The blight of school fences

Fencing at Hughes Primary School... bigger and more dramatic than fences around a series of relatively new embassies in nearby Deakin – where a genuine security risk exists.

Fences around schools are an ugly blight on the urban landscape, says MICHAEL MOORE

PETER Harrison must be rolling in his grave. The proliferation of school fences simply torpedoes his vision for Canberra.

From the 1960s Canberra’s suburbs were developed to have a heart with the primary school and the shops close to each other and within safe walking distance of the surrounding homes.

Schools and their surrounds were designed to be part of the infrastructure rather than an edifice that is only open for lessons from nine to three on weekdays.

Harrison followed on from Walter Burley Griffin as the second great Canberra planner. He was the chief planner of the National Capital Development Commission from 1959 until the late 1960s and was responsible for much of the way Canberra looks today with the dispersed city centres, the Y-plan and the current suburban form.

The Gungahlin suburb of Harrison is named after him.

The character of Canberra suburbs originates from the “garden city concept” of  Ebenezer Howard and included suburbs without front fences.

A similar concept was extended to schools that were designed to be at the hub of the local community with easy access after hours and throughout the weekend.

The playing fields of the schools were not only designed for the school, but to be part of the community infrastructure. Kicking a footy, throwing a ball, taking a dog for a walk and similar activities are just part the open urban environment of a healthy community.

A spokesman for Deputy Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, told “CityNews” that there are more school fences to come.

The ACT schools budget under the Security Fencing Program for 2010-11 “allocated $1 million for the installation of security fences at schools assessed as having a high and medium-security risk. Work has been completed at the Hughes, Lyneham and Monash Primary Schools, Lanyon and Lyneham High Schools and Canberra College (Woden campus)”.

However, it is not stopping there.  Funds have been allocated in the 2011-12 budget for the installation of security fences at a further six schools; Southern Cross Early Childhood School, Latham, Macquarie, Torrens and Wanniassa Primary Schools and Black Mountain School.

The plague is rapidly spreading with the Minister’s office suggesting that more than 40 schools have now been fenced. Are there any schools that will not be considered a security risk and will escape the pestilence?

It seems the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing.

The budget proposals have come through education and the planners have allowed them to slip through. It is not hard to understand schools wanting to deal with issues such as incidence of vandalism, break and enter or graffiti attacks.

However, such reasons have to be balanced against community benefit that comes from open urban spaces, the character of our city and the options for handling such issues.

Another factor that is taken into account is how close schools are situated close to public places. This is the very point. Schools are, and should remain, public places.

The Government might argue that there has been strong school community support for completed fences. However, they are an ugly blight on the urban landscape.

The comparatively less-secure fencing around the embassy of Botswana.

The fence around Hughes Primary School, for example, is much bigger and more dramatic than fences around a series of relatively new embassies in nearby Deakin – where a genuine security risk exists.

They also argue the design of new security fences “complement and enhance the existing security systems in schools” and “designs, and alignments are in accordance with planning regulations”.

They also argue fences are tested against the principles and strategies of crime prevention fencing guidelines. Such arguments carry some weight, but have not been adequately balanced against the community loss.

Most people would accept placing a fence next to a busy road. However, this school fencing program is simply a creeping urban blight and should be terminated.

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