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Breathing life into our urban villages

Key Points

  1. Growth in inner city population is continuing to drive new retail development and community building opportunities for urban village centresol
  2. Understanding what makes a great village centre is key to delivering and enhancing existing and new centres
  3. How can markets and the public sector influence them?

As Australia’s inner city areas of our capital cities continue to densify and gentrify on the back of strong population growth and demand for inner city living, a consistent trend emerges – amenity drives demand. These two factors are inseparable, with the most desirable urban village centres typically providing an exciting mix of recreational and retail amenity. However, creating this unique mix is rarely ever a structured process, making it all the more difficult when we try to recreate the essence of successful centres or accelerate the urban renewal process. So understanding this complex mix of what drives retail and urban renewal centre performance becomes key to unlocking the full potential of Australia’s urban village centres. This is critical for urban renewal projects that play a major role in shaping the identity of our cities, create great places to live and visit and ensuring that public and private sector investments provide the financial and community returns expected.

Up until recently the market has been hampered by the traditional and often ad-hoc approach to planning for and delivering such projects. This is typically reflected by property market economic advice almost always being prepared in isolation of urban design advice.  This is compounded by the complexity of inner city urban renewal being significantly more challenging with fragmented ownership and often including a range of unwanted legacy uses.  
Typical of many urban renewal projects are the planning and delivery elements having:

  • Limited regard for the wider impacts, with projects often planned on an individual project basis;
  • Limited or no commercial market advice;
  • Consideration to specific aspects of a larger project in isolation of other major factors (e.g. advice on retail mix in isolation to urban design advice); and
  • An almost exclusive focus on urban design elements in the hope of supporting improved retail and commercial trading environments.

This ‘old school’ approach has led to mixed success with urban renewal activity often ‘hit and miss’ without a clear understanding of why and how to influence it. This is typical of inner-city suburban locations, in stark contrast to their larger enclosed retail centre ‘cousins’, having comparatively little attention to monitoring and understanding what drives urban village centre performance.

To solve this problem, JLL, in partnership with leading urban design and town planning firm Place Design Group, has developed and refined pioneering approaches to measure and drive the success of new and existing urban village centres. By developing an integrated framework, we can measure and monitor the ‘pulse’ of centres. This enables diagnosis of underperforming centres and, for new planned centres, enables the right building blocks to be established to ensure the centre flourishes as it develops.

This insight is provided through developing a detailed understanding of the urban design elements and their relationship with property market variables. Not surprisingly, developers, investors and public sector stakeholders are harnessing this strategic insight to consistently support the delivery of successful projects and contributing to the creation of vibrant urban centres. Ultimately, whether public or private, it ensures that each dollar invested is delivering the highest possible return.

So what makes a great retail village centre? Consistent and long term analysis of urban and village centre performance highlights the following five core ingredients are:

  1. Commercial Vitality
  2. Pedestrian Realm
  3. Sense of Place
  4. Safety
  5. Ease of Access

Each quality is comprised of many components, all of which can be readily understood and assessed, ranging from tenancy mix, retail vacancies and rental growth through to car parking ratios and surrounding urban densities. A robust framework and extensive centre monitoring has consistently shown a trend between centre performance and key variables. For example, how does car parking location, accessibility and availability influence village centre vibrancy. Understanding these performance variables enables not only centre performance to be clearly understood, but to be benchmarked against the strongest performing and most vibrant.

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