City’s heart needs jump-start

Let’s make Palmy’s Square the vibrant space we deserve

Dave Mollard Opinion Dave Mollard is a Palmerston North community worker and social commentator.





The beating heart of great cities is the reserve in the centre where people gather and connect. In Palmy our heart is more of a murmur as we trudge across the windswept expanse of our Square. Our original city planners must have been overcompensating for something by designing a community gathering point so large for such a small town. Times Square in New York, Trafalgar Square in London, The Grand Place in Brussels and even Aotea Square in Auckland could probably all fit together inside our paddock. A city square should be a place where people can communicate and feel a sense of belonging to the other people around them, where motor vehicles are banned, and buildings provide a clear perimeter and protection from the wind. Of course, there are much larger squares than ours. Tiananmen in Beijing, Red Square in Moscow and Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang are all huge, but I guess they need to be for all the tanks they parade through there. Please don’t get me wrong, I think Te Marae o Hine is a beautiful asset to our city, well designed and maintained. I have loads of fond memories of The Square as a child watching Ranfurly Shield and Christmas parades, as a teenager sipping illicit beers under the clocktower, and as a middle ager shedding tears as we remember the Anzacs. I just wish it was smaller and ringed by buildings rather than roads. That brings me to the future and what we want for our inner city. With the slow disappearance of owneroperated retail shops to chain stores in malls, big-box outlets and the abyss of the web, our central city has changed from a place you bought dresses and socks, to a place you now buy dumplings and show tickets. We have converted our central retail from necessities to niceties. Broadway is now an entertainment zone rather than an everyday one (if you can call vape entertainment?). The way we live our lives has changed more in the past 20 years than at any time in our history, and the next 10 years will be even more different from now. Self-driving cars will make carparks and traffic lights redundant. Our shopping will be delivered directly from the factory to our front doors, and nobody quite knows what the climate will be like. So what happens to our beautiful Square? Will it become the dustbowl of the central North Island, or can we continue its transformation into a place where we all meet to reconnect after a hard day of working on the keyboard from the kitchen table?