Carter / The city centre that’s easy to forget

“Canberra’s city centre is a place of faded shop signs, scaffolding and slow foot traffic, empty offices and graffiti, car parks and peeling paint,” says columnist CATHERINE CARTER

TIMES Square in New York has its video screens, LED lights and swarms of people.

Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is famous for its beautiful buildings and bullfighting. Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square attracts legions of tourists, as does Venice’s Piazza San Marco, “the drawing room of Europe”.

Catherine Carter.

Catherine Carter.

And the gardens and statuary in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo and the gothic spires and dreamy bridges of Prague’s Old Town Square have captured imaginations for centuries.

All these world-famous city squares have one thing in common: they are memorable.

In comparison, Canberra’s city centre is a place of faded shop signs, scaffolding and slow foot traffic, empty offices and graffiti, car parks and peeling paint.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Civic is just another of Canberra’s many “town centres”. As the heart of our city, it should be the hub of our economic, social and cultural activities – as well as a great place to live.

It’s currently a missed opportunity.

Part of our challenge is the size of our CBD – at 1.6 hectares, it’s almost as big as the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne.

Many of the most vibrant hotspots of our city centre – from ANU’s Exchange and New Acton in the City West to Lonsdale Street in the north – teeter on the edges of the CBD.

The walk from the Canberra Centre to the lake is 1.6 kilometres – not something to be undertaken during a lunch break.

With so much activity going on in far-flung corners of the city, it should be no surprise that places such as Garema Place and City Walk are looking tired and in need of some TLC.

The Property Council, in partnership with Canberra CBD, is bringing together people with an interest in Civic – from planners and public servants to restaurant owners, retailers, designers and developers – to explore what we need to do to make our CBD memorable. By thinking outside the square we may just get a town square of which we can all be proud.

Catherine Carter is ACT executive director of the Property Council of Australia.

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