Thursday, June 20, 2024

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HomeIssue 13We need public-friendly public places

We need public-friendly public places

Over the last few weeks I’ve been amused watching the disabled access steps and walls go up in Todd Mall. I’m not sure how the construction of steps is aiding better disabled access but the Mayor and Co seemed to be very pleased with it all at the launch a few weeks back.
Since, I have noted the unimaginative use of a dull ochre colour to paint the walls, rendering them to almost camouflage, along with the general lack of imagination and the bricks that make up Todd Mall.
People have been placing bets as to when the first tag or graffiti might appear on the walls but I am yet to arrive to work and find any interesting public art or belligerent tagging. I know personal taste divides what is art and what is eyesore. But that’s another spray can of words.
Anyway, yesterday morning a council fellow was busy measuring and pondering and placing little metal brackets along the wall. My first thought? That council was going to erect something similar to those pigeon deterrents for the people that have taken to drinking their coffee on the wall. Or maybe planter boxes – also a sly people-sitting deterrent – but no. What we have are skater stoppers! By late afternoon the dozen or so fittings had been fitted and the job was done. Skaters are now officially stopped.
That may have been a little bit of over kill. I mean do we really see that many people hanging out in Todd Mall?
I have a personal grudge against the relatively new on the spot fine of $137 for riding your bike etc. in Todd Mall. After some time of playing infringement notice roulette with the rangers I have since taken to using the riverside bike path. Which is a good bike path, I’ve got no beef against that track. But it’s a course that is not lined with shops and struggling businesses that could have otherwise lured me in at the end of the day particularly if I’ve got my pay burning a hole in my pocket.
Shame for them and shame for me too, I often remember too late that I was meant to stop in for a coffee and say hi to an old colleague. Friends for an impromptu drink may have hailed me down as I was passing by. Or that I was going to have a browse in the book stores. Anyway.
I was chatting with some folk at the market on Sunday where I remarked on the drastic difference from the previous Sunday. With nothing on in town there simply isn’t much reason for people to come into Todd Mall. Though the pull of the actual market stalls for locals is limited it’s the liveliness of the event that draws people in to watch each other, have a coffee and a chat.
And let’s not get started on the mall at night. With hardly any lighting and nothing going on until later on in the year when the touristy night markets start up, you can just stay home.
Todd Mall is equipped with stages, speakers, grassed areas, sails for shade and a pretty amazing climate in a town full of poets, performers, musicians, travellers and artists.  There is a hugely creative and vibrant arts community in Alice Springs. Maybe what’s missing from the equation is imagination on the business end of town.
A few days out from the council elections I am sure that I am not the only one with bated breath and fingers crossed hoping for inspired and imaginative forces to start operating within council. I would love to see the potential of Todd Mall capitalized on to create a vibrant centre for the town.
PS: After I write this on Tuesday I saw two people trip and fall on the disabled access steps and on the same morning, Wednesday, a council fellow cleaned off the first tag on the wall.


  1. Estelle, you would make a good community arts officer in charge of a calendar of daily, weekly, monthly events in the CBD, starting with performances at the sails stage. Or if not you – your ideas are easily transferable to someone else interested in enterprise.
    Just so you don’t think I’m all talk, I used to hire the Buff Lodge Hall in Gap Road for $50 per night and ran dances there for a year or two in the Eighties. The bands and I paid ourselves and then we took the show touring the ‘burbs of Papunya, Yuendemu, Ti Tree circuit.
    Anyone can do it.

  2. I also saw those people fall down the new ‘disabled access steps’. It was a stark contrast to the image of our Mayor posing with pride at the new steps in the local news only a few weeks ago.
    My aspirations from the new council include ‘best-practice’ policies and programs re public space. Getting quantities and diversities of people to use the Mall will get us somewhere towards reducing ‘anti-social’ behaviour. I think if one more person falls down those steps that’s a pretty good reason to call for a review of the project and planning. Gee I hope the Todd Mall re-development has been well thought out and the steps are just a small anomoly.

  3. There are reasons these brackets are fitted in a lot of public areas, and thanks to politically correctness on public liability issues (people suing councils for injuring themselves through stupidity, but still blaming the council) these items will continue be fitted.
    How does it work? Well, a skater jumps up upon the wall, slides along and (besides leaving a huge damage bill from scraping the surface coat off the wall, and leaving edges that are sharp), the idiot falls off and brakes his arm / leg / nose / whatever. The legal eagles will tell him / his family, if the council had made it so he could not have skated along there, he would not have been injured in the first place.

  4. Thanks for the vote of confidence Russell! I would be very interested in such a position if one were to come up but I guess what I would like to see in Todd Mall is more along the lines of free entertainment and activity. Things that are accessible to a broad demographic and not necessarily a money making enterprise.
    There are some great things happening all over the world in terms of creating public spaces that help build communities. That would also go towards reducing the “anti-social behaviour” that Kim mentioned. The Projects for Public Places website is a great source of inspiration!
    And Tony I appreciate your outlining of the way the our present system works. I am aware of the stark grip that liability holds on our attempts to create spaces and events for people to enjoy. I guess I did not want to burden my article with that obvious tediousness as it was also out of its scope.

  5. My pleasure, Estelle. It’s great to see you coming out and developing your corner of the AS News Online. I like your anecdotal style and the values you espouse.
    May I make the suggestion that sometimes you have to create opportunity, rather than wait for “one to come up.” There are numerous grants from government Arts departments for which your admirable project would qualify and the ASTC would be worth sounding out.
    The earliest memory of financial exposure I can remember is when I was six years old. My fifteen year old neighbour told me about a club she was organising in her back yard each week. I paid my weekly fees of six pence, along with three or four other kids and she entertained us for an hour with cuttings from comic books and magazines. I think we even had cordial and perhaps, a few jellybeans.
    Over a year, she would have made five pounds, which is about $50. It may not sound a lot, but there’s a principle there and you need money for petrol, jellybeans etc. If you can’t get a grant for such a worthy idea, you would need to pay your expenses and maybe a wage.
    The format you expressed is spot on.

  6. Estelle,
    The NT Arts Department is currently offering up to $15,000 for projects the like of which you are interested in seeing in the Mall.


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