I couldn’t help but scoff when I saw the most recent round of advertising for the Verity Ln Market development in the Old Sydney Building.
Slated to launch very soon, the iconic laneway in the historic building is set to be transformed into a food hall apparently to rival those in “Los Angeles, Manhattan, Copenhagen” and many other international destinations.
In a Facebook ad that appeared in my timeline, the copy boasted that the development would be “Canberra’s most affluent marketplace”.
If I were to be kind, I could interpret this in the more abstract definition of ‘affluence’ (abundance, wealthy in culture and vibrance), but the reality is probably much closer to the literal definition – that this will be another development aimed more at the affluent/wealthy Canberran than the average one.
And once again, we’re being told that the way to enhance Canberra’s vibrancy is to mimic other, bigger cities across the world, rather than reflect the unique and special culture this city holds, that is defined by our difference from larger, unplanned metropolises.
I’ve written before about the Barr Government’s insistence on trying to shoehorn Canberra into some vision of a city that frankly is never going to emerge from our bush capital.
Trying to develop marketplaces and apartment blocks and plan arts festivals that are replicas of those occurring in New York or London is not only doomed for failure, it’s frustrating evidence of Barr’s lack of belief in Canberra’s value and vibrant culture; a culture that has existed long before his term in government, and is the reason why so many of us ignore the Canberra-bashing from Sydney and Melbourne (cities that both seem closer to what Barr wants to create) and revel in our special city for life.
Don’t get me wrong – I love a good food hall, and I think development is crucial to progress for any city. There is no doubt that the Old Sydney and Melbourne buildings are in need of revitalisation, and I think it’s exciting to have a new offering to draw more Canberrans into Civic. I’ll undoubtedly be attending Verity Ln Markets for a taste of the affluence on offer when the times comes. But the tone of the marketing is one that already suggests exclusion rather than access, as though the development isn’t meant so much for Canberrans to enjoy, but as a showpiece to prove to other cities that we’re just as cool as they are.
Rather than claiming to offer “6-8 food vendors who specialise in delivering … food that can’t be found in every shopping mall around the country”, why can’t the market frame its offering as being about showcasing the amazing culinary delights that Canberra has to offer?
We have some truly excellent local businesses that have become nationally renowned for their quirky and special dishes (remember freakshakes, anyone?), and they don’t have to be compared to their New York counterparts to draw a crowd.
And instead of hyping how affluent the market and its customers will be, why not encourage as many Canberrans to attend by creating a welcoming atmosphere rather than one of exclusivity?
The marketing of Verity Ln has the same desperate energy as the language used to spruik the special arts festival that was going to rival South By South West (SXSW) but is yet to actually occur, or the Grand Central Towers apartments in Woden that were going to somehow emulate NYC’s Grand Central Station. The energy is more focused on what Canberra isn’t, than what we are.