Canberra Urbanity

Are we to be served?

originally published Monday, 9 September 2013

I was having a quiet moment with friends at the Dickson shops last Friday, when we noticed that we were being circled by three senior ACT Planning officials. We recognised two of them as senior planners, the other was the legal combatant from the famous Marsden Steer battle (link to follow).

shops-P1010597We remembered well this guy’s vicious treatment of the residents who were appealing the planning decisions. His way of dealing with the case was best summed up by another resident (a mother) who said, ” now I know where those playground bullies end up!”

All three were dressed badly. I suspect they thought the sloppy casual look would make them invisible. Unfortunately their extra serious composures were a dead give away. Once upon a time I dreamt of there being a giant statue to greet incoming visitors on the highway. I envisaged a statue of the giant public servant (male) decked out in a glorious grey cardigan. The proposed dress for the statue would now be very formal when compared to today’s public servant. The most common style of dress of today’s local public servant has deteriorated over the years to being a sloppy casual look. Maybe this reflects their reaction to how they have been treated by recent governments.

The three prowling local planners entered our view and took our attention as they were casting serious eyes on walls and other bits and pieces, collectively pointing at anything and everything and then pointing their iPad or iPhone to take photographs. The grumpy looking legal type carried a voice recorder and, by reading his face, was getting down some very considered thoughts on things he was observing.

Their actions were being well and truly monitored by those out for a relaxing coffee and chat. My mother used to say that in the thirties in Sydney that the police would be called if three Irish were seen to gather. The thought crossed my mind to ring.

Dicksonart-1010186It is possible to do a lot of shopping here in Dickson and to attend to such necessities as medical, legal and financial business. There is a boot-maker, a tailor, printers, computer shops, two butchers and it is still possible to get your car serviced. We do lack a hardware shop. As for cafés and restaurants, there are plenty including our own China Town shops along Woolley Street. All these amenities are within a short walk from any point in the surrounding precinct. The coffee is good as well. On the downside the centre has become a little run-down and beggars now confront shoppers on most evenings outside the supermarket.

When there are proclamations about the centre’s redevelopment, the local Minister usually announces that there is strong community support for the Government’s Master Plan. Just to correct this again, we locals remain dubious that our authoritative planners have the community needs and the enhancement of the amenity as the priority. That Master Plan was not a true Master Plan. It was a broad brush set of options to re-jig the centre to cope with a second supermarket and to introduce more residential blocks into the centre of this precinct.

It was not visionary. By today’s standards it was very ordinary. Dare I say boring!

The whole Dickson precinct, which includes Dickson several nearby suburbs, went through the era whereby schools were closed because the population was shrinking and aging. This is no longer the case. The schools are full and new ones are opening and expanding. The streets have children playing on them again and the shopping centre has become very busy.

This shopping and commercial centre has probably outlived its original role as a hub for the inner northern suburbs. It has been through years of decline but in more recent years has sprung back to life thanks mainly to the influx of new residents and the growth in the diversity of shops and other amenities.

What remains missing in any published planning documents is any form of mandatory requirements to deliver the necessary re-development as part of the greater Dickson precinct.

The planning authority remains convinced that there is a need for a second major supermarket. While any competition should be welcomed, the idea of another of the big supermarket chains moving in to suck up the commercial opportunities at the expense of the surround small shops remains a serious concern. The present supermarket is already viewed as a necessary evil. To have two of these just does not bode well for the local precinct amenities.

Innovative changes are welcomed and we are sure the authorities have a creative engagement process planned to ensure a growth in the small shops and other amenities. We watch this space for continued real engagement in our precinct’s future.

But the next time we see the three planning types circling with their iPad and iPhone cameras, should we be alarmed?

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Paul Costigan, October 2014

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