Town Centre/Main Street

Good practice for creating town centres and main streets
Provide for the diverse daily needs of a community through the provision of walkable neighbourhood and town centres that act as community focal points or hubs with a concentration of co-located destinations and mixed land uses that attract people for a multitude of activities and fulfil a variety of daily activities and needs. These should be surrounded by a network of connected streets, paths and cycle ways, integrated with public transport and within close proximity of a variety of residential dwelling types.

  • Design Feature, Town Centre/Main Street, Diagram.
  1. Street trees, awnings and benches provide an inviting pedestrian environment.
  2. Small spaces become places of interest when people are provided with a reason to stay. A cafe, trees for shade and local artwork create an inviting place.
  3. A pedestrian dominated civic piazza can help establish a strong local sense of place.
  4. Inviting, activated development at a human scale in the main street can be complemented with higher residential development set back from the street.

What do we mean by "neighbourhood or town centres"?

The town centre is the term historically used to refer to the commercial or geographical centre or core area of a town or neighbourhood.  A town centre acts as a community focal point or hub, with a clustering and concentration of destinations and mixed land uses that attract people to a variety of activities and is served by public transport.

Directions 2031 and the subsequent State Planning Policy 4.2 (Activity Centres) propose that growth should occur across the Perth metropolitan and Peel regions around a diverse  network of activity centres.[1, 2]  A hierarchy and spatial distribution of centres have been identified to meet different levels of community need and enable employment, goods and services to be accessed efficiently and equitably by the community.[1, 2]  Of the hierarchy of centres, the district town centres and neighbourhood and local centres are of most importance in creating local community focal points in helping to establish walkable neighbourhoods.

Activity centres are an integral part of the broader urban and suburban environment and cannot be considered in isolation. Depending on their scale and purpose activity centres can serve local communities through to entire metropolitan areas. [2] Analysis of the broader context of an activity centre is important to determine the relationship between a centre and other employment, service, recreation and high-frequency public transport locations. [2]

District centres generally serve the weekly household shopping and community needs of residents and are focal points for bus networks.  They are predominantly retail focused, but may also include a mix of other uses such as medical and professional services, hospitality and entertainment and housing, civic, community and recreation facilities. 

Neighbourhood and local centres play an important role in providing walkable access to services and facilities for communities.  Neighbourhood centres help to provide for the main daily to weekly household shopping and community needs.   Local centres provide for the incidental and day-to-day convenience shopping needs of the local community within their walkable catchments.  These will typically include a corner store or deli and newsagent but are limited in their retail offering.

Centres should include a diverse mix of retail, commercial, health, education, entertainment, cultural, recreational destinations and community facilities. This mix is essential for creating hubs of destinations with sufficient diversity to be useful walkable nodes or a regular destination for the majority of the population.   A mix of destinations or land uses that generate activity outside normal business hours and at different periods of the day and night (eg. hospitality and entertainment, community facilities, gymnasiums) should also be provided to generate additional evening and weekend activity and to take advantage of shared use of facilities such as car parking and public transport.  This is important for creating vibrant, inviting and safe neighbourhood and town centres.  Higher-density housing in and around the centres is also important to support the centre destinations and facilities as well as high-frequency public transport.  

Why are town centres important for physical activity and health? 

Why is access to a neighbourhood or town centre important?

Living within close proximity to a mix of destinations is consistently associated with higher levels of active transport in adults [3-7] and older adults.   The co-location of a mix of destinations (or land uses) within a centre provides a location for people to walk to.  They also create a focal point and community hub within the neighbourhood that allows for multiple activities to be undertaken and different daily needs (i.e., live, work, play) to be met in the one location as well as providing places and spaces for people of all ages to gather, meet friends and family and engage in social activities.  When supported and surrounded by a network of connected streets, paths and cycle ways, providing opportunities for active transport, and with good public transport access, they attract a range of people of all ages  to a variety of activities and are vital to supporting local walking as a part of daily routine and reduce the need to travel by car.  

Why is the configuration of the neighbourhood or town centre important?

Activity centres should be developed and redeveloped in a manner that is sensitive to the needs, assets, and deficiencies of the surrounding community while respecting local historical patterns, precedents, and context.

The design or configuration of the centre is also important for promoting active modes of transport to the centre.  Conventionally-designed retail shopping centres configured in big-box formats tend to cater exclusively for cars whilst failing to provide a pleasant or easy walking or cycling environment to encourage healthy active transport behaviours. [8] This increases motivation to drive to the centre, even if people live within a close and comfortable walking distance. [9]  More traditional, main-street centres, - where pedestrian-scaled, street-fronting mixed-use buildings with small setbacks and ‘active’ ground floor uses that extend onto the street (i.e., café seating areas, external shop displays) encourage walking and cycling access.  


Summary of evidence

For a more detailed overview of the evidence supporting the benefits of town centres / main streets for physical activity and health click here

A mix of destinations co-located within neighbourhood or town centres provide convenient focal points for people to fulfill a variety of daily activities and needs in one place and are more conducive for encouraging active transport behaviours. 


Living within close proximity (400-800m) of a mix of destinations is associated with higher levels of active transport across all age groups.

[3-7, 10]

Neighbourhoods that promote interaction between residents, via more walkable, mixed-use main street configured centres, encourage significantly increased pedestrian and cyclist activity and tend to have higher stocks of social capital and sense of community.

[7, 8, 11, 41]                                                                                            

Main street configurations improve  the ‘economic health’ of centres through: Increased retail rental values; increased sale prices of nearby homes; increased business generation and stimulation of  the local economy.


Big-box, car-park dominated centres constrain pedestrian activity and hinder opportunities for social interaction and the creation of social capital and sense of community. 

[8, 12-14]                          

Higher-density housing should be incorporated within and immediately adjacent to activity to achieve sufficient densities to support businesses within the centres, public transport servicing the centres and is associated positively associated with adults and older adults walking for transport.


Neighbourhood ‘walkability’ (a combination of residential density, mixed-use planning and street connectivity) is consistently associated with walking for transport and general walking.

[5, 19, 26-30]