"DON'T try to resurrect old Taree. It's time to re-invent Taree to become a town that caters to the growth areas of our economy. Stop looking back."
The pointed counsel of acclaimed placemaker David Engwicht is being heard this week by Greater Taree City Council, businessmen and women and numerous community organisations who are seeking to transform the central business district of Taree.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) will soon be switched on in Taree and the pending boost to technology infrastructure is regarded by many people in the Manning Valley as the trigger for Taree to unite to change its economy and community.
Mr Engwicht contends it is time to "stop bemoaning the loss of manufacturing" and to find and focus on new opportunities.
"It's time to identify the growth areas. It's time to imagine what could be and that is having some young 20-year-old in Sydney who invented a great app which made him a gazillion dollars looking to relocate to a nice country town with his speedboat," Mr Engwicht said. "If he drove through Taree at the moment, would he stop and say, 'Wow! this is my town'?"
"You need to create what he is looking for and that is vibrant street life, quality cafes that offer quality coffee and a great lifestyle. The seeds of that are here, but you need to work to speed that up and get that feeling into your streets."
Greater Taree City Council is integral to the success or failure of any bid to change the central business district of Taree according to Mr Engwicht.
"I've observed that there is a bit of bad blood between the business community and council," Mr Engwicht said.
"I don't think council staff are sitting in their offices thinking, 'How can we kill our main street?'
"We've been talking to council about a permissions approach rather than a regulatory approach and we have got very high levels of support from very senior people in council for a more permissive approach."
The absence of a civic square in Taree is viewed as a glaring omission from our central business district by Mr Engwicht.
"You need a civic space in a town. The only way the area will survive is if businesses in that area are providing an experience that is different to the experience of shopping in the malls," Mr Engwicht explained.
"Victoria Street between Manning and Pulteney Streets should be the civic heart of your town. The place where people hang out and where you feel a sense of attachment to your community.
"You want elderly people in your town sitting in the civic square swapping stories with whoever comes past, it's about seeing kids playing around groups of people and interacting with them.
"It's vibrant and inclusive and that's a civic space."
The solution is simple and does not have to cost a lot of money, according to Mr Engwicht, but it does need to be driven by the community and not council.
"I am going to push hard to channel that enthusiasm for change into direct action from the community, rather than having people waiting for council to act.
"However, council has to change the parameters and give permission for stuff to happen."
That "stuff" according to Mr Engwicht, includes council enabling retailers to use the footpath.
"Every retailer needs to embrace the footpath, to display goods on the footpath and if you're a cafe, then create inviting settings," Mr Engwicht said.
"That's the absolute first priority and it could transform your town centre instantly.
"You don't need massive money to makeover that space. You can go to a very poor person's house and feel absolutely engrossed in the experience and atmosphere the space offers. You can feel more comfortable and connected in that place than in a display home. So it's not about how much money you spend on a space, it's about the atmosphere that you create and the interest within the space."