Returning the community heart to the suburbs

This week a semi-permanent market opened in a derelict building in Coorparoo. Upstairs has tat, soaps, clothes, trinkets etc, while downstairs is a food market. Open 4 days per week from 6am – 6pm, it has already been a runaway success. Soon they will have to provide more shopfronts for food stalls serving snacks and eats to feed the starving hordes, and there will need to be some serious thinking about where everything goes. Currently it’s a bit higgledy-piggledy and not necessarily well thought through, and some vendors are clearly not very good at stall dressing. They could use some help from window dressers and shop fitters.

I have been three times already. The first time I drove, on a Thursday afternoon, the first day it opened, and already I noticed a distinct change in the appearance of the suburb. Cars are now permanently parked along the roads leading to the market. There are people everywhere. Inside it was quiet, but when I spoke to some of the vendors they mentioned how busy they had been earlier in the day.

I have since been with my husband another two times, mainly to get a feel for the place. I am noticing when stalls aren’t working and I am noticing that there are not enough snack food stalls. And, as I mentioned, the layout needs some organisation. The place is abuzz with excitement, and a community feel that was previously missing from my suburb. It will be interesting to see the spill-over effect into the suburb surrounds, and may well change the face of the suburb for some time to come.

My interest in this is due to a couple of things. First, I have been dismayed by Brisbane’s lack of suburban soul. Coming from Melbourne where our streetscapes are characterised by strip-shopping and a strong community vibe, I noticed in Brisbane that we seemed to be missing a heart. Many suburbs tend to have one or two small shops dotted about, but there is little in the way of a corner shop, or milk bar, and there is certainly very little suburban character such as found in suburbs like Brunswick, or Carlton, or Prahran. I’ve noticed people in Brisbane tend to go to the big indoor malls, mainly because it’s air conditioned, but also because there is little to no provision for the local community. This has been very disheartening to a new resident. Of course, my observations are relegated to a few choice places where I spend most of my time.

So this market has, overnight, provided a community hub, where locals (and some others from surrounding areas) can go, chat, buy their weekly fresh groceries, and develop a community heart. What a retrograde step! This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. What communities most need is a community base. Markets, for thousands of years, have provided the community hub. Just because we now have mega cities is no reason to deny the suburban, local community their place.

And, of course, now we have a direct conduit to local farmers and providores. I bought some delicious bacon from a charcuterie, there are half a dozen green grocers: some organic ones too. There is a mushroom man, a cheese man, some yoghurt people. Some places are already more popular than others and there will be some stall holders gone in a few weeks, and some opening soon, no doubt. There are three or four bakeries, each selling different produce, and some meat vendors, a fresh fish guy, and a greek food stall. What bliss. And all because some bright spark wanted to get a market in the area.

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