Woden is being transformed, but into what?

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The “Woden Experiment”… the government has delivered a mass of different seating and other diversions to the underutilised Woden Town Square. Photo: Paul Costigan

THE Greens/Labor coalition ACT government is infamous for its cabal of ministers who are making a mess of Canberra’s planning and development.

Paul Costigan.

The Liberals have not proposed an alternative approach. The outcomes from this universal lack of political interest in good development is very evident in what is happening to the Woden Town Centre.

The centre is being transformed. The question being – into what? The Woden Valley Community Council (WVCC) is throwing loads of volunteer energy into trying to influence urban development and to improve Woden as a wonderful precinct to work, shop and live. Despite the amazing commitments from WVCC, the cluster of ministers responsible and other ACT politicians remain perched like monkeys on the fence doing little to stop the multitude of rubbish development decisions.

The problems are endless and devastating. Looking beyond the governments’ and developers’ urban speak on how wonderful their developments will be, the reality is that the central Woden area is destined to become a concentrated mass of tall towers, ranging from the edges being up to 12 storeys, within that a cluster of 16 storeys and a central concentration of up to 24 storeys.

Does anyone remember agreeing that the Canberra skyline is to be this cluttered with so many bland box towers massed together? Unfortunately, the ACT government’s laissez-faire approach to development is what is encouraging this to happen.

The WVCC has been saying for a decade that the central area needs community, cultural and sports facilities – and more green spaces. Recently, the chief minister responded to this request from the WVCC by saying that facilities will come with the developments being undertaken. That is, the developers will be building these facilities into all these towers. This has not happened! And there is no prospect of it happening! In fact, there is now less facilities and less open spaces than previously.

The “Woden Experiment”… the government has delivered a mass of different seating and other diversions to the underutilised Woden Town Square. Photo: Paul Costigan

Then there is the wonderful “Woden Experiment”. The government has delivered a mass of different seating and other diversions to the underutilised Woden Town Square. Despite all the colourful chairs and other things to bounce on, during the day few gather there except over lunchtime when the workers pause to eat their lunches. So what is the future of this square? The experiment is for six months with no sign of anything after that. Meanwhile, the devastating news is that planning approvals are in place that allow for more concentration of high-rise towers around the square. Sometime soon there will be even less sunlight in this public space.

Most of the commercial outlets that front the square are either empty or do not make use of the open spaces on the square to attract people – there are no coffee shops. It is obvious that the future of this square is dependent on what outlets and facilities are encouraged to be there. And there is a very obvious opportunity that the government is ignoring.

On the western side is a three-storey empty building that is about to be redeveloped. Could the government deliver something to Woden by buying this building and developing it as a community, cultural and sports centre?

The challenge is how to get this government to see the sense in this community suggestion. If that particular building is not an option, then can this government show that they care for the Woden Valley communities and urgently settle on an alternative? These facilities are overdue and the need is growing daily as people buy up to live in the central area.

What the Woden Valley community needs is a champion to work with the residents’ groups to stop the central Woden precinct becoming a high-rise and very unfriendly jungle.

Community focused leadership from within government is desperately being sought to bring on some good precinct planning as well as exciting architecture, thoughtful urban developments and people-friendly landscape design – and, yes – community facilities and green spaces.

 

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