Goyder Square Palmerston, Northern Territory, Larrakia Nation, Australia
Palmerston Council had the bold ambition to transform Palmerston from a city for cars to a city for people. Its civic heart – Goyder Square is transformed through a thoughtful combination of adaptive reuse, infrastructure repurposing, landscape design, place activation and cultural events planning.
Palmerston, a sibling of Darwin, is a tropical city eager to find its own identity. Seven years ago, the city centre was dominated by cars, indoor shopping centres and very little community interaction. There was no real town centre and walkability around it was non-existent. People chose to travel between shops in their cars, instead of walking the 100 metres between Bunnings and the supermarket. Overarching this was a dysfunctional and disconnected town.
The master plan was designed through the lens of the public - to transform the main street and Goyder Square. Given the uniqueness of Palmerston and limited budget, we had to be creative and innovative in our design concepts - taking a piece of lawn and creating an incredible story of connection and community. Instead of suburban sprawl, we planned to capture the uniqueness of the Palmerston community with the goal of improving overall happiness. We wanted to connect the values of the Northern Territory climate with civic life.
This project was innovative in developing new governance models. Under the parking strategy, developers pay a parking contributions that could be used on future civic infrastructure spanning parking garages to culture. By moving this from the Planning Act to the Local Government Act, revenue from any developers would be directed to infrastructure for the community.
Our overarching mission to pedestrianize and improve walkability was to paint two zebra crossings on the main street. This small gesture was embraced by the local community who began using them immediately, especially parents with prams. We radically changed the utilitarian green space. Through workshops with council, market store owners and the different Indigenous groups who use the public space, we created a simple and elegant design that can be activated in many ways. In three years, we shifted the future of the town, its identity, sense of belonging and the overall purpose of this space in the town.
With the council adopting purpose data fields over the space, allowing them to capture mobile phone data about age, gender, interests and how people use the space, they can ensure there are no dead zones by providing different activities to fill any gaps.
With a balance of local, precinct and strategic initiatives, the economic innovation came in seeing the value of place as the attractor and to use public life to diversify the type of businesses it attracted beyond the limited focus of existing retailers.
Goyder Square in Palmerston changes the game regarding the use of our urban spaces, turning the usual approach of car parks and overdevelopment into a busy, multipurpose public asset that can be adapted over time and activated quickly.
With its well-designed mix of creative spaces, public facilities and lush greenery, the square creates a new civic heart for Palmerston and a place where people can meet, enjoy community and be entertained. The site’s cost-effective transformation is a model for many other towns that have at their centre a dead zone of car parking and asphalt. This project affirms that, with community input and courage from local government and business, good urban design has the ability to transform lost, soulless spaces into attractive, green places that prioritize people and revitalize the local economy.