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Tired looking Mawson shops could use an arts injection

By Paul Costigan - 14 September 2016 12

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Earlier this year we drove south to the Mawson shops (Southlands) to shop at one of the specialist supermarkets as well as to take in a Middle Eastern brunch. Alas, the café had closed and had been re-opened as a Greek Café. The food and coffee was good – so we planned to return.

In August we set out for Mawson for a revisit but again there had to be a menu change as that Greek café was closed and the site was empty. In fact there are several closed shops at the Mawson shops.

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This shopping centre is another group centre. This means that it was originally established not just as a shopping centre for the suburb (Mawson) but also to provide services to the surrounding group of suburbs.

There is a lot to like about this centre – in theory. Sadly the reality is that the ambience of the precinct today is very mixed.

The original architectural style was based around the model used for Dickson. It is group of buildings with passageways and open spaces between them. Some of the passages are a bit grim at the moment while others are very active – all this being dependent on what shops are presently occupying the various spaces and corners of the centre.

As with Dickson, the buildings are all privately owned. Sometime about 15 years ago the government spent some funds on the open spaces but much of this is now ageing and it is definitely time for some new landscape works.

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On the day we visited it was fairly busy at the southern end. The northern end and passageways were quiet. While two large café sites sit vacant, the others were doing OK. Most of the action was around the major supermarket and in the corner nearby where there are several popular food and mixed goods outlets, including the small supermarket that we came to visit.

An odd aspect to the centre is the number of opportunities to have your hair attended to – there are three men’s barbershops and at least six other hair salons. I suspect the people of this area have well kept hair.

The centre has loads of things to offer; a used book shop, travel, jewellers, many food outlets, several coffee shops, a fish shop (in the back street), chocolate shop, a spice shop, restaurants, a costume shop, and much more – and did I mention the hairdressers? It is worth the visit.

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The parking is mostly timed – and free. In theory, that should be attracting more people.

As a general comment this shopping centre seems to be on hold – as if everyone is waiting for someone else to do something. The whole precinct is well overdue for a refresh.

Like other group centres there has been a master plan process carried out to identify options for redevelopment, mainly on the areas to the south and west of the main centre. I can see the push soon for these sites to be sold for new apartments.

Somehow I do not envisage that the increased residents through new apartments alone will be the saviour of the centre. I suspect there’s another set of actions required to ‘motivate’ the owners to update their buildings.

Mysteriously, the planners stated that there was the opportunity for a second major supermarket sometime in the near future. I am not sure what evidence they had for this forecast as it does not take much to observe that this centre is struggling – so why it needs another major supermarket is a puzzle– except if you see this as a suggestion that land could be sold to suit one of the larger supermarkets whenever they wish to move into Mawson.

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So – what do I think of this centre? I like the mix of Middle Eastern and Indian food outlets. I tried the coffee and food at the Italian Continental Bakery in the street behind the centre. It was reasonable. The place seemed popular and their Italian cakes should be very popular. There are other cafes and we will be trying them out later.

We didn’t try any of the hairdressers.

The basics of the Mawson Group Centre are fine – for the moment. What is required is far more than land sales and new apartments, it requires some leadership from the ACT Government to see these group centres revitalised.

Woden could definitely do with some arts and cultural facilities. This is something that the local business lobby has identified as being initiatives the government could make to assist the area.

Curiously the recent master plan undertaken by the government emphasises the opportunities for new apartments, new supermarkets but completely ignores any cultural initiatives – there is no mention of the arts as a facilitator for local community engagement. This despite the very clear messages by the local businesses for these to be part of the makeover of Woden.

Mawson is a logical and central place for an arts centre – complete with a gallery and other access facilities.

Occasionally we see comments about how the arts are not supported by the community. This view flies in the face of the statistical evidence that so many surveys continue to produce on the nation’s interest in the arts and the support for the government to commit to such initiatives.

Oh, how we wish someone in the ACT Government would read these stats and take the required initiatives for areas in and around the Mawson Group Centre.

What’s Your opinion?


