Greg Mews: Healing Canberra

Urban planner Greg Mews writes: Car use only creates convenience for a small number of people per vehicle and degrades the space between A and B. When was the last time you saw a good […]

Urban planner Greg Mews
Urban planner Greg Mews

Urban planner Greg Mews

Urban planner Greg Mews writes:

If we want to heal the Canberra pattern language we need to have a healthy balance between providing sufficient area for development within the existing footprint (commercial viability), efficient and convenient circulation and high quality social spaces.

But what is a pattern language?

In a very comprehensive form a pattern language is a structured method of describing good urban design practise within a range of different expertises.

The wound is deep!

The recent Hawke review of the ACT public service indicated that Canberra is 10 times less dense than Melbourne and Sydney, one of the lowest density cities worldwide and less than one quarter of the ACT is suitable for development. The potential for significant urban redevelopment is apparent and key to enable efficient and convenient ways of moving people or in planner terms called ‘circulation systems’.

What do I mean by this? Efficient movement allows people to move from A to B in a fast way. However, convenience also includes what happens between A and B.  So far Canberra has been successful in “perceived efficiency” to move people from A to B via cars.

Car use only creates convenience for a small number of people per vehicle and degrades the space between A and B. When was the last time you saw a good crowd of people having quality time on a median strip?

People had a very exclusive way of moving in space for a very long time, which has resulted in a 30 per cent increase in road infrastructure that needs to be maintained. Not forgetting the impacts on human health and the environment through air pollution, heat island affects etc.

In search for the right medicine!

In the medium-term future cars will not disappear, but we need to tame the car and change the pattern language in the city if we are serious about living in a sustainable and healthy Canberra.

The street pattern and urban structure is important in determining the movement of people, setting the parameter for subsequent development and in contributing to an urban character.

Introducing a stronger movement hierarchy – a plan under the banner of ‘city of short distances’ – which allows people meet most of their needs in short walking/ cycling or public transport distances and maximise the opportunities of social spaces in between.

The Department for Transport in the UK adopted in 2007 a new movement hierarchy for their ‘Manual for streets’:

  • People
  • Bike users
  • Public transport
  • Special service vehicle, car share and taxis;
  • Private cars.

How do we know when we are getting healthy?

The greatest indicator of our disappearing wound will be when you start seeing a wide range of people using urban spaces up to 24/7 – simply more people living, ageing and socialising locally in a safe, pleasant and child friendly environment.

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