Canberra’s suburban coffee

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Sitting down on Easter Sunday to catch up with a friend over a cup of coffee (or two) in Braddon, reminded me of why it is not my favourite place to go on a weekend – let alone during the week.

There has been a lot said by the marketers of Canberra about the ‘cool’ places to visit, being Braddon, Kingston Foreshore and New Acton. None of these are high on my list of recommendations for visitors.

And I have often wondered about the reactions of so many of Canberra’s small business owners of the cafés in suburban Canberra to this government’s messages that favour several areas over so many others – all of which have their particular charm.

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Once I would have always recommended Dickson for its very successful cafés. I still go there often – as I can walk there as do many of us. The corner with the trees remains a favourite. Thank god for the early planning that installed those trees.

But with the rise in parking costs, this destination has dropped off the top of my list as a recommendation for people who need to drive to meet others – and wish to relax and not worry about the parking times and costs.

So where then?

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My suggestion to anyone moving around town to meet others is to make sure you check out just about any of the smaller suburban shopping centres. In recent times, amongst others, I have been to Chifley, Curtin, Mawson, Hackett, Lyneham and Narrabundah to catch up over a coffee and possibly a meal.

A couple of decades back these local shops were just that – a supermarket, maybe a fruit shop, butcher and a few other services, such as a chemist, doctors, post offices, newsagents etc.

Canberra, like so many other cities, has developed a strong culture whereby people meet outdoors and love to catch up over a cup of coffee – or other such drinks – and a snack or two.

How things change. Our suburban centres have had their harder economic times but most have since reacted to the current trend for people to spend part of their leisure time in cafés. Our local shopping centres have largely morphed into these social hubs.

When I was in Braddon, we had planned to go to one of the more popular venues. Unfortunately it seemed that several groups were treating the space as a playground for their children. There were at least six children on the move darting around the tables.

Curiously while this one was reasonable busy, the one directly opposite had just the three customers. That’s where we headed.

But now for a message to those who run these venues. Music is great, I listen to heaps of it in the car, here at home and elsewhere (the headphones are on right now listening to Lucinda Williams). But when I want to talk to someone in a café, I really want to be able to hear what the other person is saying. I do not go there for the loud overhead music.

The café that we entered had loud bland pop music playing. We were about to change again when we realised that a couple of the tables were on the edge of the outdoor space and that there the music was not so intrusive.

The message is that music can provide an ‘interesting’ background, but that’s where it should be – in the background. Please!

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There are many positives to be had by heading out to the suburbs to have a coffee. Free parking – and the chance to shop at a smaller supermarket – not being Colesworth.

One downside is that few of them have much of an ambience outside the front door. There is still a bit of a way to travel when it comes to how these smaller centres could be upgraded.

A decade or so ago there was a strong push from the government urban unit to upgrade the open spaces in and around the suburban centres. Looking at many of them today, it is obvious that the time has arrived again.

Maybe some of those funds from the ever-increasing sales of land could be better spent on suburban centre improvements and landscape design. Maybe it is time to seriously increase the budgets of the relevant ACT Government urban procurement and management sections.

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So what was it about Braddon that was not so appealing? That will be another post on another occasion.

Meanwhile – I have changed music to listen to Rhiannon Giddens.

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Recommended Music – try Rhiannon Giddens on youtube. Great voice – she was previously with Carolina Chocolate Drops – her 2015 album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, remains fabulous.

There’s decades of Lucinda Williams music – here’s a couple of later songs on NPR

Paul Costigan

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