Editorial: Remember whose town it is

There's something to be said for a main street with a 1950s feeling.

The trouble is, in Balclutha's case, lots of people tend to say it while continuing to drive right on through the town.

The planned $2.6 million main-street makeover is a good idea, particularly if it can encourage people to stop and spend a little time there.

But as much as improving business is a legitimate aspiration, those who call Balclutha home should not underestimate the importance of how any improvements affect them.

They are the ones who will do the most living there. It's important that any upgrade sit well with them, rather than being too resolutely focused on sending a come-hither siren call to the highway traffic.

Of course other factors also come into play. When main streets are also state highways, Government money is involved in some measure and this inevitably brings with it some assessments from on high about what are and aren't good ideas.

Fair questions are sometimes raised about whether, in the words of The Southland Times garden writer Rosemarie Smith six years ago, "in leaving streetscape planning largely to the professionals, southern communities have lost opportunities to make stronger, unified statements about who we are".

"Unless one counts Gore's Main Street as a statement of community enthusiasm for exotic gardening, is there anywhere in the south, apart from Te Anau, that boldly presents, through plants and structures, a strong statement of local identity?"

Opinions may have diverged on the merits of the 1999 Gore Main Street upgrade, although if the ambition was simply for the place to look more attractive, it would surely be judged a success.

Cautionary notes could nevertheless be sounded for Balclutha's benefit, notably the traffic jams that later irritated Gore motorists, leading to some roundabout changes promptly after the work was finished.

And here's where we might airily note the pleasure with which the Gore Country Music Club only last week restored to prominence the 7.5-metre tall Gold Guitar statue that had lost its prime spot in the upgrade.

Yep, it's still plenty big and still faithfully guitar shaped. If you have a problem with that, well, even those might regard it with aesthetic discomfort would probably have to grant that in general terms a town shouldn't be afraid to get a bit hard case from time to time.

Controversies large and small are to be expected when towns undertake main-road makeovers, as the likes of Bluff and Winton have in recent years.

Invercargill is in the process of a significant civic upgrade of its central business district and it's pleasing - no less so for being entirely necessary - that project designer Pocock Design:Environment has pledged to work with every sector of the wider Invercargill community, not just CBD business interests.

Downtown makeovers, in cities or towns, are a really big deal full of pitfalls and potentials, the precise nature of which people will not always agree.

They are not to be feared, although it's crucial that communities make sure that their leaders and the professionals are not left to nut things out in isolation in those so very important planning stages.

The Southland Times