thing. But you have a stake in the outcome as much as them, plus: they pay your taxes in magnificent proportion compared to their cousins in the residential streets behind.

Do you want retail businesses in food, gifts, fashion; a mix of essential services in peculiar combinations you never thought imaginable before?


Then bring the stakeholders together and go out and hunt down the retailers and other business operators you need. This is not about blowing your budget on newspaper advertising or a festival. It's about business-to-business marketing, with property and precinct details available to those retailers who can contribute to your town's sense of place, local identity, community resiliency and sustainability.

This is an expert service provided by those with distinct retail property knowledge and experience.

We've Jiggled The Site Round A Bit

We've jiggled around the site a bit.

What started as a blog, turned into a business, so all the Blog Categories have been moved from the top row to the side ☞.

All the critical pages are on the top row now☝.

We've changed our text to grey (7d7d7d), the headings of each article into Josephin Sans font, and the main body to Open Sans.

We have also added our current by-line, 'We Fix Mainstreets'. And, in the A Beautiful City habit of having an argument with ourselves we've written a comprehensive About Us section.

Get a bit of it down here☟

A Beautiful City is a Proprietary Limited company located in Perth, Australia.

Australia is a country in the world.

We are interested in Mainstreets, which you may also know as 'city centres', high streets, 'strip-shopping areas', downtowns and 'urban villages'.

We are interested in these areas because they represent the sustainable future of human development.

They are already there; they have served us well for thousands of years; and when they're not there, we're building them new because that's what people expect in modern urban development.

So they should.

Place Managers are the entities which essentially manage these places and are responsible for the outcomes. Largely, they're stuffing them up.

The thing that makes mainstreets sustainable, interesting and vibrant is independent retail and place management.

*           *           *

Our mainstreets are managed by local governments, with responsibility occasionally ceded to a business association. In some rare cases private landlords own whole mainstreets.

When your lover, your neighbour or your friend talks to you about their wonderful holidays you usually hear about the vibrant and interesting retail streets they spent their time walking in, and then 'Why can't we have that type of thing here?'.

They are interesting and vibrant because of independent retail and place management.

Chain stores and filthy streets rampant with psychopaths are not the places your lover will recommend.

And such places would not be sustainable for the innocents who live there, either.

We have learnt this through our passion for these places. And we have lots of experience in the private and public sectors to work out how the whole shebang works.

The thing that mainstreets need, and that everyone is missing, is the attraction of interesting and sexy businesses.

That means independent retail.

*           *           *

Don't think that if you secure big businesses, like Apple or Gucci, that all the little, interesting businesses will follow. They won't.

It's the other way round.

If you have streets full of interesting small businesses then the big businesses will find you - because of your interesting and vibrant streets which exude independence and creativity.

After all, chain stores have staff who travel to look at potential new-store locations. Unless they go home to their lovers, bosses, neighbours and friends and say 'You gotta check this place out!' they're not going to try and set up a new shop there.

The days where local communties build highways, give tax breaks and re-zone land just to attract a so-called 'big employer' are long behind us.

Businesses travel to the sexy workforce now, and that workforce is found near streets of diverse and vibrant cafes, interesting street life and a busy, creative economy. That's Mainstreets.

If you do it the other way round, trying to attract the trophy tenant to catalyse the retail economy, you will alienate the local community (they don't give a shit about big retail chains) whilst perhaps never getting the trophy tenant you wanted so much.

And if you do lure the trophy tenant first, rents will go up all round, so independent retail wont have a look in.

Downturn coming? The 'big businesses' and chain stores will pull out of your town leaving the high-rent expectations still in the mind of the landlords - meaning independent retail will still not get a look in.

Don't spend you money on customer attraction - expensive newspaper advertisements and festivals - until you have a strategic independent retail and place management framework in place.

*           *           *

People will love your community because of the distinct portfolio of interesting local businesses and well maintained streets (independent retail and place management).

