“The new towers are collectively delivering a new suburban-sized residential population. It is as if there is a new suburb called Northbourne that includes those living 100 metres either side of the corridor,” writes “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.
THIS city’s residents have a general high standard of education, the city has wonderful cultural institutions, there are active science and academic communities and people take a keen interest in government and the goings-on of the political class.
The population appreciates urban planning and developments based on aesthetics, landscape design and good architecture, and seeks to have urban spaces and buildings that address environmental and climate issues.
This city has an internationally recognised and envied character, the people identify strongly with the city, there’s a high standard of living, and it often rates well on liveability surveys (whatever that means).
It would be logical to expect that the city chiefs, when making planning decisions, would respect the city’s identity and acknowledge the residents’ commitments to the place.
Surely, the elected government representing the aspirations of the voters would be dealing with climate change by having architecture and landscapes designed to mitigate the effects of climate and ensure that the city maintains its outstanding identity as a national city designed within a landscape.
All this should be obvious in what is happening along Northbourne Avenue. This significant entry point should be a showcase for what the city is about – good design and great places to live, work and play. It is not.
The ACT Labor/Greens government spends a fortune on the City Renewal Authority, an agency that says it is a “champion of excellence, it works with the community, business and government to deliver new buildings and places within the precinct that are of exemplary design quality, excite interest and participation and attract new investment”.
Now think Northbourne Avenue and about how this important gateway to a city designed to be the landscape ended up looking like it is. It is not good. While there were a few buildings of interest along Northbourne, the removal of the large trees to build the tram revealed that most were very ordinary – of little architectural interest.
The recent towers tend to be taller and very ordinary – a polite way to describe them. Their impact has been strikingly awful. New green spaces are almost non-existent. These new towers are collectively delivering a new suburban-sized residential population. It is as if there is a new suburb called Northbourne that includes those living 100 metres either side of the corridor.
Given the desires by the people over the decades and the never-ending worthy statements by the ACT politicians, as these rows of towers pop up, it follows that there should be greenery around each with parks tucked away between buildings – and there should be many community facilities.
In short, it is not happening and there are no realistic indications that things are about to change. Business-as-usual for the Labor/Greens coalition presents a very shocking introduction to the city.
The landscape work around the tram may deliver something of interest in a couple of years – but we have to wait for that to happen as it is very dependent on the levels of maintenance and stewardship of the landscape and its plantings. This government underfunds landscape maintenance.
However, to be positive, it may not be too late to retrofit some of the developments and there may be the opportunity to knock sense into the present politicians about the mess being made along Northbourne. Before things progress further, these new communities need to be provided with facilities as well as the means to reduce the increasing heat island effects. And how about some good architecture?
Just as worrying is that the same mob of bureaucratic planners and developers who are enabling horrible stuff along Northbourne, are also working in plain sight on plans for the corridor going south to Woden. Following the usual patronising traditions of dropping a few hints but keeping most of the work secret, the planning agencies involved with developments along Adelaide Avenue and Yarra Glen are advancing with what they will one day reveal as done deals for how these corridors will look. They will then consult and we all know what that means.
Southside residents – be afraid – be very afraid! There is still time to ask questions and to demand serious answers.
Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.
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