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Hutt Street Centre opposition is a troubling new form of NIMBYism

Hutt Street, Adelaide
Hutt Street

Recent efforts to drum up opposition to the Hutt Street Centre are a timely reminder that the city is not, in fact, a gated community.

Chances are you’re familiar with the Streisand Effect: the realtime karmic smackdown in which the act of attempting to hide something draws attention to it instead, named for Barbra Streisand’s pyrrhic attempt to get Google to remove her property from street view which made everyone aware of where she lived.

A similar, if rather more mean-spirited, sort of thing has happened with the news that the Hutt Street Centre is looking at improving its facilities for Adelaide’s homeless, which inspired a resident of the nearby August Towers to circulate an unsigned letter in November asking that the locals rise up against this insidious plan for this charity to continue to do social good.

It demands that the centre be prevented from doing some pretty lowkey renovations lest they continue to, as they put it, “deliver more and more welfare services in your backyard”. I mean, can you even imagine?

Those renovations are currently before Council and, according to the centre’s website, will involve “a more easily accessed and welcoming entrance, and internal renovations [to] improve toilet and shower facilities, meeting and service delivery rooms, and improved landscaped areas”.

That might all sound reasonable, even boring. However, clearly a more easily accessed and welcoming entrance is just the thin edge of a life-shattering wedge for the people of the south-eastern corner of the CBD!

According to the note, residents must mobilise at once to lobby the Adelaide City Council to prevent said renovations to escape “further disruption to your daily life”. The letter concludes that “not acting gives the Centre permission to decide your future happiness”. You know, with toilets and showers.

The Hutt Street Centre has been operating in its titular location for 65 years, while the August Towers have a rich and venerable history stretching back to it being announced for construction in 2016. So you can forgive them for being furious about this upstart charity which abruptly appeared out of nowhere six decades earlier.

And look, I understand that furious NIMBYism is as close as post-colonisation Australia has gotten to a shared national culture, but someone really needs to gently embrace the property-owning classes and calmly explain that owning a place doesn’t confer feudal rights over everything they survey.

I realise that this is news to a lot of well-heeled people. After all, Adelaide has a rich history of folks moving in next to live venues, or developers building hotels and apartment complexes behind them off Rundle Street, and assuring the licensees that why of course they understand that this is an entertainment precinct and that this is exactly why they want to live in such a dynamic location, and then abruptly going OH MY GOD A LIVE MUSIC VENUE WHY I HAD NO IDEA THEY WOULD BE PLAYING MUSIC THAT WAS AUDIBLE HERE IS MY LAWYER WITH THESE CONVENIENTLY COMPLETED NOISE COMPLAINTS the second that the settlement has been signed off.

It’s always struck me as weird that certain things are deemed reasonable to complain about while others will get you laughed out of council. I’m yet to hear of anyone successfully getting a dump or an oil refinery shut down after they moved nearby and decided they didn’t care for it, while moving next door to a pub and shutting it down has been recommended as a strategy to immediately bump up the value of an investment by developers who deserve to have their entrails devoured by demons.

But back to the Streisand Effect: sadly, the letter has not apparently resulted in a Les Miserables-style march along Hutt Street, but has certainly made more people aware of the excellent work that the Hutt Street Centre does in the community. For example, it inspired me to write this column encouraging people to do what the people who brought this to my attention did, which was to donate to the Centre. Or if you have more time than money, you can volunteer. They do great work.

But also, let’s just be better than this. If you’re planning to move near a place that you don’t like, then maybe look at living elsewhere instead of going “nah, I’ll just attempt to shut them down once I get unpacked” – whether it’s a nice pub or an essential grassroots organisation giving people food, shelter and dignity.

Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street

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Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).

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