You must go out and hunt down retailers who will build a sense of place for your community.

Implicitly, they will be from the grass roots of your community, reinforcing the local economy paradigm because businesses are seeded from within your own ecology.

And that's what's nocticeble and attractive to customers.

Get that right and the customers will come without the expensive newspaper advertising and festivals.

Place management means that your public and private spaces are well made, well maintained and well marketed to potential new retailers (not customers ... yet). That's small and interesting businesses.

*           *           *

The reason people love mainstreets is they recognise that they are the pinnacle of community participation. Theme parks, shopping centres, libraries, schools, universities, office precincts, industrial and residential zones all serve a purpose, but nothing brings the community together in such an efficient and sustainable way as our mainstreets.

Mainstreets are the places to meet and participate whether you're a baby, an old man, a customer, a young lover, teenager, entrepreneur, budding landlord, charity, not-for-profit organisation, teacher or student.

All these people must be thrust together simultaneously because the diversity accelerates innovation.

That innovation not only drives the interest-factor for people living or working in this area, but it also makes the community and region as a whole more resilient (ie: sustainable) because of the fertile ecology of innovation, creativity and human interaction which cannot be replicated in any other place.

There is no price of admission to participate on a mainstreet.

And mainstreets include the community from birth until death in a sustainable way. 

So what I do at A Beautiful City is explain, argue, fret, communicate, sell products and services and generally play my bit in the story of mainstreets.

And that's what I do. I Fix Mainstreets.

8 Lessons For Local Governments Shooting for a Vibrant Mainstreet

I was invited to a mainstreet workshop.  About 60 of us there was, in a village hall, huddled into an enormous circle on those warty, orange and beige, plastic school chairs, looking at a table. With a texta on it.

The exercise this time was anyone who had an idea to 'revolutionise' the mainstreet was to break the silence, skate across the freezing distances to the stranded table in the middle and squeakily press their idea onto a page. Then, slowly turning as if on a dais, speak it out loud to everyone whilst holding it up like a dead mouse. They then couriered it to the moderator who sticky-taped it to something nearby.

This happened about five times until it was called to a halt as a satisfactory enough contribution. And we all broke our gaze on the texta and with a big, slow blink we pointed our necks in a new direction, as invited, to genuflect on the conclusions.

There are always two conclusions that appear on these occasions:

1.  We should all wear two dresses and spin around on the road with a twig in our hair.

2.  Stab the landlords.

That's fine. We deserve these conclusions.

*           *           *

Ideas that trickle trough the long, boring, unstable, cracked, weed-strewn and lonely pathways laid down by our traditional community consultation processes are eluctably sustainable.

Your decision making system, like every ecology, is fertile for certain decision making outcomes and hostile to others. It's just that we've created a system which is only good for the bitterest, boniest and gnarliest arguments to make it. All the sexy people are too busy running cafes. Somewhere else.

But that's OK.  The system's not broken.

*           *           *

Turning to the Lord Mayor beside me to carefully curate the converstaion to my own needs and services, I listened to their angst about the 'rainbow-flavour' of it all and thought, "Good, this is my chance to tell you how to actually deliver a vibrant mainstreet," and so delivered my consolatory sermon on local economic vitality.

And then this is what I said, or words to that effect.

1. "I agree, it's a dear shame that there is little substance between yearning the community has for a so-called 'vibrant mainstreet' and the conclusions of community consultations".

2. "It is normal business for governments to heavily fund community development departments".

3. "But the biggest and best community development areas are our mainstreets".

4. "Our mainstreets are largely funded by the private sector.  The buildings are owned and maintained by non-government entities and the activities and places are provided by businesses at their cost".

5. "Obviously, high vacancy rates, bad mixes of businesses or the wrong businesses coming in all squeeze out community participation in a mainstreet and hinder community development".

6. "The least the community deserves, let alone the landlords and businesses who are funding the whole shooting match, is that some of the local government efforts are given over to a shopping centre role where there is wisdom, caretaking, governance and outcomes delivered for the place".

