Humans of Braddon: talking about an evolution in the heart of Canberra
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Humans of Braddon: talking about an evolution in the heart of Canberra

Is the changing face of Braddon changing again?

A plaintive piece of graffiti next to the site of the demolished Lonsdale Traders building - Bye Bye Braddon - suggests to passersby some aren't pleased with the latest evolution of the inner-north suburb.

A farewell sign in Lonsdale Street shows the changing face of Braddon.

A farewell sign in Lonsdale Street shows the changing face of Braddon.Credit:Graham Tidy

Is the former car yard strip turned hipster/gourmand enclave becoming something else again? Perhaps something a little more corporate and money-ed; less bespoke, more prefab as large new developments replace grungier sites? As higher rents perhaps make it more difficult for the edgier, the creative to survive?

But maybe we're thinking too deeply about it. The developer behind much of the rise and change of Braddon, Nik Bulum, says the 'Bye Bye Braddon' graffiti was just a farewell message from departing mechanics when they closed shop.

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Damien Maher with his wife, Emma, and son, Harry, in Braddon.

Damien Maher with his wife, Emma, and son, Harry, in Braddon.

"I should've just painted over it," Mr Bulum said with laugh.

Braddon-based media producer Damien Maher says the pace of change is a topic of discussion but is convinced the community vibe and organic feel will survive.

"Everyone hated that they tore down Traders because they liked that old warehouse-y feel," he said. "But my personal belief is that I think it's good that it's developing and changing for the better. And I think there's the right amount of people to keep this on the right track."

And now, everyone, will get chance to have their say.

Lonsdale Street Roasters took over the Civic Smash Repairs building in Lonsdale Street, with plenty of artwork on the walls.

Lonsdale Street Roasters took over the Civic Smash Repairs building in Lonsdale Street, with plenty of artwork on the walls.Credit:Graham Tidy

Mr Maher's company Newcast​ is producing a web series on Braddon called The Lonsdale Street Project to be launched on Youtube in the next month.

It will celebrate the people of Braddon, similar to Humans of New York, tackling both the serious and light-hearted; the homeless person to the developer.

A cleared block of land ready for redevelopment in Lonsdale Street.

A cleared block of land ready for redevelopment in Lonsdale Street. Credit:Graham Tidy

"I think that kind of melting pot is what makes Braddon work," he said.

A Facebook page and teaser for The Lonsdale Street Project were launched this week, with debate about New versus Old Braddon already on the agenda.

Among those contributing to the debate was Mr Bulum, whose family company has on one hand created the grungier success stories such as the Lonsdale Traders and The Hamlet food van site, while also overseeing the rise of large mixed-use developments along the street.

Developments Palko and NiBu will rise on the site of the old Lonsdale Traders, featuring apartments, a boutique hotel, laneways and a gallery. Mr Bulum maintains "Lonsdale Street Traders hasn't died; it's across the road, just reinvented", referring to the fact some of its pop-up tenants have moved into the new Ori building.

Mr Bulum said there was little to love about most of the older buildings in Braddon ("There are heritage-listed buidings and they will stay but most are really bad, mid-80s, mall-type buildings - is that what people want?").

It was the "people and the passion" that had recreated Braddon, he said. "Those buildings were in Braddon for years and no one went there," Mr Bulum said. "It's the independent businesses opening up that have brought people here."

He also disputed rents were getting out of hand in Braddon, saying there were $350 to $650 per square metre per annum which he maintained was cheaper than the Kingston foreshore.

And Lonsdale Street continues to attract new business, despite talk that rents are on the rise.

Trevor and Che McGee opened their children's store, Tip You're In, next to The Hamlet food van outlets just two weeks ago, convinced it was the place to be.

"I haven't heard anybody say anything bad about Lonsdale Street, I think they all love what's happening here," Mr McGee said.

"It's a really, cool vibrant street which is also transforming Canberra to an extent. All that talk about Canberra being the centre of cool, I don't think there is a cooler strip than Lonsdale, to be honest."

The McGees have taken a two-year sub-lease from a previous tenant which occupied one of the older buildings on the strip.

"It's not cheap but it's not horrendously expensive," Mr McGee said, of the rent. "I've heard some numbers being thrown around in the new buildings of upwards $800 a square metre over the course of a year, which would be very hard for us to deal with."

The McGees will have an option to extend for a further three years at the end of their lease.

"I think we're a little bit fortunate we're in one of the older buildings," he said. "I guess as the new buildings are developed and everything is brand, spanking new, the developers obviously have to get their return on that, and that's where the higher rents are coming in.

"That would be my concern - after two years, after we get established - what would happen with the rents because you can get priced out of the market. You have to sell a lot of product to pay your rent, let alone yourself and everything else you have to pay."

Meanwhile, Mr Maher, who grew up in Kambah and went on to be a television producer in New York, only to return to Canberra to raise a family, says Braddon reminds him of the edgier, village feel of the Lower East Side of New York.

He is convinced Braddon is enjoying its "halcyon days" but maintains it hasn't peaked. And now is the right time to document it.

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"It's like a teenager, it's found out it can do all this cool stuff, and filled its boots and I think it's a good thing to capture that," he said.

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Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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