Moore / And still the apartments come

“A more and more autocratic government is turning Canberra into a poor copy of Melbourne… Building future ghettos is certainly troubling,” writes MICHAEL MOORE

DESPITE an overwhelming view of Canberrans in favour of separate dwellings, the Barr government continues to facilitate the development of inappropriate and out-of-proportion apartment blocks.

Michael Moore.

A more and more autocratic government is turning Canberra into a poor copy of Melbourne. The vision of Northbourne Avenue as a “grand entrance” to Canberra has plummeted into proposals for a canyon of 20-storey buildings.

To rub salt into the wound, the trees have been butchered for the tram leaving a scar that will take a long time to heal. The justification for aparmentalising Canberra is to point to similar cities worldwide. However, in such cities those who can afford it overwhelmingly abandon their apartments in favour of single dwellings with a yard and garden.

There are alternatives. Paris is not a city of canyons – nor is London. The central parts of those cities employ a rational height limit. The ACT government seems hell bent on redevelopment of a disproportionate number of apartments to raise revenue. The injection of rates and landlord taxes has become a driving force for planning decisions. The cart is put before the horse.

It does not have to be this way. Prof Barbara Norman from the University of Canberra has identified key elements for more sustainable cities worldwide. Engaging community voices, building understanding and working with the community is fundamental – in marked contrast to the Chief Minister‘s desire to dictate his own concept directly to the community.

In speaking to ABC radio about her new book, Prof Norman emphasised how useful the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are as a reference point for sustainable cities as the world becomes more urbanised. The SDGs offer a path to a more sustainable world and respect our intergenerational responsibilities.

The last of the SDGs identifies the importance of building partnerships for an integrated approach to a healthier environment and community. Equity, life on land, below the water, education and economic growth all form part of this roadmap that has the commitment of more than 190 countries globally. Respect for these goals will provide a very different vision for Canberra.

In her book “Sustainable Pathways for our Cities and Regions” Prof Norman identifies practical methods of implementing the SDGs. On radio she called for a “Canberra Conversation” to identify how people wish to live and how to take our city into the future.

In launching her book, the Federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese argued “as highlighted by Prof Norman, we must do this in a way that is fair. It must also be democratic and participatory”.

Our city is simply different from other cities in the world. This is how it was intended. This is how it was planned and it is something that should be a source of great pride for Canberrans. However, there have always been those who seek to have Canberra more like inner Sydney or Melbourne. We have the infrastructure and the ability to do better.

Distributing employment to town centres has a major impact on traffic and liveability. However, this takes government willpower, strong planning and a clear strategic vision. Adopting a shared strategic vision is a key element of Barbara Norman’s message.

“One path,” argued Anthony Albanese, “leads us to cities that are productive, liveable and sustainable”. And later: “The other is troubling to think about”.

On the one hand, real credit must go to Andrew Barr and his team for his determination and leadership on renewable energy. However, on the other hand, and on broader issues, it is time for the former Federal Minister for Infrastructure to have a word to his Labor colleagues in the ACT Assembly.

Building future ghettos is certainly troubling. Alternatively, we can use the tools at our disposal including the age of our city, the dispersed city centres and the leasehold system that provide us with many opportunities not available to others.

Canberra can be a world leader in developing as an innovative, equitable, sustainable, liveable, productive and friendly city. However, this can only be achieved through a participatory, long-term strategic vision.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.

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