7. "It is imperative - it is essential - that local governments accept their role as the chief place manager in their streets and appoint committed, experienced individuals to be given equal credibility within local government organisations just like community development teams enjoy".

8. "The place manager's role is to drive community participation, creativity, innovation and energy, through better street management".

I then put my leg up on a warty orange chair and, pointing my nose to the heavens and amid a crescendo of strings, sang:

"Similarly, it's that community participation that will help preserve, maintain and grow a distinct retail offer - something every local government requires to out-compete other areas and shopping centres, minimise vacancies, and, of course and most importantly, satisfy locals, who want nothing more than a useful, distinct and sexy retail mainstreet: one they can call their own, one they can show off to their friends and visitors, and one they can be proud of".

But I don't think they heard me. I only saw their bum, as they were walking away. Alas.

*           *           *

Even if they don't think so, local governments are the shopping centre managers in our mainstreets. The 'market' will not 'sort itself out' on our mainstreets and 'stable the ship'.

Our mainstreets are shopping centre areas which must be curated, controlled and designed to drive our community development. There's plenty of 'play' in the system for the so-called free market to run amok in the meantime.

If you do not control your shopping centre, shitty businesses and vacancies can appear to a tipping point where your 'steady ship' is more Titanic, dragging down the expectations of your community along with your residential property values and everything else, like retail turnover, local employment, safety, security and your 'brand'.

Until there's awareness, backed up by proportionate funding, that a shopping centre focus delivers community development better than a $150,000 cairn at the beachfront, then we will have to sit through more community brainstorming sessions and bite each other's lips at the peel of each tie-dyed sticky-note.


*           *           *


You don't want to be one of those guys who 'perhaps has some good ideas sometimes' but who cannot be left unattended: you're essential-interviewing for your insider-knowledge but are, ultimately, a crank. Like a tweed in Midsomer Murders. 

That is why I have developed a Place Management System which satisfies all the local government necessities of:

  1. Baseline data
  2. Business communication and networking
  3. Enrolling the business community and landlords into the management of your mainstreets
  4. Sustainable systems of place making, place maintenance and place marketing
  5. Retail planning, urban design, traffic flow and controlling vacancies

Something community-run mainstreets have always done and will always do, if managed right. (And something shopping centres are doing right now.)

A Beautiful City has (I have) just delivered a $150,000 local government program to satisfy requirements in several departments' independent business plans.

To get started, contact this number for a coffee at your local ( 0418433280)

- Nicholas

*           *           *

5 Principles Of Mainstreet Management, Independent Retail And Streetside Vitality

I am at a councillor candidate debate for the inner city ward of Fremantle and I'm pleased to say that all of the opening questions from the floor are about:

  • The city's 'decline as a centre for business and retail'
  • How can we create, restore or bring in 'vibrancy' to the town centre
  • And why do people put neatly wrapped nappies underneath their cars then drive away?

The answers from the candidates include having more festivals, giving the shops away for free and stabbing the landlords.

Principles, not ideas, please.

Festivals and free properties and murder are jolly good fun but they are temporary - and expensive.

This is what potential councillors should say to the electorate:

Question: "What are you going to do to revitalise businesses in High Street West End!?"

Answer: "Thank you. Please keep in mind that my position on council is as a member of a team. If the council agrees, as a whole, then we shall direct the City (the organisation) to put our strategies in to action. I bring this up because I am of no use to the community if my promises can never be realised, and I vow not to drag the electorate into a fight after the election because I misunderstood how local government works and I just need to save face. Showing off in the local paper about my 'council issues' puts the community and council into 'stalemate' which prevents the community from truly developing."

"With that aside, and to answer the question more directly, this is what I would promote to my team, and I know that they'll agree:"

  1. "The council, and the City, must acknowledge that it is the chief place manager in the town."

