The Brawl for the Mall

Father Dave’s address to Marrickville Council, November 2007
in support of
 a street mall for the Dulwich Hill community


One thing I’ve always noticed about Dulwich Hill is the way in which elderly men of the different ethnic communities that make up our area (Greek, Lebanese, Portuguese, etc.) like to gather during the working day in the shops that belong to their friends – generally the shops of traditional artisans (tailors, bakers, etc.)As these shops disappear from the community, these man have nowhere to go. Wouldn’t it be good, I thought, if these elderly persons had a space in the community where they could meet casually with their friends and with persons of other ages and ethnic origins. Indeed, wouldn’t it be great if all sorts of persons who couldn’t afford the $3 entry price to a coffee shop had somewhere where they could gather freely and talk and socialise.

From this dream a proposal was born and put before Council by my friend, Councillor Sam Byrne. Unfortunately, the proposal was trashed, largely through a smear campaign that targetted the shop-keepers of Dulwich Hill, convincing them that the shopping area would lose parking-spaces and therefore money if the street mall went ahead. What an indictment on the Council and on the shop-keepers of Dulwich Hill that they should choose money over the needs of the elderly and economically disadvantaged!

Here, recorded for posterity, is my second and final attempt to convince the Council to give the mall a chance.


I appreciate this opportunity to address Council once again on the significant, though apparently sensitive, issue of the proposed Seaview Street Mall.

I note that since I last appeared here to discuss this subject that my wife and I have found ourselves discussing the matter with a variety of people (especially small business owners) in our area. The reason for this is not because we’ve gone out of our way to canvas anybody, but rather because we’ve been approached by these people, who tell us that they’ve been approached by some member of Council, warning them about the development that is being proposed – a development that doesn’t seem to bear a lot of resemblance to what we were advocating – but which these people have been told is going to damage their business.

I mention this only because it shocked us! I’m just not a political animal. I don’t play these games and I frankly don’t understand why people do. I thought we were all working together here for the benefit of the community. Maybe I’m a little naïve, but I can tell you that Ange and I are certainly not interested in responding in kind. If this proposal gets up it will be because of the strength of the proposal itself and because of the integrity of those who stand behind it, not because of any campaign I’m going to run in opposition to any existing smear campaign

That having been said, I want to commend Council on the excellent report that was produced as a preliminary investigation into this issue. You guys really do an excellent job in unbiased reporting of the facts and I sincerely commend those who put this report together. I now want to briefly address three points raised in the report.

Firstly, the report details the possible impact on local traffic that a street mall might create. These are significant issues, but I note that most of them would be irrelevant if we developed a shared zone rather than went ahead with a complete street closure. My personal preference would be that Council hold off on making a final decision as to the form that the mall might take until there has been a thorough consultation with all local stake-holders. Even so, I accept that a shared zone is better than no mall at all.

Secondly, the report isolates the potential impact of the mall on a particular intersection – namely, the right-hand turn from New Canterbury Road into Herbert Street. Not everyone here may be familiar with this turn. Those who have ever driven to attend our church or to see me will be very familiar with it, as the corner is within 50 yards of my front doorstep! Let me say here that this corner is hazardous at the best of times, and I am concerned about any development that would result in more people doing right-hand turns from New Canterbury Road at this intersection.

The point thought that I would like to make is that this corner is a serious traffic issue regardless of whether any street mall development takes place.

I remember some years ago that there was a ‘safety in Dulwich Hill’ group that tramped around our local streets (sponsored by Council, I think) and I was invited to tramp around with them. When asked what I considered to be the major safety issues of the area I said then unhesitatingly that the right-hand turn from New Canterbury Road into Herbert Street was a road death waiting to happen. If I remember, the only reason my suggestion was not taken further then was because issues concerning traffic safety on arterial roads lay beyond the jurisdiction of Council.

This corner has always been an issue. I personally never make that turn, or at least haven’t done so for more than 10 years. When people come to visit me or the church I always advise them to avoid that turn. The line-of-sight is just not sufficient (during daylight hours especially) and oncoming traffic often comes at too great a speed to be safely avoided. Further, I sincerely believe that this intersection is a danger not only for motorists but even more so for pedestrians. I can tell you that I have to cross that intersection myself as a pedestrian almost daily, but it is never without trepidation, particularly when I have my children with me.

My point is that, even if the mall idea is trashed, it would be great if through this report the matter of this corner could be raised with those responsible for safety on our main roads. Of course, if this led to changes being made that increased safety at the intersection, it would also remove most of the potential traffic problems associated with the creation of the mall, and, hopefully, at no cost to Council.

Thirdly, I note that the report is justifiably reticent about drawing any conclusions about potential impact on business that might result from the creation of a mall. Personally, I cannot see how any development that would almost certainly result in more people coming in to the shopping area can possibly harm local business.

Frankly, the fuss that seems to be being generated at this level seems very reminiscent to me of that which surrounded the creation of the shared zone at the end of Australia Street in Newtown. Some here may remember all the fuss that accompanied that development – the envisaged impact on business and traffic, etc. Of course, I don’t think there’s ever been a problem with that development since it was created. Instead, it’s become a great asset to that community.

In closing though I do want to acknowledge that some business owners do have concerns that a car space or two might be lost through the creation of a street mall (I think the figure of ‘four’ car-spaces was mentioned), resulting in the potential loss of a dollar or two from business revenue.

Personally I cannot see that happening, but I appreciate that these concerns will weigh heavily upon the minds of many Councillors, particularly as many of you are also small business owners. Let me say frankly that I too run a business of sorts in the same area, and quite honestly I believe I am doing it harder than any of you. For what it’s worth, I suspect that I am doing longer hours, struggling harder to make ends meet, and managing on less than any of you, and this proposed development doesn’t stand to benefit me or my work in any way, shape or form. On the contrary, if the traffic conditions are changed, my wife and I will frankly be some of the most seriously put out, as we use the Seaview Street/Marrickville Road route almost every single day to get to and from our children’s school!

Even so, this development is not about me and what benefits me. It’s about the community and what benefits the community, particularly the elderly and the economically disadvantaged in the community. And as much as I love and sympathise with the local businesses of Dulwich Hill, in the end they exist to serve the community too, and not the other way around. The community does not exist primarily to support local business. Local business, like the church and the school exist to serve the community!

Perhaps this proposal will be quashed because some fear that it could result in the loss of a few dollars for some local businesses. If that happens, I think it will be a shameful indictment upon this Council, and indeed it should be recorded that those present chose to give greater priority to the safeguarding of local businesses against possible pecuniary loss (however minor) than to the broader needs of the community and of its most voiceless and vulnerable citizens in particular.

Address prepared for Marrickville Council, November 14th 2007.
(nb. address delivered was slightly abbreviated, due to time constraints)

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.

www.FatherDave.org

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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