Carter / Kick-starting the laneway culture

“Sadly, the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings have lost much of their original character, as well as their amenity and economic viability,” says CATHERINE CARTER

THE closure of three nightclubs in the Sydney Building may be the impetus we need to kick-start Canberra’s laneway culture.

Catherine Carter.

Catherine Carter.

In a young city, buildings with history and character must be treasured. Sadly, the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings have lost much of their original character, as well as their amenity and economic viability.

Dating from 1926 but not completed until 1946, the buildings were the first privately-constructed projects in the capital. Heralding their arrival in October 1927, the daily paper trumpeted that “Civic Centre is rapidly assuming its due place in Canberra and its colonnades will soon pulsate with the private business of the capital”.

Now, we have a golden opportunity to restore these Florentine colonnades to their former glory – and to turn the buildings inside out to make them places for people once more.

Cultivating civic space is certainly part art, part science – and we cannot simply cut and paste the ideas from other cities to our own and expect immediate success. However, the fact that Melbourne’s laneway buzz is now being transported to other places – Sydney, Adelaide and Geelong for starters – should tell us something. People love laneways, and are inspired by the intimacy, the creativity and the surprises that can be found in secret streets and clandestine corners.

Imagine food carts and flower markets, hole-in-the-wall bars and micro-breweries. Picture cool cafes and courtyards that showcase live music, alongside intimate art spaces and pop-up stores selling handicrafts.

Service courtyards – now home to hoppers – could be transformed into piazza-style spaces and become second frontages for bars and restaurants, enabling Canberrans to sit under the mature plane trees, browse through boutiques and bookshops or just soak up the atmosphere.

To do this, we need to transform the courtyards and laneways of these historic buildings from shortcuts to destinations. Loading Zone café and Soju Girl’s soon-to-be-completed laneway deck on to Odgers Lane are but two of the jewels in the treasure trove that awaits us if we open ourselves to the opportunities.

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

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