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12 Responses to
Tired looking Mawson shops could use an arts injection
MERC600 2:27 pm 15 Sep 16

rommeldog56 said :

creative_canberran said :

Mawson is ripe for redevelopment. The seven buildings to the north of Woolworths, bounded by Mawson Dr, Mawson Pl and the Heard St carpark (including the carpark) should be demolished. Put the parking underneath, create a mixed use development on top. Arts and community centre, youth centre and a park would make sense as part of that, with ground floor retail, some professional suites and apartments. Eventually you would also push south and turn that large expanse of carpark for Woolies into something more useful, I’d imagine an Aldi would suit.

Yes – u have nailed it. Bulldoze most of it to get rid of those pesky blind corners, empty passageways and a few empty shops. Build multi story shoe box apartments. An Aldi and inevitably higher rents will force out those great niche small shops. Turn shopping options into the usual, bland Woolies, Aldi and a few national chain stores. Same old same old.

Its the Canberra way.

Agree with Rommel. If you bulldoze it away, and put in trendy shops and what have you, up goes the rent, out go the small niche traders.

madelini 10:04 am 15 Sep 16

I have been going to Mawson periodically for most of my life – the Woollies is always busy, as are the pizza and Turkish places, the Jabal market, California Burgers and the continental bakery (best cannoli in Canberra). The biggest downside is the layout of all the stores – the passageways are dark and sparsely populated, so people tend to use them as shortcuts rather than seeing them as viable business locations.

I was at the new cafe in Chisholm on the weekend with one of my friends, and it was absolutely buzzing – most of the tables were full, and there was a frequent queue of people collecting takeaways. We noted that something like this (a relaxed cafe with good food and good coffee) would be great in Mawson. The centre at the moment is mostly convenient for much of the ageing population in the surrounding suburbs, but there are a lot of young people who would make the trek like they do to A Bite to Eat in Chifley and Stand By Me in Lyons. I’d also be in favour of an Aldi.

rommeldog56 8:44 am 15 Sep 16

creative_canberran said :

Mawson is ripe for redevelopment. The seven buildings to the north of Woolworths, bounded by Mawson Dr, Mawson Pl and the Heard St carpark (including the carpark) should be demolished. Put the parking underneath, create a mixed use development on top. Arts and community centre, youth centre and a park would make sense as part of that, with ground floor retail, some professional suites and apartments. Eventually you would also push south and turn that large expanse of carpark for Woolies into something more useful, I’d imagine an Aldi would suit.

Yes – u have nailed it. Bulldoze most of it to get rid of those pesky blind corners, empty passageways and a few empty shops. Build multi story shoe box apartments. An Aldi and inevitably higher rents will force out those great niche small shops. Turn shopping options into the usual, bland Woolies, Aldi and a few national chain stores. Same old same old. Its the Canberra way.

creative_canberran 2:34 am 15 Sep 16

Paul claims “The basics of the Mawson Group Centre are fine.”

Let’s consider this claim.

You need only look at the first picture in this article to see that is wrong. Note, it has poor lines of sight, minimal active frontage, poor lighting, no logical attraction for patrons. That is an inherent fault in the design of Mawson, as it is with Dickson. It creates passage ways that fail basic tests of amenity and security. It doesn’t lead members of the public to focal points, doesn’t make them feel comfortable, and asks for trouble after dark for the security of patrons and store holders.

Now let’s look further. You have a group centre surrounded by carparks and busy roads, with only some apartments and a couple of clubs providing passive oversight and attractions from the east. Largely useless with so many blind alleys in the group centre and such distance between the two.

Finally you have a group centre that is larger than the demand for tenants.

So all up you have an inherently flawed design, under utilised, that engages poorly with its surroundings and becomes a ghost town out of hours.

Mawson is ripe for redevelopment. The seven buildings to the north of Woolworths, bounded by Mawson Dr, Mawson Pl and the Heard St carpark (including the carpark) should be demolished. Put the parking underneath, create a mixed use development on top. Arts and community centre, youth centre and a park would make sense as part of that, with ground floor retail, some professional suites and apartments. Eventually you would also push south and turn that large expanse of carpark for Woolies into something more useful, I’d imagine an Aldi would suit.

