The Hobart CBD’s Real Problems

At the moment there’s a bit of discussion floating around in the local papers and on the TV about the state of Hobart’s shopping precincts. In particular, a lot of focus has been on Hobart’s Elizabeth St. Mall, and the crime that happens there in broad daylight. Apparently this crime is killing off the CBD as shoppers are scared away. That’s only a small part of the problem. Here’s what’s really happening…

Firstly, the Internet. 10-15 years ago you needed to go into the CBD to do quite a few of the non-everyday purchases you made, such as stationery, clothing, books and jewellery. There were smaller shops in suburban shopping malls sure, but if you wanted something specific, into town it was. Now, these same purchases can be made online, saving the purchaser time and money. A few days ago I bought a new fountain pen online. I selected from an absolutely huge range (1000+ items), quite a few cheaper than retail price, and I didn’t have to leave home during the cold of winter. A few days later it arrived on my doorstep without any other effort on my part. Seeing as I would have had to do research online anyway, I saved quite a lot of time. There are maybe some things I wouldn’t buy online (such as formal clothing, which ideally would be tailored, and at the very least should be tried on before purchase), but for a lot of items, the Internet will do fine.

Secondly, getting into and out of the Hobart CBD is the pits. There are three main choices. First up is driving the car in. This is bad for the environment, for a start. More importantly however, in this case, parking is just annoying. There isn’t enough of it, most spots being taken by people who drive in for their nine to five jobs. Which leads me in to the second option: catching a bus. There are plenty of buses going along the main routes into the city, but relatively few anywhere else. From my house there are two buses heading into town, and both are before nine in the morning. Which makes shopping a bit inconvenient, seeing as the shops don’t open until nine. There aren’t any buses back again until after three in the afternoon. Metro Tasmania can’t really be blamed for this, as it’s a chicken and egg problem. They can’t put more buses on unless people are already using the ones they have. The only other option is riding a bike, which if you live on the Eastern Shore (as I do) is hampered by the Tasman Bridge, which was certainly not designed with cyclists in mind (I’ll admit I’m slightly uncoordinated, but coming away with flesh wounds is excessive). Hobart is also incredibly hilly. Basically, it’s easier to drive the car to somewhere where there’s lots of parking, which is where land is cheap, which is out near the airport. It’s not difficult logic.

Finally, as more shops keep closing, less people will want to come in to just browse. As there are less people browsing and buying, less shops will be able to sustain themselves. Evidence for this can be seen in the downturn in the CBD after half of the Myer building burnt down.

I love Hobart’s CBD, don’t get me wrong. But unless the Hobart City Council changes policies (which they are starting to wake up to) then there is nowhere to go but out… to the airport.

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