Voice of Rezone

25 November 2013 Mic Looby

Voice of Rezone

Photograph by James Braund

Mic Looby, Ed#444, October 2013

All of a sudden, Australia is a land of precincts. You must have noticed. Your whole world will have changed now that various bits of our cities have been rezoned as Knowledge, Legal, Retail and Health Precincts.

According to Health Precinct authorities, it began when somebody overseas got it into their head to attach the word ‘precinct’ to any bunch of buildings, old or new. Now we’re infected, too. Precincts have spread like a virulent fungus across the nation. We’ve got precinct-ivitis and we’ve got it bad.

Sydney and Melbourne are crawling with precincts. Adelaide has a Riverbank Precinct and Perth has a restaurant called The Precinct. Not to be outdone, Canberra has its High Court and National Gallery Precinct. The Gold Coast is working on a “unique Health and Knowledge Precinct”, while Alice Springs has a Desert Knowledge Precinct.

Round my way, I was pleased to hear of plans to revitalise a local train station, until the authorities started spruiking their “vision for upgrading the station precinct”. Oh, please.  It’s a train station, with stuff around it.

If this contagion keeps raging, you can forget picnics in the park. We’ll be facilitating stakeholder meetings in tree precincts.

I’m not saying all these so-called precinct projects shouldn’t happen. I’m just wondering why anybody who’s not quoting a US cop show would want to use the word ‘precinct’ in a sentence. I mean, apart from promoters, policy wonks and me.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the precinct craze was helpful in some way. But it’s not. The precinct tag adds nothing and should be eradicated before it’s too late. Let’s get real, and amend our maps accordingly. If we’re going to dream up names let’s do it properly.

It’s not a Retail Precinct; it’s a Shopping Maze. It’s not an Academic Precinct; it’s a Slackers Ghetto (with all on-campus maps clearly marking any land beyond Slackers Ghetto as The Real World). It’s not a Sports and Entertainment Precinct; it’s The Vomitorium. And it’s not the Government Precinct; it’s the Political Wasteland, which is of course within easy reach of the Financial Pocket.

The list goes on. Give us a patch, a stamping ground, an enclosure, a tract, a belt, a bailiwick, a neck of the woods. But a precinct? Spare us.

With all sorts of precincts popping up on our tourist brochures and public You-Are-Here maps, the locals are going to start getting confused. Which will only confuse our visitors more. They’ll ask us where the Retail Precinct is and we’ll stare at them blankly. If I were a tourist trying to read a city map crowded with precinctified nonsense areas that are foreign even to locals, I’d find it a complete pain in the posterior precinct. And that pain would hardly be eased by my attempts to get a cab driver to rush me to the nearest Health Precinct.

To this end, a newspaper headline caught my eye back in February: “Benefits of Precincts ‘a Mystery’,” it said. This was hardly news to me, but I read on anyway. I learned that a nationwide plan to develop “innovation precincts” looks good on paper, though whether it will work is anybody’s guess. And that’s coming from one of Australia’s “foremost innovation authorities”.

“I’ve been doing research into such precincts for about five years,” said this authority. “But there is no evidence anywhere that can tell us which ones work and why. We just don’t know.”

Right, so even the experts are clueless. Which leaves me well qualified to toss around my own theory: the very word ‘precinct’ is the problem. It’s just hot air, fanned by consultancy firms. To a select few, it might look impressive on a map. It may well give developers and planners a multistorey erection. But the rest of us? Meh…

No matter. The point is, that bit of town over there that has never had a particular name (because it doesn’t need one), now has a particular name. And it’s particularly useless. You’re welcome.


Mic Looby is a Big Issue columnist.