  2. "It cannot pretend it has 'nothing to do' with local retailers. Whilst it is reasonable that the personal, financial circumstances of businesses are not the council's responsibility, the council must appreciate that there is a virtuous cycle of: a) high quality places, b) high quality businesses, and c) high quality community participation, creativity and innovation."

  3. "A good quality place manager - and that should be the local government - should create a bespoke management system, unique for its place, so all three elements of this cycle efficiently maintain the other. It is the c) high quality community participation, creativity and innovation which creates b) high quality businesses which create the c) high quality places."

  4. "To get started, the council really needs to fund a person, or a team, who are experienced in retail and property management to facilitate the measurement and sustainable growth of the a) high quality places, b) high quality businesses, and c) high quality community participation, creativity and innovation."

  5. "The council must also acknowledge that it may have systems in place which are repugnant to this cycle. Some of the council's activity must include permissions-to-change internally and to 'move out of the way' so this virtuous cycle can be sown and harvested by the skilled representatives employed to do such a thing."

"We should never have to complain that our place is not vibrant - and we don't have to. The lack of so-called vibrancy in our towns and high streets is because local governments, I'm afraid to say, don't manage them well.  A well managed city must have a shopping-centre-style focus to reduce vacancies, attract the right businesses and have effective design management."

"I would use my position on council to encourage my colleagues to appreciate and understand all of this."

These are the outcomes we want.  Principles, not ideas, please.

Above: Shhhh. Local community debate over 'high streets', retail, business attraction, vacancies and 'vibrancy'. At the Fremantle Workers Social and Leisure Club, 9 Henry Street, Fremantle, Australia.  "Don't mention the skate park," the moderator warned the candidates, "... a decided issue and candidates should not mislead the electorate that they can go onto council and reverse it".

A Lesson In Business District Management

People come to our communities to communicate with each other, generate creativity and innovation and to build businesses and relationships.  And crashing into that like a Pterodactyl at a petting zoo is the public drunk.

Because if your city is full of jerks all the good people will talk about your district behind your back (in a bad way) and then go to a different district to build their communities and businesses there.

That's what the small bar legislation was for - to put large format taverns and their customers out of business so the rest of the community can get on with it.

We all want to show off to our girlfriends, and thanks to this legislation those who do not have striations in their pectorals can now appear attractive by drinking across a restaurant table without fear of being put in jail.  And at the same time actually generate the creativity and innovation which makes a district sustainable.

I know many argue that this is an intrusion on the otherwise law-abiding public who deserve to bring cartons of beer to public parks and our beaches, strip off their shirts, scream at each other - say 'fuck' a lot - leave their litter behind and then do a wee-wee on your fence.  But that's just dumb.

Seriously guys?  Emu Export?  In the drain is where it belongs.  Good sports, though. Dockers screening - Esplanade Park - Marine Terrace Fremantle, Australia.  Saturday September 28, 2013 - AFL Grand Final Day.

Fremantle - Be A Good Loser

Oh, well.  It didn't work out.

Never mind.

Prior to the Grand Final Fremantle had uniformly ridden a wave of gentle excitement, expressing itself in purple shopfronts and lots else.  There was no need to wait for 'fair weather' for this to happen.  You've always had a football team - a purple one - and each September there's footy finals, enthralling the nation no matter who plays.

Be a good loser.  Show your purple shopfronts not only because you want to be at the winners side but because you support Fremantle, football, and have a story to tell of support (for the players right now) - rain, hail or shine.

Having a football team, even a losing one, is an asset.  You - unlike other places - can celebrate September and the AFL calender and get the best reaction in your region.

Retailers and shopfronts lead the conversation in the minds of the pedestrian so show of your assets en masse often and not just when a pot of gold is thrown at your feet.  The visitor needs that distinct and local story to generate loyalty to your precinct.

Above: After the game.  Wilson Carpark, old 'Gas and Coke' site, corner of Queen and Cantonment Streets, Fremantle, Australia.

