AN interesting thing occurred towards the end of a recent action-packed Woden Valley Community Council meeting.
The focus was mainly on development proposals – most involving high-rise, lots of high-rise.
The WVCC president did a great job keeping the meeting on time despite the many presentations. As any good president should, she actively represented residents rather than passively allow presenters to present spin and misinformation as fact.
The spin and clichés flowed. For instance, presenters talked about “building form” being a “gateway” to the shopping mall. The chair pointed out that such “gateways” are superfluous, as locals know where the mall is (small chuckle from the audience).
Later, when a bureaucrat was asked a direct question and provided one of those convoluted “planner-speak” answers, the chair’s quizzical expression was matched by comments from the audience – “what did all that mean?”… “And so the answer is?”… “Can anyone translate what she just said?”
It was sad to hear locals say such things as: “You say you have considered what we said, but what you are presenting tonight is the same, nothing has changed.”
Well-informed criticisms were often brushed off. Someone who had read through the mountain of DA documents questioned why the footpaths outside the tower blocks were only 2.5 metres wide. He queried that surely new footpaths should be four metres in total to allow for trees, pedestrians and bicycles.
Another was about making the towers more sustainable by providing better glass and structures to meet passive housing standards. Nope, that would be too expensive and not required by the building codes.
There were comments that these towers will house more people than a nearby suburb. Yet there are no new parks, no green spaces (except possibly one rooftop garden on one building) and traffic will be a problem given that the corner already has major issues most of the day.
The answer? That is something the ACT government is “looking at” (more quiet chuckles).
Which brings me to one of the more worrying things. Many years ago a previous WVCC chair made public statements on the desperate need to deal with the massively unsafe bus interchange, lack of community cultural facilities and that the area needed more green spaces (parks).
On the night, the current president mentioned several times that the bus interchange is still a dangerous place, available green space is shrinking and still there are no community cultural facilities or multi-sports facilities. Nothing changes while all these issues are becoming even more pressing as the number of towers increases.
There were many notable exchanges and statements during the evening – far too many to mention here.
Towards the end the president said while presenters were talking about development and built form etcetera, there was little mention of the community.
At that point the ACT chief planner, who was in the audience, jumped up to disagree. He said he had made announcements that he was here for the community, he was outcome focused and that he was planning to review the Territory Plan starting in 2019.
On face value, what he said was welcomed, but then someone nearby said: “But what about what is happening now?”
This was the incident that stuck with me above all else. The chief planner was being very friendly and convincing that he was open to change, was listening, was talking to people and was going to review ACT Planning.
But the reality is that this whole government is sitting on another planet while residents are being subjected to massive damages being done to the cherished urban fabric of our bush capital.
We are being asked to trust the planners because they are having meetings to plan how to plan to make planning better – one day, maybe (somewhere over the rainbow). Trust in this government’s approach to development has a very long way to go.
Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday life matters.
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