01/06/2004 - 22:00

Seaside the model for Ellenbrook

01/06/2004 - 22:00

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A UDIA study tour in the US will this week visit Seaside, Florida, which is considered not only to be a model for new urban planning, dubbed ‘new urbanism’, but was also the setting for Hollywood film, The Truman Show.

Seaside the model for Ellenbrook

A UDIA study tour in the US will this week visit Seaside, Florida, which is considered not only to be a model for new urban planning, dubbed ‘new urbanism’, but was also the setting for Hollywood film, The Truman Show.

Seaside won a Time magazine design-of-the-decade award in 1991 and, while depicted in the film as a cheesy fake paradise, in reality it contains 479 homes located on about 30 hectares of beachfront.

Major new urbanism proponent Mike Day, of Roberts Day Town Planners, has been to Seaside a dozen times and said new urbanism was both the way of the future and of the past.

“New urbanism is about rediscovering the principles of great villages of Europe and North America,” he said.

“There is no more noble a profession than to design a new town which shapes the environment that kids, parents and the elderly live in.

“True communities are diverse and it is a wonderful experience to walk through a place which just makes your heart sing, like Fremantle.”

Roberts Day is considered an industry leader in new urbanism, and the firm has been employed throughout Australia and New Zealand to implement the principles.

“There has been a lot of experimentation in the US with the principles of new urbanism, and the first time they were attempted in WA was with Ellenbrook and Joondalup North,” Mr Day said.

“The movement has more momentum in WA than any other State in the country.

“The State Government and the local authorities are very enamored with the principles and just last week we had groups from Queensland looking at a myriad of projects in WA including East Perth and Subiaco to take the ideas back and use them on their sites.

“The greatest criticism leveled at new urbanism is that it is too expensive, however, Ellenbrook overcomes this, being a joint venture with Homeswest, where one in 12 houses in the development will be for public housing.”

The antithesis of new urbanism is suburban sprawl, segmented by freeways that link major shopping centers anchored by megastores and indistinguishable neighborhood pods of identical makeup.

A move away from “big box” shopping centers, towards a main street designed to be a town centre and heart of a community, exemplifies the way of life new urbanism is promoting.

Construction has begun at Ellenbrook on WA’s first main street shopping centre for 50 years and although it is easy to extol the benefits of living in a new urban environment, residents and retailers are a little harder to get on board.

City of Swan executive manager for strategic city planning Martin Richardson said the council shared the vision for the Ellenbrook town centre with estate developers LWP Property to create a vibrant, attractive and flexible town centre environment.

The retail area also needs to remain profitable and commercially sustainable and like any retail development, a major national anchor tenant is needed.

Ellenbrook has already secured Woolworths as an anchor tenant, however, the hurdle of the naturally conservative approach of such retailers to new development had to be overcome.

“They do not readily accept that a retail development should be integrated with other commercial activities, community uses and housing,” Mr Richardson said.

“One thing we would not concede, however, was that the major retail attractor in the centre would turn its back on the main street, surround itself with car parking and adhere to a model of development that was invented in the 1960s when convenience for cars was equated to convenience for customers.

“From the retail perspective, we believe that the risk in trying a new model for retail centers is far less than the risk of sticking with the old one. The retail developers have so far willingly participated in the process, though not without some substantial reservations.

“More recently, we have had to reinforce the vision in the face of some pressure to go back to convention – more car parking where the kids are intended to sit, the front door facing the car park and the back door on the street and nicely designed building facades obliterated by oversized signs.

“We have had to be as flexible as possible to meet actual retailing needs, but will not compromise on the vision.”

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