Below: St John Ambulance, corner of Market and High Streets, Fremantle.  I have never, ever, seen an ambulance change it's livery.

4 Reasons Why You Should Attract Independent Retail To Your City

When you're new in a city the first people to treat you well, like you're not a stranger, are the merchants.

Repeat a visit to a restaurant and small nods of nourishing acknowledgement go your way. 

This is the building of a relationship which, in-turn, builds your society.

Attract independant retailers to your city for quality contact that:

  1. Builds your community quicker.
  2. Gives it more locally-distinct flavour or character.
  3. Makes your city more diverse, as the difficult-to-replicate, place-based and distinct roots of the independent retailer also attracts a customer- and residential-base which is diverse itself.
  4. Makes your city more resilient as the city is filled with thousands of invisible personal networks which constantly generate collaboratition and innovation.

To the visitor, to the consumer, a smile is better if it's warmer.

We often forget that independent retailers have the warmest smiles.

And an independent retailer's smile builds your society fastest and best.

Below: Her Message Clothing & Shoes, Old Theatre Lane, 50 Bay View Terrace, Claremont, Australia.

Five More Reasons To Have Schools in Your City

This is what happens when you mix uses and have education / schools in the central business district and retail areas of your city.

  1. The kids see the community and economy at work - not like being stuck in a yellow field in Canning Vale.
  2. The community and economy gets more people within their realm - that's good.
  3. The bonds between the local retail community and the growing population increase.
  4. The place becomes safer as kids and retailers get to know each other.
  5. Hey look - they're walking around.

Above: corner of High and Pakenham Streets in Fremantle, Australia.

Story of a Dying Laneway

We must always retain our pedestrian thoroughfares because ...

  1. If we get bored or scared walking along one route, next time we can try another.
  2. With more pedestrian thoroughfares through our city we retain people's (the customer's) attention longer.
  3. This strengthens their bonds with our district because they are spending more time there and having more experiences.
  4. This prevents them from choosing another district, and
  5. This means our city will be sustainable.

This is Paddy Troy Lane in Fremantle.

It used to be that you could walk all the way through.  Legend has it that a falling out between the landlord and the local authority made the landlord say, 'Right, I'll show you' and erected a shop on their private land facing William Street and forever cutting off public access.

You're looking at the back of it here.

As a consequence, probably, the Newport Hotel (which is behind me in the photo) closed its rear entrance which took pedestrians all the way from the Town Hall clock in the distance, up the lane, through a rear passage of the hotel and out on to the Cappuccino Strip - one of Australia's best retail streets.

So now if you want to get from the city square and town hall clock to the best retail street in Australia you have to perambulate either left or right to find another opening in the city grid.

Yes, we know that the part of the laneway in the picture is on private property but local governments must step up and become better negotiators (and the state government must give them permission to do so).

Or else they should own their own buildings.


The Shopfront Dilemma

Now, many - most - of the Hanoi shop-fronts have a roller door.  Bad? 


Just like in a shopping centre, a roller door permits 100% shopfront activation.  If you have glass panels and doorways - as most of us do - it seems you are creating more barriers between the public and private realms.

Not good.

OK, so 'roller shutters' are taboo.

We know that.  Some localities actively ban them - others are trying to back-fit their cities to rid themselves of them.

Opportunity!  We need roller doors that are acceptable when in closed position.

You can get 'semi-clear' roller doors now - pretty ugly,  but certainly they could also be decorated, have visual permeability, LED-lights inserted ...

See?  I should be rich.

Retailers have enough to worry about - activating the community in your city, for example - so the last thing they should have to do at 2am is wake up because someone smashed their front window.  This is why they like roller doors.

Because they just want to focus on growing your community and economy, and no customer or local authority is going to help them (either in time or money) to repair their constantly-scunged-up shopfronts.

Above: Thinh Can, 92 Hang Chieu, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi: You Could Live Here

Video: 2m03sec.

