WITH the Christmas release of the draft City and Gateway Urban Design Framework, the City Renewal Authority undertook media advocacy during February for an apartment suburb on West Basin.
It set out to convince anyone who would listen that apartments on this lakeside would be great for the city. As for the idea to fill in part of the lake for boardwalks so the actual lakeside could be sold off – one wonders what these bureaucrats are sipping after hours.
The West Basin development commenced life as the more engaging City to Lake Project. There was some support for that first concept. It is now blatantly a property deal to bring in revenue dressed up as a “great” urban design development. It isn’t.
West Basin contains many trees and a peaceful green space waiting for an intelligent upgrade to become an even better lakeside parkland of quiet enjoyment. This would be possible if the government understood landscape and recognised heritage values rather than taking another “vacant” green space and filling it with “activated, connected and vibrant” apartments.
With outsiders dominating the City Renewal Authority, the chief minister may get his naive version of a “connected” city and be just like Sydney. The developer-thinking within these agencies has a devastating mantra – we come from real cities, we see your greenery, we will concrete!
Canberra is not like other metropolitan cities; nor does it need to be. Sadly, we have a cohort influencing government to deliver an inappropriate version of urban design. Until recently, Canberra had buildings, urban forests and suburban infrastructure that were human scale and envied internationally. Government is changing that.
Today we have new suburbs developed along the lines of outer-suburban areas elsewhere (fewer trees, more heat islands and less amenities), attacks on Canberra’s older suburban character (reduction in trees and biodiversity, more heat islands and ageing amenities) and on top of those crimes, the city’s wonderful character is being slowly eroded.
West Basin may be off some people’s radar as it is now a very peaceful corner of the lake. But once it has been built over, complete with apartments and hard-edged archiparks (heat islands), the impact on the ambience of the capital will be devastatingly obvious.
Along with improved “connectivity” and other buzzwords, most of what the City Renewal Authority and National Capital Authority (NCA) published in their Design Framework is colourful pictures and complex urban-renewal-speak, that experienced resident advocates and planners had trouble understanding.
By name, the document concentrated on the city, Northbourne Avenue and adjacent suburbs, but quietly sitting there was its agenda for West Basin (neither city nor gateway). Most would not have realised that it was there. Be assured that soon we will hear that everyone was consulted and the opportunity to voice opinions has expired.
This is another example of the Greens/Labor government’s trickery and spin designed to distract pesky residents away from some of the real intent, in this case to see the West Basin lakeside “urban renewed” as an apartment suburb.
These narrow-minded actions are being undertaken by the chief minister’s City Renewal Authority in partnership with the NCA. The government is doing its best to suppress any recognition of heritage values and to ignore hard-working groups such as the Lakeside Guardians and the hundreds of dedicated people who turn up to make clear their aspirations for West Basin.
Despite the best efforts of the City Renewal Authority to override the collective intelligence of residents, it is clear that the West Basin development is about money and keeping consultants and developers busy.
Groups such as the Lakeside Guardians and their colleagues have sound, fact-based arguments that are not taken seriously by the bureaucrats and the agencies involved. This leaves residents amazed and frustrated that yet again those in government show little concern about the long-term damage being done to Canberra as a city for people.
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Ian Meikle, editor