What’s wrong with Blenheim’s CBD (and how to fix it)


Last Modified: 15-7-2023 22:50

Market Street, Blenheim
Market Street, Blenheim
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Blenheim’s Market Street and its associated shops is smaller than many an Australian shopping mall, yet has the inconvenience of traffic in its narrow, confines, and being open to the weather. Like a shopping mall, most of the shops are national or international franchises, with Thomas’s one of the last hold outs of something distinctly local. The local bookshop on market street is long gone, and Creswell’s Shoes one of the few other long established retailers.

I may have missed one or two, because to be honest, I don’t go to the CBD often. Redwoodtown is walking distance for me, so I have a supermarket close to home, and Mitre 10 for hardware and other household supplies. Once a week or so, I’ll drive over to the other side of town where the Westwood commercial complex provides most stuff I need that I can’t get within walking distance.

I do quite a lot of walking because I have a dog. The Taylor River is only a short drive away, and it forms a natural boundary to Blenheim. Vineyards aren’t exactly an escape to nature, but they are rural, and the dog finds plenty of rabbits to chase along the river bank. Basically I’m leading a rural lifestyle from suburbia, and that’s actually what I like about Blenheim.

Catering to developers who wanted to expand Blenheim outward has pretty much killed the CBD. Installing a bright shiny phallic symbol in the CBD as a new sculpture simply isn’t going to make it sexy again even if that’s what some people thought. Giant phallic symbols were a popular feature of numerous civilisations that no longer exist, so hopefully it isn’t a portent of things to come for the Blenheim CBD.

I think there may be a solution though, and it may sound odd coming from someone who enjoys a semi-rural lifestyle. Remember what I said about Market Street being smaller than an average Aussie shopping mall? How about actually turning it into a shopping mall? Get the cars off the streets, and enclose it, turning it into a giant greenhouse, complete with tropical plants, maybe a live kūmara and avocado or two, and it could become a fun experience again.

As it stands, in summer, the barren brick coloured paving and asphalt provide waves of asphyxiating heat mixed with car exhaust fumes with no relief, whilst in winter it’s dreary and drab, with the built environment channelling the chill wind. A few sad little plants cling to life in a few places, but mostly it’s a concrete jungle, but not a very compelling one at that. No skyscrapers, no quirky shops, just a street of retail shops, if you’re lucky, and they haven’t closed due to high rents. Turning it into an actual enclosed shopping mall could change all that. Anyone afraid of losing vehicle access clearly has never ventured across the Tasman, or even to Christchurch for that matter, as Northlands in Christchurch is a similar size to Market Street. In Australia, they recognise that not everyone wants to, or is able to walk far, so they have courtesy electric vehicles that you can grab a ride on if you need to. Most of the shops along Market Street don’t sell stuff that’s so heavy that you need to park outside. If you need to park right outside one of the two optometrists in Market Street for example, you have more serious health problems than mere degraded vision.

Keeping natural light, and capturing warmth through a clear enclosure, would offer the opportunity to turn a concrete jungle into an actual jungle, or at least a much greener one than what is present now. Imagine walking amongst tree ferns, and sitting down by a water feature with some real live kōura and whitebait. For those who like fresh air, a hole could always be allowed in the clear canopy, much like with the railway station bus shelter, however with a bit more foresight to locate a water feature under it rather than public seating.

Turning the Blenheim CBD into one average sized shopping mall would appeal to those people who like to feel they live in a large city, without detracting from the place for those who like a rural town feel, as it won’t create any urban sprawl, unlike in places like Christchurch where the voracious appetite for shopping mall development has eaten up green space and created a monotony of grey concrete malls all sporting the same franchises. The Taylor River is only a few minutes walk away for those who like the open air.

Blenheim is too small to support multiple shopping malls, so instead of a multitude of mediocrity could aim to have one done well. It would give us one up on Nelson, as the nearest shopping mall in the top of the south is in Richmond.

What do you think? Am I barking mad, or could this make the Blenheim CBD a more inviting place?

Cite this page

Cookson, C. (2023). What’s wrong with Blenheim’s CBD (and how to fix it). Retrieved May, 29, 2024, from