I like having red-wine conversations about the magnificent environments we've all found in our trips abroad.

I even like complaining about why we can't can't have these things back home.

I sometimes even like going through the reasons why: the economy, first world vs third world benefit/costs arguments, labour costs, 'service', 'regulations' ... and all that malarky.

But what should be unacceptable to all of us is to repeat these conversations generation-in-and-out whilst our young people (and even normal people) are presented with situation normal - which is a community that is unstimulating and stifles self-development.

We are still building communities, wondering how to 'house' people, and how to accommodate the reasonable demands of the average bloke and bloke-ette who want to wake up in the morning and efficiently grow their life.

The places they're in are critical to this.

That's why you don't live in Antartica or Tel Aviv.  Or Belmont.

And people are smart.  They know that they're only a short plane ride away from a new life.

And that's an affordable and very real option these days.

But don't worry.  On behalf of all the people sitting opposite me on those dark nights, with sediment in their glasses from hours of debate about city management, urban revitalisation, 'service', retail and 'the economy' (sheesh) I have found the mother lode.


Mainstreet Rejuventation Through Innnovative Management

I am proud to say I have been working with Arthur Kyron and Ben Rose of the Town of Victoria Park in their programs to rejuventate their mainstreets.

A Beautiful City people counting systems are now in East Victoria Park and Victoria Park - two locations penetrated by the enormous and fantastic Albany Highway mainstreet.

The below quote is supplied by the town's Strategic Projects Consultant, Mr Ben Rose:

"How do you measure the health of a mainstreet?  Vibrancy and activity are often used as subjective measures, but how do we put objectivity and robust conclusions into those often subjective observations?

Physically counting the number of people using the space, at any given point in time, and over time, gives us (the mainstreet administrators) the best available information for making important decisions relating to the mainstreet.

Are visitation rates up, are they down, how do they compare to this time last year, what are the annual trends like, what is the busiest day of the week, busiest hour of the day?.....all of these questions can be answered through people counting.  The Town of Victoria Park invested in two people counters in 2012-13 and will be looking to extend its network of data-gathering with more units in 2013-14, thereby enabling better informed decisions for the continued revjuvenation and activation of the Albany Highway mainstreet."

Below: Another stunning piece of public art improving the town centre of East Victoria Park.

For more information on A Beautiful City's people counting system for mainstreets, please visit our people counting page or our people counting articles.

Hello Everyone

Hello everyone.

I / we have been busy lately, hence the lack of posts.  We have been installing and configuring people counters for the Town of Victoria Park.

It's very exciting to breath life into technology.

As the people counters are configured we can see the foot traffic statistics right before our eyes.  If something's not quite right, we can adjust the counter in real time to see an improvement in accuracy.

Fundamentally though, this assists us in managing our precinct.  We have real information which gives us new questions, and we don't ever have to waste time on guesswork.

After this, we're off to Claremont to install people counting systems for their precinct.

These Defects Make a Place Unique, But That's The Wrong Type Of Unique

Why are these lovers standing here?

They're stranded here.  The rain caught us all.

Once upon a time, the next building along was like its brothers and sisters on this street: Victorian architecture with an 'Australian-style' awning, as Jan Gehl puts it.

But it was demolished and replaced with something else.  Without an awning.

Now there is no contiguous pedestrian network.  This effectively strands us, which can sometimes be lovely and cosy, but really means that your precinct is less desirable for customers and new businesses.  It's 'functionality' is impaired.

Understandably, these 'so-called defects' also make a place unique.  But that's the wrong type of unique.

We want the 'unique' that's created by independent retailers and place management solutions which are locally distinct.

Heavy rainfall is a permanent deterrant for many who have alternative locations to consider.  These can be other streets in your district, other districts, or (no!) indoor shopping centres.

We limit our strolling distance because of these impediments.  This directly affects the quality of your community because businesses and economies are out of reach of people.

