When dusk settles over Tuggeranong town centre ‘Subvert City’ floods Hamish Sinclair’s mind:
And it all went quiet in the city
And the wind blew down the road
Someone cried out ‘Subvert’
And the people all went cold.
A town planner, Mr Sinclair thinks the debate over densities and more suburbs and master planning to reinvigorate the town centre miss the point. The point is this:
“What the hell do you do when you get to Tuggeranong? Go into a restaurant? No, that’s Erindale. Go to a nightclub? No, that’s Civic. One of the other clubs? Where is the local music scene?’’ says Mr Sinclair.
So he retreats to Canadian punk band Subhumans’ Subvert City, untroubled by the scorn it might imply for Tuggeranong.
“We say go ahead, talk it down, it creates spirit on the south side,” he says with pride. He loves the place, and reckons it is so loaded with potential one day it will explode as a new Braddon.
Increasing accommodation to bring more people to fix Tuggeranong, like a build-it-and-they-will come scenario, is misguided.
“They are here now, and that’s the problem, there already are 90,000 people in the catchment of Tuggeranong and they have got nothing to do in Tuggeranong,’’ he says. Adding another 5000, doesn’t change that.
“Because the fundamental problem of the town centre is, there is nothing there. There is no night time economy, (aside from) a tiny restaurant strip which they persist driving buses through when that could be fixed. There are no clubs. There’s a pub and a bar for 90,000 people.”
Mr Sinclair says Transport Canberra and City Services applying engineering solutions to upgrade the town centre won’t work because the issues that need social solutions have not yet been acknowledged and addressed.
“The community, to a man, his dog and his budgie, wants the buses off Anketell Street,’’ Mr Sinclair says. “Because if you are sitting out there (on the footpath) and trying to have a chat, you have buses going past. And it is not like Braddon, where you have a setback, you are literally a foot-and-half- away from the exhaust of a bus. That’s just unhealthy. It is impossible to have a meeting, or any kind of social intercourse there.”
Mr Sinclair says he is critiquing the planning, and not the government. “The government has to lose that defensiveness, more importantly, planners, not project managers need a voice to give them that feedback that is about change.
“The master plan for the Anketell upgrade is to rip out a planter box with four trees in it, and replace it with four trees in the ground. That’s it. That is going to ‘revitalise’ everything.”
He says people will soon realise the street’s upgrade as an urban renewal project is rubbish. “Even if they get the extra funding, which is unlikely, given it has all been sucked out for light rail up north, pavement is not going to change it.’’
Prolific graffiti points to social problems and the type of crime where 50 cars can be stolen overnight.
“It has a mortgage belt crisis area in North Greenway and Kambah, so yes, it is economically under the pump. It also has a huge number of tradies who operate out there, that live there, a good car culture, evident in the number of burn outs. It has illegal dumping, it has strong environmental groups who want to protect the river. So there is this schizophrenic thing going on down there.’’
But the emerging ‘south’ hooks are not being picked up by anybody, even though a strong creative element has developed, nourished by Tuggeranong Arts Centre.
Policy constrained planners are not responding. Urban curators who operate in cultural cities like Paris and London, known as night mayors, could provide better insights into how people interact after dark.
“Essentially you are the mayor of a night time, because the conventional method is to focus on the daytime. All we see is what happens in the day, we plan in the day, planners and governments only think about what it will look like in the daylight,’’ Mr Sinclair said.
On the other hand, a night-time economy based on entertainment and recreation would bring life into the town centre.
Caption: top, graffiti near the Kambah sports grounds next to the Burns club reflecting the south’s culture. Photo: Hamish Sinclair. Above, Hamish Sinclair. Photo: John Thistleton.