Photo Leeston main street

Town centres are places that can host community facilities, shops, restaurants, offices, housing, open space and community spaces. The more things there are to do and enjoy in a town centre the more people will want to visit it.

Town centres are often located in the commercial or geographical centre of a town’s core area. They are usually shopping and retail centres as well as transport hubs. Town centres also often have landmark buildings, community facilities, such as reserves and sports grounds or medical facilities. Historically town centres have developed along main transport routes or important community facilities, such as churches.

As a township grows areas close to its town centre will develop, either through the redevelopment of existing sites, retro-fitting of residential housing or the expansion of commercial activity into surrounding areas. As townships grow it is important that its identity and vitality is retained and that the special look of the centre is preserved and improved. New development can add to the range of services a town provides, but it must also enhance the town’s character.

What makes a good town centre?

  • Good centres encourage activity and attract people. They provide spaces that people want to be in to enjoy the surroundings.
  • Good centres are multi-use spaces; they allow for a range of activities to be undertaken in one trip. This makes them convenient for people to use and good for businesses who can take advantage of a ready supply of customers.
  • Good centres are walkable and allow people to get from one place to another quickly, passing by other businesses on the way.
  • Good centres are unique and distinctive – encouraging people to use that centre, rather than an “anywhere” centre, such as a mall.
  • Good centres have an interesting street front. People walk more slowly through the streets with active frontage, because they are enjoying the experience of looking at shops and the environment around them.
  • Pleasant to walk around – such as having wide footpaths, to encourage walking. More people on the street means a more vibrant atmosphere.
  • Places to linger, rest, have lunch and watch the world go by encourage people to spend time in a centre.
  • A good supply of car parking makes a centre convenient to visit. However, people don’t necessarily need to be able to park directly outside the business they wish to use.
  • Probably the most important aspect in a well-designed centre is the absence of parking between shop frontages and the footpath, which makes the footpath area into a pedestrian and community space.

What do you think?

  • What is missing in your town centre?
  • Is your town centre big enough?
  • Is your town centre a place where you want to spend time in? Is it an attractive, safe and vibrant place at any time of the day/week?
  • Can you walk and cycle through your town centre safely?