Canberra's often-neglected Northbourne Avenue would finally become a "fitting entrance" for a city expected to house 400,000 people by the end of 2016 under a urban renewal strategy released for comment on Monday, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says.
"To have a grand boulevard entrance to the national capital has been a long-held aspiration," Mr Barr said.
The current Canberra gateway fell short of local and visitor expectations and the need to ensure infrastructure kept pace with population growth created an opportunity for Canberra to "continue to come of age as a modern, international city".
The City and Gateway Urban Renewal Strategy would transform Northbourne Avenue into "a grand tree-lined boulevard" morphing from bushland on the outskirts of Canberra into a city of the future with light rail stops and clearly identified community hubs as travellers move south.
Urban villages are initially proposed for Dickson and the Macarthur Avenue intersection and, further down the track, for Haig Park and Braddon and EPIC and Mitchell.
The proposed urban villages would be "medium to high density hubs of activity at transport stations where mixed use development, people-friendly streets and inviting public spaces combine".
They will feature shops, cafes, parks and work opportunities.
The strategy's centrepiece is a plaza linking the Melbourne and Sydney buildings.
"The new plaza will join up the east and the west of the city," Mr Barr said. "Wider pavements will allow for outdoor dining and socialising [and] new trees and landscaping will create a more pleasant environment with good shade."
Artist's impressions show the light rail route running down the centre of the existing nature strip.
Mr Barr denied the plaza had the potential to create a Clover Moore-esque traffic choke point by reducing the number of lanes.
He said the days of a six-lane freeway running through the heart of Canberra were long gone.
More than half a billion dollars had been spent on Majura Parkway and Gungahlin Drive which gave drivers much faster alternate access to north and south Canberra.
While no costings are included in the discussion paper, Mr Barr said the ACT government had already made a $20 million investment in upgrading Northbourne.
"There will [also] clearly be a large number of private sector redevelopments, many of which are already under way or at the development application phase," he said. "We have the former public sector housing sites that will be renewed as well.
"The public sector infrastructure will focus on improving pedestrian [and] public transport accessibility, the promenades, the footpaths, cycle access and so on."
Significant results, including a demonstration precinct showing how the corridor will look, near Barry Drive, should be visible before the end of 2016.
Northbourne Plaza should take shape over the next two or three years in conjunction with the light rail development.
The redevelopment of the old public housing, the tourist information centre site and Macarthur House – which will all be put on the market for private development – should be in progress by 2018 and 2019 as part of the asset recycling scheme.
"The bulk of this [the draft proposals] I would hope to have completed by around 2020 or 2021 but we will start seeing it in 2016," Mr Barr said.
With an upgrade to Haig Park already included in the territory budget further representations to have the controversial British officer's name removed from the area are considered likely.
"I have had some representations on that but I am not in a position to comment further right now," Mr Barr said. "We have a place names committee who look at these things."
ACT Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said the light rail and the City to the Lake projects had been catalysts for a re-evaluation of what the entrance to Canberra should look like.
Comments on the discussion paper, which can be viewed at haveyoursay.planning.act, can be lodged over the next eight weeks.