My partner’s dad, my son’s grandfather, lived on Lonsdale Street as a child. His dad was a body builder (as in car bodies, not gym bodies) and Braddon being the industrial hub for all thing auto, he worked in garage there while the family lived upstairs.
Earlier this year I was working at a shop on Lonsdale Street and we got talking about it one night, discovering it was pretty much situated at the same address that was his former home. He hadn’t been there in years, decades perhaps, and I tried to explain what Braddon was like now. I explained that there were a lot of new apartment blocks going up and that even the building housing the shop I was working in was to be demolished shortly. He wondered out loud what was wrong with all the original buildings and his face soured with disappointment as he realised he wouldn’t recognise much of the street any more. We talked about something else.
In 2012 Braddon is the suburb that everyone is talking about. For some it’s because it somehow found its way onto a list of hippest suburbs in the country. For others it’s because there’s a truckload of real estate being flogged there, and for the rest it’s because of Lonsdale Street Traders.
For those reading from under a rock or elsewhere, Lonsdale Street Traders is the reincarnation of a former tyre store (a fitting nod to the street’s greaser heritage) into a sort of mini mall for independent boutiques and businesses. The greater warehouse of the original building has been sectioned into small spaces, capsule stores with a central spill-out area, each tenanted by a diverse array of creative Canberran entrepreneurs.
The place has only been officially open a week and already I love going there. But for one of the most interesting and promising inner-city developments in my living memory there’s so far not much of any substance being said about it. That’s not to say it hasn’t gotten attention. In brief, the Canberra Times has it covered with: ‘Braddon’s trendy traders open doors officially‘, and ‘Trasformation into a hipster hangout‘, while online Her Canberra writes “The launch of the precinct only strengthens Braddon’s claim of being Canberra’s hippest suburb – this place is so cool it hurts.”
And that’s all very well and good. But what if the Traders isn’t simply the hip young cool young trendy young hipster hispter hipster youth fad that everyone is stating and is actually the first workable solution to the crush on creative industry and independent business in Canberra, regardless of anyone’s age, lifestyle or apparent subcultural leanings? What if this sort of model is Canberra’s answer to what Renew is to Newcastle, applicable to our unique challenges? Would it be possible to ditch the dorky headlines, take ourselves seriously for a moment and look at why this project is potentially so important for Canberra’s CBD? Creative, enterprising folk setting up their own businesses and opening up shops in the city shouldn’t be a novelty, trendy or hipster, shopping outside of the mall shouldn’t be seen as ‘quirky’. The fact that it has become so is something I think we should be talking more about.