BrendanH 6:21 pm 14 Sep 16

The design of the centre is a bit broken. Some paggageways just don’t see much foot traffic while others do. It is no surprise that those shops along the main route to the supermarket are buzzing while those off the beaten track are a sad tale of high churn.

It has serious potential though.

HiddenDragon 5:27 pm 14 Sep 16

The predictable push for redevelopment/further development/densification etc. etc. will only encourage the sorts of small businesses which might fill those empty premises if the developments become home to sufficient numbers of people who are around during business hours (not just at night and on weekends), and have sufficient spare dollars to spend – otherwise, those empty premises (or the new and somewhat more expensive ones which might replace them) will remain empty.

It might be more than a coincidence that older areas like Mawson have some of the interesting businesses described in this piece – some (perhaps not all) might struggle to meet the rents demanded in more modern and fashionable places.

bikhet 4:20 pm 14 Sep 16

Leave it alone! The things that make Mawson worth visiting – the halal grocer/butcher, the lebanese grocery, the Pakistani (I think) spice shop, etc – will be driven out if it’s turned into another faux trendy group of coffee shops.

The trendoids seem to want to turn Canberra into Brunswick/Fitzroy or their Sydney equivalents (dunno – rarely visit Sydney). Tired is a polite way of describing what these places actually look like.

Paul Costigan 4:05 pm 14 Sep 16

Hey Charlotte – and you could not have predicted this. Was in Tuggeranong most of the day and called by Mawson on the way back mainly to pick up deli and wandered over to Tutto – had this before and totally recommend their coffee as it came with an Amaretto that you dunk in the cofee – wonderful!!!

Yes that fountain is a reminder of times when the government used to look after these public places – and was proud of their work in public art.

ns 9:24 am 14 Sep 16

We love Mawson and we trek over from the inner south every week for our groceries (mainly due to Jabals). The Italian deli is a bonus – service is very Italian but the quality of their meat and cheese is worth the wait. The Italian bakery does the best cannolis in Canberra and we’ve had some fabulous dinners at Olive’s.

I’m a bit torn about upgrading the Mawson shops. It is a little bit tired, but that’s partly why so many great little shops / restaurants / services have lasted there for so long. & from what I can see most of them are flat out with no shortage of customers. I’ve been going to Mawson for a decade now and in my experience good places there will tend to stick regardless of the ambiance – whether that’s food, services, books, whatever.

I’d like to see it being revitalised, but without pricing all the existing small businesses out, and without skyrocketing parking charges (parking is already challenging enough on Saturdays). An arts centre would be great.

chewy14 9:19 am 14 Sep 16

Yes,
It’s hardly surprising that people continue supporting spending other people’s money to further their own private benefits and interests.

Interestingly Paul that a massive redevelopment of high density units in the area will be the only thing that could make future stages of the light rail (that you support) viable.
If you support the tram, you cannot logically be against the urban intensification that pays for part of it.

rommeldog56 7:41 am 14 Sep 16

I like Mawson and shop there regularly instead at that sterile Tuggeranong Hyperdome.

Yes its a bit tired looking, but an interesting mix of shops.

Never mind. If it ever gets there, the Tram will fix everything – apparently.

Charlotte Harper 7:31 am 14 Sep 16

Paul, I was there the other day buying oranges for soccer on the playing fields down the road and noticed a few things that fit in with your view of the centre.
Firstly, while it was before 9am on a Saturday, there were half a dozen men standing in the street waiting around. I asked one of them what they were all doing and he explained they were waiting for the barber to open. The hairdressers must be good!
As per your photograph, there is a very attractive mosaic water feature in one of the courtyards. I hadn’t remembered it so checked how new it was, and the answer was not very. It looks a bit lonely in its finery amid the concrete.
Finally, next time you’re there, I recommend you stop in for some chocolate at Bruno’s Truffels and some Italian goods at Tutto Continental.

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