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Regional towns can thrive after disasters or industry closures, say urban planners and economists

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Urban planners at Hatch, a global multidisciplinary leader in urban solutions, engineering, and development projects, have shared their ‘regional revival playbook’ to help towns prepare for recovery after droughts, floods, and closures of local industries.

The company cites the Victorian community of Marysville, which was devastated by the Black Saturday firestorm in 2009, as a prime case study for understanding the complex process of rebuilding a regional township. Today, Marysville has been transformed into a thriving tourist destination and liveable neighbourhood.

Leigh Holford, Principal Economist at Hatch’s newly expanded social advisory and economics division, says that adapting is key for these communities and that the first step is to strategically reimagine the future of the locality with a true cross-section of the community’s representatives and stakeholders.

“Any plan that does not integrate a multidisciplinary approach in the strategic planning phase – economic, social, environmental, infrastructure, urban design and planning is destined to fail,” says Holford.

He adds that Australia’s history of ‘mono-industry’ towns, where there has been disproportionate reliance on one industry, is changing. For example, a farming region can be an agri-tourism destination, and a wine region or beach destination may be proximate to a renewable energy zone, bringing new business attractors and livelihoods.

After the Marysville catastrophe, a project team of Hatch urban designers and placemakers helped to rapidly re-establish the town as a tourist destination and re-activate the economic and social life of the village, working hand in hand with decision-makers and the community.

Mike Day, Partner at Hatch, says, “Starting with a four-day ‘Phoenix Workshop’ that included guidance from the Victorian State Government, community leaders, and local council, we developed an urban plan with a village heart at its core.”

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Hatch’s celebrated strategy, which saw them scoop a major award for Public Engagement and Community Planning in 2019 following their reimagining of Yanchep Lagoon in Perth, prioritises community engagement at every turn.

In 2017, Hatch helped ECORR at the former Portland cement works in NSW evolve from a town struggling to enhance its economic strength to a charming tourist magnet by leveraging its disused quarry with a unique heritage to become The Foundations, a unique artists-in-residence program with regional events attracting visitors from across NSW.

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