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Costigan / Mischievous elves dump on Downer

“Don’t dump on Downer”… With all the new proposed developments, no funds have been allocated for major upgrades and overdue community facilities. Photo: Paul Costigan

THE ACT’s muddle-headed bureaucrats keep coming up with planning brochures laden down with alternate facts and marketing spin.

Ministers then blindly sign letters to residents based on the bureaucrats’ gobbledygook and then wonder why people get upset. The latest in this citywide bad treatment of residents is happening in Downer.

Paul Costigan.

Residents had generously given up time to work with the government in the hope of improving the development outcomes on Northbourne Avenue along the suburb’s western edge. The results of their efforts appeared in the jargon-filled “The City and Gateway Urban Design Framework” released days before Christmas.

What changed as a result of all those time-consuming consultations? Very little.

About the same time the planning minister proudly released his Christmas gift being the latest version of the “ACT Planning Strategy”. He obviously knew that this would be enthusiastically read and shared among families at Christmas. Of course, not many bothered. But a few did and what a surprise they got.

Soon the word spread that the strategy included a new classification (gift wrapped in purple) that meant that most of Dickson, Downer and a chunk of Watson were classified as an Urban Intensification Area. And the same applies to a major slice of Woden suburbs.

This little Christmas surprise was a shocker. No one was consulted. No explanation was given as to what it meant. This generic and threatening new classification seems to be an extra to the totally confusing zone system that everyone already struggles with. Remember the promise to make things simpler?

We can only speculate that the chief planner and his mischievous elves (it was Christmas) came up with this knowing that the minister would not notice it and once it was out there – bad luck, pesky residents.

Downer lost its school over a decade ago. The area is now having a dramatic increase in families with children; visit the wonderful Gang-Gang Café and make your own observations. Children are everywhere in this suburb – and the school site is about to become 300 apartments. More people, more children.

Across the suburb the streets are narrow, the block sizes are not big, many streets do not have footpaths, there are no bike paths and generally not much has been spent on infrastructure. With all the new proposed developments, no funds have been allocated for major upgrades and overdue community facilities.

There’s more, but you get the message. The Downer residents would gladly have real conversations about well-designed developments, about fitting in with the suburb’s ambience and delivering architecture, green infrastructure and more trees to address environment changes and be energy efficient. This Labor/Greens government does not do well on these measures so it is easy to see why people are worried.

As with so many other suburbs, the residents are being treated badly and with no respect. These people live here. So it might come as a surprise to the heartless ones who dream up such vague terms as “Urban Intensification Areas” that residents take this stuff very personally. People are losing sleep wondering what the hell is going on!

All this came to a head when the Downer Community Association called a meeting for the evening of Wednesday, February 4 – and more than 150 people turned up and tried to fit (unsuccessfully) into their meeting room. They were not happy.

Full marks to Downer Community Association for keeping people up to date and for dealing with the constant stream of wondrous alternate facts coming from ministers’ offices and their bureaucrats.

There are warnings here for anyone who previously thought that this would not happen to their suburb. Have you checked the 2018 Planning Strategy to see if your suburb is in the new purple zone?

While the minister has recently tried to explain the changes, as “they did not mean that”, the real crime is that this lot display no comprehension of how badly their actions upset residents.

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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Paul Costigan

Paul Costigan

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2 Responses to Costigan / Mischievous elves dump on Downer

Arjay says: 20 February 2019 at 3:24 pm

That “intensification zone” has been marked on the ACT Planning Strategy since at least 2003, Paul. I would hardly call it “new” or “surprising”.

Jim says: 21 February 2019 at 4:13 pm

“Across the suburb the streets are narrow, the block sizes are not big”

Downer has some very large block sizes on some of its streets. It does have some smaller blocks too – like any suburb. Selective truth to put it mildly.


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