a village, you say?

The City of Sydney has recently completed an Economic Development Strategy the explicitly recognises the value of small business and non CBD ares of the Sydney Local Government Area [LGA].

For a government document it's actually a great (non-tedious) read and it truly goes to show how valuable small business is to the culture and economy of our excellent city. 

Having said this, the units that the council is using to describe the CBD surrounds, 'Villages', have not been defined any further than the level of Suburb and this poses problems for the understanding of Sydney's fine grain culture.

We hope to address this by unpacking Villages into three tiers: hotspots - precincts - villages. In addition, and in cooperation with Surry Hills and Potts Point, we have developed a Destination Marketing Strategy to wrap Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Potts Point and Woolloomooloo in a regional meta-layer: Eastside Sydney.

NOTE that this is not arbitrary, these are the three groupings to which the term 'precinct' is currently being applied and it is causing no end of confusion and blockage.

Below is a version of the letter Stephan Gyory (the current president of our board) sent to council on the 20/5/2015.

In a final note, it is truly excellent that the City of Sydney is committed to its Villages and understands their importance in creating a liveable international city so we hope they take this suggestion on board because while it is not their job to determine or name the precincts and hotspots, they must, in their language, create the framework around which this can happen.  

What is a Village?

We’d like to start by applauding the work done on the Economic Development Strategy [EDS].

It’s brilliant to see small business and non-CBD areas acknowledged as the vital part of the city that they are.

However, for all the progress we have made we are at risk of repeating the mistakes of yesterday unless we address a burning issue.

It was brought up at last week’s Lord Mayor's business chamber's forum by a licensee from the Redfern Liquor Accord. Her question was in relation to the Village Precincts that have been ‘identified’ in the EDS and how side streets and off-the-beaten-path hotspots can fit into these entities.

And no one had an answer for her, which was concerning because there is a simple one that dovetails very nicely with the work the City has done so far. It is simply to unpack the Villages on a finer level and this does, you should not be surprised to hear, come down to semantics. 

In short, we now need to define the terms we are using when talking about these areas of the city so that people can make sense of where and how they belong. 

For example, to date, no one has defined ‘precinct’, thus the many different interpretations and resulting confusion, we get when discussing them. The big problem resulting from this is that the term is then used interchangeably to refer to different types of groupings.

So far, the only thing that has been defined are the Villages and this has been done via borders and by planners.

I spoke with the City of Sydney's  Steve Hillier and Phil Raskal after last weeks Small Business Forum (to be clear, I do not in anyway, debate the need for borders or planners) and when I pressed the gentlemen on the notion of defining the term ‘precinct’ and unpacking the Villages into a more human scale, Phil stated that people would argue with the descriptions and Steve stated that the Village/Hub/Precinct things, as described by the EDS, were simply planning tools and so what did it matter?

This is illuminating and of great concern, because it matters greatly.

With a lack of more specific definitions, the planning ones become the default.

We saw it with the border the Local Action Plans created up the middle Oxford Street and we saw it again with the Activity Hub putting the heart of all of Oxford Street in Paddington.

These planning documents permeate council and inform all other thinking on the matter and they become impossible to fight, considering the number of times they are reproduced, so it is imperative that we define and flesh out the planning jargon in ways the suit the needs of everyone and not just the number crunchers.

To move the conversation on and to avoid any further time being wasted on meetings where people are talking about different things when using the same word we MUST define terms and we must, in writing, expand our understanding of the Villages to include the ‘fine grain’ culture that the EDS so explicitly states is vital to this city.

Phil Raskal suggested people might disagree as if this was a bad thing, but disagreement is vastly preferable to confusion, because agreement can be brokered.

As it stands, passionate, long-term stakeholders on Oxford Street cannot even agree on how many ‘Precincts’ there are. We saw this at the Adina meeting 18 months or so ago, and this does not reflect diverse opinion, it reflects confusion.

What makes sense in terms of scale and liveability is this:           

0)     Micro – Shop/Store/Bar/Cafe

1)      Small - Hotspots/Street Corners/Clusters
2)     Medium - Precincts/Centres/Strips/Locales
3)     Large - Villages/Suburbs/Postcodes

This allows us to speak about the Villages in a planning sense, but also to understand what is going on in them, on a human scale, which is very important if all elements of the community are to be included and if the find grain is truly to be understood and not just allude once every 5 years in a survey.

By way of example, my business, the Record Store near the corner of Goulburn & Crown Street.

We often refer to our location as top of Goulburn Street. There is a small bar, a café, two iconic fashion shops, a hair dresser, a new and very stylish adult concepts store, a skate shop and us. This is a street corner/hotspot, as would be the stuff happening on Holt Street and Burton Street.

Moving up to the mid level we are part of the Oxford/Crown/Campbell precinct on Crown Street (yea, this needs a better name but that's not our job here.) 

There are ostensibly three precincts on Crown Street: Library End, Oxford Street & Stanley Street and each one of these would probably bristle at being defined by a cross street , nevertheless, on a human scale a precinct is, and has to be defined as about far as you’d walk on your lunch break (i.e.– human scale).

FYI, the furthest we (staff, customers, owners) consider (could be bothered) going for lunch (beers) is bounded by Whitlam & Taylor Squares, Burton Street and The Winery. This makes for a handy and organic notion of a precinct. 

Victoria Street/Darlinghurst Road is another precinct in the area. Kings Cross and Potts point are two separate ones even though they are contiguous (I say this as a resident and pedestrian of the area). 

It also has to be said that the precinct borders can be blurry and hotspots transient and while this might pose a problem for planners and line drawers, the soft edges and transient bits are, in fact, your fine grain culture.

Above and beyond all this are the Villages, as council has deemed them, which are basically either suburbs or collections of suburbs.

I understand that some of the charm might be lost here in stating that Villages are just the suburbs, but the fact has to be faced, each of the EDS Villages, as they have been described, mapped and written about, are suburbs or collections of suburbs or postcodes and each has more than one of what would be a country town centre.

So, on each separate level the terms people will use are interchangeable (hotspot, street corner, something else we’ll discover on talking to people about their areas, etc) but it is vital that we recognise the three levels or we will be sitting in meetings 10 years from now still confused as to why people are confused that we use the word precinct to mean so many different things.

It’ll take a bit of tinkering but it will give groups something to work on and it will make them think about their places and come to understand them better.

NOTE is not for council to determine what and where these hotspots and precincts are, but to provide the framework and language (in their documents and meetings) for the locals to flesh that out themselves.

We, the DBP, have done a cursory job here http://www.dbp.org.au/places/ and already I note we have missed the Republic East Village area (to be fixed soon) and these hotspots do come and go, they are fluid.

Also we have not distinguished between precincts and hotspots on our page (as per above – because just because you define terms and use them in meetings and planning, doesn’t mean you have to use them when you are talking to the market.)

I really am happy to attend as many meetings about the Villages as you care to call, but until we define terms we will be going in circles.

We cannot let planning documents inform the city, the city must inform planning documents and until we unpack the Villages into more manageable and logical parts, planning will be quite happy staying macro, because it is easier to model, but it is not accurate, not fine grain and, most importantly, does not reflect the culture of this city.

More to the point, it alienates people, causes confusion and paints entire areas with the same brush.

This is a most urgent matter if Sydney is to truly start benefitting economically from its personality and not just its icons and events.

Stephan Gyory

Darlinghurst Business Partnership