Timaru is looking to the arts as one way to help revitalise its struggling city centre.
The council has adopted a CityTown strategy, put together by a design and urban planning agency Isthmus Group.
With a budget of $34.6 million the council is looking ahead 10 to 15 years to try and ensure its residents find ways to use and enjoy their city centre, businesses prosper and ultimately more people will be attracted to settle in the city.
Gap Filler is also involved. It was established soon after the Christchurch earthquakes with volunteers making use of empty spaces to offer some entertainment after the demolition of more than 1000 buildings.
Since then it has worked in more than 20 cities around Aotearoa to advise councils on effective use of empty spaces and also advised on international projects to help make inner cities more appealing to residents.
Ideas are being tested before any decisions are made on making permanent changes. Ultimately the council is aiming to future proof the city - using spaces and places well so that the community will support them and private investors will also be encouraged to spend their money on new developments.
Ignite Timaru event coordinator Kimble Henderson was among the organisers of two events in November and December that saw a wide variety of artists perform while at the same time businesses tried different ideas to lure customers.
Henderson who is also a theatre director said there was a positive vibe and lots of good feedback.
She said the original concept was to bring arts and culture into the city centre and see if it could pay dividends for businesses while also providing much needed exposure and funding for performers and other creative people.
When she started looking at the arts and culture sector with a view to inviting them to take part, she said she was "overwhelmed by the excellence of the creatives".
"I didn't know we had so many and across such a wide range of disciplines."
Henderson said there could only be so much talk and frustration about the lack of people being drawn to a city or town centre.
"We've got to find a way to work together and find solutions. We have to try some different things and ask the questions afterwards about what worked well. We're also encouraging people to take some responsibility for their own outcomes."
Among the dozens of events were: a popup art gallery on a street where people could watch artists at work, pole ballet, an interactive jungle in the Royal Arcade, hip hop and contemporary dancers, a kids' art zone, painting bath bombs, jugglers and punk bands.
'Support in face of adversity'
The council's development manager Rosie Oliver said while feedback was still being assessed she was pleased the initiative had delivered some exciting experiences which had the added bonus of linking up business people with other members of the community.
Launching its CityTown strategy with a possible recession looming and in the post-pandemic era was difficult.
"That said, standing still is never an option, no matter how challenging the times," Oliver said.
"While we don't have a silver bullet we do have a responsibility to provide solid leadership and support in the face of adversity. The present circumstances are only increasing the pressure on council to do something in order to be a part of the solution and not drag out the problem."
Oliver said the council was conscious that a certain amount of disruption and expense could accompany any changes so it wanted to move at a pace that the community was comfortable with. Hence the need for trials, the "try before you buy" approach.
"This way we can get the balance as 'right' as possible between achieving our future aspirations and the level of upfront investment and disruption that is manageable right now."
The council has drawn up a programme of ideas they will trial through until June 2023. These include:
- More dog friendly spaces in the town centre
- Bite-sized recreation - offering small moments of sport and play into everyday life
- Transport hire so people can move more easily between the city centre, Caroline Bay and the port, with one trial targeting tourists / cruise ships
- Increasing the variety of what is offered to young people
- Looking at rates rebates to make it more attractive for temporary occupation of empty shops
- Having reminders in the city of the importance of the agricultural sector to the South Canterbury region
- More musical performances and busking
As well, the council has begun reviewing CBD streets and intersections to find ways to make them more user friendly.
Its Port Loop Road which connects the busy port and Caroline Bay with the main street is mainly used by trucks. The council wants to see if it could also be made safe and convenient for pedestrians, runners, cyclists and scooters to move between the waterfront and Stafford Street.
"However, one of the learnings from around the country has been to nibble gently on the edges when introducing concepts for change as it takes time to raise awareness and test the local appetite. The main street and that Bay Hill intersection are important but it's also an area where changes could potentially impact a large number of stakeholders very directly," Oliver said.
"So we need to pace this correctly and ensure that everyone has had the appropriate opportunity to see and experience how the trial approach works in practice before we get stuck into those areas with the highest footfall/business activity."
All the ideas being trialled have become part of a strategy to ensure the city develops in a sustainable manner and in the process results in "easy, accessible, functional, attractive experiences" for its residents.