With yet another failed season this year, my thoughts have been on the town of Stanhope. I’ve had a soft spot for this town ever since the community approached us for some help in revitalizing their town centre.
This small (population 514) dairy farming town between Shepparton and Bendigo has been hard hit by the ongoing drought but, like many small Australian towns, they have a remarkable community filled with ideas and solutions. With the aid of community facilitator Neil Noelker & Associates, our role was simply to draw their ideas out and consolidate them into a series of plans so that they could seek funding.
Community members were aware that many people travelling along the Midland Highway pass by without realizing that the town exists. The local economy is struggling and the population is in decline. Our role was to bring as many as possible of the community’s ideas and wishes together into a plan to upgrade the main street and to provide a traveller’s rest stop.
As we spent time in the town, poured over historical references and looked at the rather limited base data, one of the things that became really clear was that the town had ‘great bones’. It had been beautifully laid out by the original surveyors with the main street, Birdwood Terrace, forming a crescent off the Highway. The town centre remains close to the Highway, but isn’t bisected by it. McEwan Place was clearly not just the small park space of today but rather the intended town square at the heart of the town. The original placement of the railway line on the western boundary of Birdwood Terrace completed the classic town layout of its era.
Small, simple intervention
Our suggestions to resolve the range of problems presented relied on small, simple interventions. Stanhope has a history of fruit growing, so we suggested ornamental pear street trees to recreate a stronger sense of seasonal change. By extending the street trees along the full length of the crescent, a striking boulevard will be evident where both ends of Birdwood Terrace join the Highway. Since we no longer need to turn a bullock cart in the main street, we suggested planting the trees on either side of the road way to create a more pedestrian-friendly scale. Some minor modifications to the footpath in the central business district were suggested to take advantage of the northern aspect, with outdoor dining and small seating areas. By reorganizing the parking spaces we were able to ensure that no spaces were lost – and perhaps a few gained!
The concept design for McEwan Place retains all but one of the existing trees. All other trees, the gazebo, flagpole and memorial are retained. The proposed design includes a more formal public square to provide the ‘central heart’ originally intended when the town was laid out.
The design for the traveller’s stop integrates the proposed amenities block, the town bus stop and a walking path. The carpark provides parking for visitors and possibly an overnight area for caravans and motorhomes. Its location at the end of Birdwood Terrace encourages visitors to explore the town on foot.
Some key directions were established – guided walk and interpretation opportunities, lighting (including up-lighting of the street trees), contemporary heritage rather than mock heritage, and opportunities to tap into existing festivals and events. A great deal more work is needed, but it’s something to build on.