Profitable hours of operation are diminished per year, as is foot traffic.

A safe, comfortable and interesting pedestrian network is necessary.

Above: The Record Finder, 87 High Street West End, Fremantle, Australia

Three things 'Heritage' gives us in Managing our Business Districts

This shopfront sign in Bay View Terrace is a beauty.

It is on the Westpac Bank and is a great innovation.

It describes the local business history of the people.

What do you get when you are given history or 'heritage'?

  1. Distinctiveness: things that are unique to your place are the stories.  They cannot be replicated elsewhere and this makes your place more interesting and competitive.
  2. Entertainment: discovering local, distinct stories is fun.  Placing them among the business district is a relieving contrast to the day's shopping or daily errands.  Business-stories are fascinating to people too - everyone has their own story of the 'shops in the olden days' - even if that was 2001!
  3. Comfort - a sense that people care enough to recall and display local stories reminds us that this place is all about community - the economy is just a sweet by-product of that.

Thank you, Westpac.

Above: Shopfront detail on the Westpac Bank, 27 Bay View Terrace in Claremont, Australia.

I Bet They're Right. But How Can We Tell?


If you are anything like me, you love community, retail and public places.

(This article can be listened to - video, 3m57s.)

You think that the community coming together to spend time, money and effort in a commercial area, run by retailers who are pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation, is a real blast.

I've seen lots of reports and had lots of conversations that explore this. Shopping centre managers, local governments, state governments, chambers of commerce, business improvement districts and retailers themselves all examine and explore this wonderful phenomenon of people coming together in retail places.

In 2009 I sat down to hear Jan Gehl speak. This lecture really stimulated my transformation from 'Retail Leasing Executive' to 'Founding CEO of A Beautiful City'. It covered all the positive transformations the City of Perth could take (and has taken) to create greater community activity in the city centre (which we all know is a retail area, right?).

His reports gave clear, before-and-after, qualitative charts showing the increases in cafe tables, street trees, bicycle paths, population and other things over a fifteen year period. Of course, he also went to the trouble to take foot traffic statistics.

I was shocked.

The people-counting method included recruiting student volunteers to stand on the street and manually count people. They couldn't do this all year, of course, so slices of activity were taken throughout the year - fifteen minutes each hour on two summer days, and then fifteen minutes each hour on two winter days.

These figures were then extrapolated out to give 'final' pedestrian data for particular streets.

I don't think so!

I was so shocked but I also thought, "Well, what else are they supposed to do?".

I thought this could be my chance to assist.

With my intimate knowledge of the shopping centre industry I knew I could contribute by adapting people-counting technology and applying it to public places, so we never have to hear a story of a backpacker on a street corner, with a chrome clicker in hand, calling it science.

Well, fast forward three years and a whole lot of passion later and we now have it, and the first one is already installed!

So I thank everyone who has embraced this story by jumping on board with this exciting and incredible technology.

We can now count, 24/7, how many people are using your street. It's cheaper and more accurate (and I will guarantee that) than 'student counters' and of course, it's permanent, so instead of 'fifteen minutes now and then' we can get rich layers of pedestrian counts by the hour, day, month, quarter - or whatever - all year, every year.

Shopping centre managers, chambers of commerce, local government, business district managers and retailers all tell you: "More people is better."

I bet they're right. But how can we tell?

Above: This graph shows foot traffic statistics since Monday this week (each colour denotes a different day). The x-axis (left) are numbers of people per hour (numbers have been removed). The y-axis (bottom) are the 24 hours of the day.

Today is green (Thursday is traditionally late-night shopping day in Perth). You can already see the green line kicking up in the evening, against the trend of the other days, denoting greater Thursday-evening foot traffic.

Below: This shows pedestrian data for each day in May, since the 5th, when records began at this location. The big finger is Saturday 11 May and is shopping traffic on the day prior to Mothers Day, 2013.

Please visit our people-counting page for even more information.

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