It was just a wall stencil saying “Spice Alley”, and a line of lanterns that lead us down the grey laneway. It was only when we turned a corner did we fully realise what it was. Spice Alley is a laneway redevelopment creating a hawker-style food area set behind some terrace type buildings. It has several food vendors at the back fronting a courtyard space, and the front “rooms” were other shops or just paths through and seating areas. The whole setting was well-branded and laid out with themed street art, lanterns, greenery, string lighting, and tables outside. The space management seemed well-thought out with cleaning staff, shared toilets and all the laneways paths appeared to have gates to make it lockable at night. When you also look nearby at the surrounding blocks of significant highrises, a focus on the fine grain and existing older buildings anywhere in the neighbourhood has got to be a good thing.
The coherently structured approach made it appear to be developer lead, and yes, there is a somewhat “manufactured” feel to theses things, but I wouldn’t fault it for that. Closer to home, Southport is also starting a Chinatown a bit from scratch and that model has the city doing well in the public realm improvements, but I’m unclear how they really influence the right tenant mix. The Spice Alley model with control over tenancy and space management actually seems to ensure a better placemaking and business model.
Really wonderful surprise find, and only reiterating my ideas that “food as placemaking” really is a thing.