What makes a city ‘cool’? How does concrete and asphalt become instilled with the intangible?
Australia’s east coast cities have all carved their popular niches, buoyed by larger population and historical influence; Brissy, the sun-kissed layabouts, untouched by unnecessary worries; Sydney, fast times of the rich and famous; Melbourne, poetry in a bar with no door down an alley that doesn’t have a name.
Yet little Adelaide, adrift on the south coast, historically has left most casual visitors a little ambivalent.
Sure, Adelaide can throw on its party frock now and then and thumb its nose at its bigger brothers, but the city has always been know for its constant calendar of cultural festivals, its elegant wine regions and its amazingly low traffic densities – not for having that intangible appeal to the young and creative.
Yet over the few years I’ve lived in Adelaide, there has been a marked change; tiny buds of curiousness springing up around town, the product of creative seeds that, not too long ago, would have died from alack of nourishment.
This recent rash of exciting initiatives can be laid firmly at the feet of the local renewal group, Renew Adelaide.
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Renew Adelaide general manager, Lily Jacobs for an article.
“We want to encourage small creative businesses or unique business models that aren’t done elsewhere; to give ideas a start with low risk and the encourage people to give things a go in Adelaide,” Lily said.
“They don’t have to invest a big amount of money so there’s few consequences if it doesn’t work. We are giving people the ability to have a go.”
Originally started in 2009 as a volunteer organisation Renew Adelaide now employs Lily as a full-time manager alongside 3 part-time support staff and an admin volunteer.
Though the effect Renew Adelaide has had on the fabric of the city is complex, their model for achieving it is simple and inspired. Unrented shopfronts and workspaces are given to creative entrepreneurs on short-term 30-day leases.
The project gets a home and often receives free rent and well as business guidance; the property owner has their space inhabited, cared for and activated in the eyes of the public.
While the space remains unrented then the project is welcome to stay, if the property owner does find a commercial tenant then the project moves or takes the business lessons it has learnt into future plans. There has also been a case where the project became so successful that it was able to take out the commercial lease on its building.
“Creativity is really important to street life and the character of an area. It’s how you build personality and attract people; over the longer term it ultimately attracts business.”
“A vacant property is really unattractive to a potential commercial tenant because everyone starts thinking ‘What’s wrong with this space?’ And over time it gets even worse – that sense keeps perpetuating itself. Where there’s one vacancy; there becomes another one, and that perception of a lack of confidence in the area has an effect on the value of their properties over time.”
From hand-made recycled furniture (Remake/Remodel) to a popular bar (Tuxedo Cat) to ‘Pop-up’ markets, the breadth of projects that Renew Adelaide has supported in its time is lengthy and unashamedly hip.
There is a definite desirability in the projects they support; they are designed to be short-lived, to morph and change if they are successful, to linger as a fond memory if they are not. Some are in it for the long hall, some simply for the experimentation; and there is not necessarily a way to tell one from the other.
For a city that’s main criticism from the young seems to be that “It’s boring”, Renew Adelaide’s enthusiasm for cool and creative has been a warning shot across their collective bow.
With initiatives scattered across the city and the cultural calendar, Renew Adelaide has succeeded in making this sleepy capital much more like an Easter egg hunt.
For more information on the projects Renew Adelaide is currently supporting check out their website: http://www.renewadelaide.com.au/
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