REDUCE TRAFFIC LIGHTS: Urban analyst Dr Alex McHarg looks at Coffs streets.
REDUCE TRAFFIC LIGHTS: Urban analyst Dr Alex McHarg looks at Coffs streets. Trevor Veale

‘CBD should follow Europe’

ALEC McHarg characterises himself as a flaneur - not just a fancy term for a people-watcher, but what Baudelaire called "the passionate spectator" who is forensically interested in the life of cities and what makes them tick.

For this UK-born urban analyst who has made his home on the other side of the world and works and studies across two hemispheres, his home town of Coffs Harbour has all the native advantages and opportunities to become an amazing city, but is still in thrall to the car.

Dr McHarg believes the decision to install traffic lights at the intersection of Harbour Dr and Gordon St represents the latest mistake along these lines, and will inhibit further "pedestrianisation" of the city centre and prevent it becoming a community centre, not just a place to shop.

He says rather than a city designed by traffic engineers and inspired by American models, with traffic lights, hard-edged footpaths and zebra crossings, pedestrians and residents should reclaim the CBD in European style, with soft edges between roads and footpaths, cars moving slowly and people living above shops and offices to bring the city to life24/7.

He says this requires clear directions that pedestrians have right of way, and overpasses or mini-underpasses to move people across roads without halting the flow of people, as well as facilities like a cultural precinct that made the CBD a community centre and not just a place to shop.

He said good urban design that encouraged people to get out and about on foot or by cycling made cities happier places and resulted in happier residents.

"We also need classy medium-rise housing in the CBD, not just social housing on the fringes," Dr McHarg said.

"Currently the city is a dead zone after 5pm. You need permanent residents as temporary tourists and visitors.

"Cars don't invigorate it, and traffic lights have never been a solution."

He pointed to Port Macquarie as a city centre that had moved in the right direction and said he was amazed at the extent to which Coffs Harbour currently turned its back on its waterway - Coffs Creek is an asset that would be highly valued by a European town.

He said even the current traffic lights at the intersection of Harbour Dr and the Pacific Highway could be removed by redesigning the flow of traffic.

Dr McHarg's remarks are being reinforced this week by David Bond, an influential UK documentary filmmaker and father currently visiting Australia, whose film Project Wild Thing demonstrates the impact and importance of getting children of all ages away from screen time.