Creating better cities by
improving the value of the public realm


How do you subjugate the role of retail to get better centres?

chadstoneredIn town centre planning, centre performance is far more important than retail performance. This is a fundamental economic, environmental, cultural and social issue. As can be seen from the graphic, malls are closed systems and have poor urban interfaces and hard transitions to surrounding uses.

However malls can’t compete if the objectives set for the centre are triple or quadruple bottom line performance.


Inter-relationships become more important with a town. Retail developers will complain that the street-based centre model doesn’t work for retail. This is despite the fact that the highest retail rents in the world are found in streets not malls, and when street is designed to have the same level of foot traffic as the mall, it generally outperforms the mall (as we discovered at Gungahlin in Canberra). Retail rent levels are conditional on footfall. Design for the dominant footfall in the street and the rents will be comparable to the mall. In any event in town centre planning and design IT IS NOT ABOUT THE RETAIL. It is about optimum economic, environmental, cultural and social performance of a town centre. Retail must always be subservient to this objective.

In town centre planning and design, the built form is far more important than land use so do not over-control the land use – merely determine the type of buildings you want in the town or village centre and the number of storeys, proportions and relationships with each other, and the street. Generally robust and adaptable buildings should be the target in town centre planning, and higher than normal floor to ceiling heights will be necessary to deliver on this outcome. Retail can go where it likes on the ground floor of these buildings.

You also need to determine the extent of your town centre plan and whether you want the town to "bleed off" at the edges along the movement networks (Christaller's "star" town), or do you want a stronger vertical emphasis? In town centre planning and design each centre will have different dynamics so don't use any cookie cutter formula supplied by any particular urbanism movement or retail architect. Buildings need to express themselves together as a cohesive whole forming townscape. Buildings need to be fine grained with strong and dominant vertical proportions - not a series of shop windows linked together as a seamingly continuous building. In town centre planning, the smaller the centre the more that intimacy is required in the architecture and definition of space.