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IN late April, I met with Liberal MLAs Elizabeth Lee and Mark Parton. At their request we went for a walk around the contentious Dickson Parklands.
At the end of the walk I asked Mark whether the hour walking and talking was useful. He admitted that as a member of the Assembly’s planning committee he sometimes found himself discussing the future of sites that he was not familiar with. So to spend time on the Dickson Parklands, given how much debate and passion that has been around the issues, was very useful.
The walk I conducted was done very informally and we covered the whole site, stopping to discuss issues relevant to particular sections. We were fortunate to have a chat to members of the Majura Men’s Shed. This visit was a first for me. I agree with the Men’s Shed byline – “This is where magic happens”.
I had tales to tell with just a little bias in my delivery. I placed emphasis on the trees within the Parklands site, on just how beautiful they were and how important it is to not only keep them but to even consider having more, and having loads of wonderful trees does not exclude development.
I was pleased to hear that both Elizabeth and Mark were familiar with the ANCA arts studios and had attended events at the Northside Community Centre. What they readily admitted was, as with others who do not live locally, few have spent time walking around the whole area and taking the time to understand some of the history of particular sections, current usages and to appreciate the potential initiatives that could be explored. The problem at the moment is that discussions are dominated by certain others who are fixated on apartments and on their idea (not the residents) that the area must host heaps of social housing because they have bungled this issue and need to get something (anything) done and this community site is the easiest target.
Three sections that I did put emphasis on were the open space in the middle, the small treed area behind the pool and the linear park alongside the Dickson Drain. I expressed the hope that the area along the drain could be revamped to be a linear parkland that stretched from alongside the Parklands site to the areas alongside the Dickson shops. It could be an important place to walk, to sit quietly (so let’s have seats and tables) and could even have a children’s playground or two.
As for the open space in the centre and the trees behind the pool, I pointed out how many times those wanting to over-develop the Parklands will use descriptors that deny that these valuable open spaces even exist. I acknowledge that they are underutilised. But they do get used and with some creative planning could be used for a whole range of community cultural activities – for which the demands will grow, as the surrounding suburbs are infilled.
One discussion with Mark was on the state of planning here in Canberra and elsewhere. We are subject to planning by regulations and zoning with the developers defining the outcomes with very little aesthetics and minimal biodiversity. Whereas real planning – to use words from a Planning Institute document: “Planning is the act of researching, analysing, anticipating and influencing change in our society, about guiding and managing suburban development; planners balance the needs of communities and the environment.” We see very little of this.
It was a fruitful and interesting discussion. We have some politicians who believe in putting in time to talk, to look and to understand – and we have many of the others who believe in telling us what we need.
Dickson resident Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday life matters.