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City Plan a daft proposal

Date

Patrick Troy

Canberra's proposed blueprint for progress is too inclusive of Civic and fails to embrace the bigger picture.

Future developments were outlined as part of two government projects, “The City Plan” and “City to the Lake”, unveiled by the ACT Government.

Future developments were outlined as part of two government projects, “The City Plan” and “City to the Lake”, unveiled by the ACT Government.

Canberrans have recently been bombarded by proponents of what is claimed to be a City Plan. It is no such thing; instead it is a confection of various statements and claims that relate to a small part of Canberra.

It is sad that we have to remind our government and its planners that the City of Canberra includes the developments in which the greater part of our population lives. The publicity surrounding the so-called City Plan is an attempt to ground it in what can only be described as a spurious appeal to the so-called ''Griffin Legacy''. No acknowledgement is made of the fact that Canberra's planning and development departed from Griffin's ambitions before the ink on it was scarcely dry.

At every stage in its development key administrators have rationalised their decisions to depart from his plans. The current ill-conceived mishmash of proposals, if pursued, might be seen as an investment opportunity for those with real-estate interests in the area known as Civic, but they will do nothing to benefit Canberra as a whole.

The ''discussion papers'' produced to support the present proposal are at best cute. All of the publications favouring the proposed plan reveal an interesting elision in the language used. Reference is made to the '' city of Canberra'' meaning the national capital in its totality yet the word ''City'' is slipped in meaning the area we now call Civic. This deliberate conflation is designed to mislead. The present proposal is not about the city as a whole but is about one centre and development on one edge of one of the city's lakes. Residents of the larger city would be required to pay for the privilege.

We should remember that the population for whom Griffin (and others) planned was about 10 per cent of the present population. Moreover, the national capital was to be the administrative centre for a national government with very limited powers, certainly less than we presently acknowledge. From its very foundation, those charged with the task of administering the development of the nation's capital were determined to go whichever way they wanted regardless of Griffin's views.

Despite the claim that we now must pay obeisance to a bowdlerised version of what Griffin's plan proposed or implied, the present proposal for the ''City'' is highly selective. This may be seen in Discussion Paper 1 on page 1, which purports to present the current development as part of Griffin's vision.

Griffin never proposed that the Parliament and the centre of Defence (Russell) should be two ''points'' of what is now claimed to be ''his grand National Triangle''. To claim that it was part of this scheme is not only to misrepresent the Griffins, it serves to provide a misleading explanation and justification for the development of Canberra as a whole.

The whole point of the development of the various town centres (Woden, Belconnen, Tuggeranong, Gungahlin) was to provide for the development of a national capital in which jobs, residences (and their associated social facilities) could be in reasonable balance with one another and in which public transport would be able to be provided and would make the smallest environmental impact.

We may have, at times, not achieved those ambitions in quite the manner desired but we knew that if we were to avoid the pressing problems that most state capitals and other major cities experienced arising from their excessive centralisation, the model of development adopted for Canberra was likely to be most efficacious. The full importance of the present proposal for Civic is that we would starve the development of all the newer centres. Attending to what are seen by some as important problems in Civic will require all the resources available to the government, leaving it with little to address the problems experienced or anticipated in them. Woden, Belconnen, Tuggeranong and Gungahlin would have fewer or lower-quality services available to them compared with other parts of the city.

The preoccupation with the area

around Civic and that between it and one of the city's lakes is no doubt due in no small measure to the National Capital Authority, which should have been closed once self-government was visited on us.

The NCA had the resources sufficient to busy itself on some of the bigger issues confronting Canberra without having the responsibility to undertake any serious planning or development. This narrow focus of the NCA has led to some curious results. The current proposal to massively increase the resident population in Civic and the ''New Acton'' with no provision in the plans for pre-, primary or secondary school facilities implies a population without children or at the very least a population always on the move. Is that reasonable?

Do we want to have such a large transient population in our city centre? The present proposal to develop a new stadium when we have a site close to the heart of Civic designed for such a purpose beggars belief. What is wrong with determining the lease of the current designated site in Braddon so that it may be redeveloped for a new stadium that would automatically be well served by public transport? The leasehold system provides that opportunity and it should be used.

For all the blather about increased walking and cycling, it is clear the authors of the present plans have little experience in either activity given that they have failed to resolve the problems walkers have in simply trying to get from one side of Civic to the other. (See if you can cross Northbourne Avenue in one cycle of the traffic lights or how you cope with aggressive cyclists who seem to think that pedestrians on footpaths should ''get out of their way''.) The present proposal to develop a light-rail system to connect Gungahlin to Civic is simply a silly way to approach our public transport needs and an expensive way to gain a vote in the Assembly.

We would be best employed focusing on developing a proper train line as the backbone connecting all the main centres, leaving it extendable to Yass (if and when circumstances opened that opportunity) and to supporting it with an efficient, bus-based local transport system. It is clear the parents of this present ''plan'' are innocent of any critical analysis of how cities like Canberra actually operate.

The so-called community consultation in train is a travesty of such a process and is designed to produce chaos from which the proponents of the present proposal will emerge to claim they have solved the problems and that the community is happy with the outcomes.

Professor Troy is at the Fenner school of environment and society, Australian National University.

12 comments

  • Very informed comment about the chaos of current urban planning. there is no vision for the future; only vision for the now and what that means to tax revenue.

    This Lake development is another grand project that we do not need, another "Nishi style" development that will flip, flop and flounder and burden the burghers of Canberra long after the current crop of politicians have disappeared.

    Commenter
    Outraged of Palmerston
    Date and time
    May 24, 2013, 7:23AM
    • I think the writer of this article should be better informed in order to not mislead the readers. As far as I know, all the area at the South of Cooyong Street and East of Marcus Clarke Street is called "City" in the ACT Territory Plan. That's the reason why the plan is called "City Plan". That's why the park in the hill is called "City Hill". And that's why there is another document called "The Canberra Plan" that comprises the whole ACT. The author mixes indistinctly the "City Plan" with the "City to the Lake" initiative, which are different but complementary plans. Matching the relevance and National importance of Lake Burley Griffin with the other Canberra lakes is just irrelevant and absurd. There is one National Parliament, one National Library, one National Gallery, one National Museum, one National War Memorial, one High Court and all of these institutions are located around the Lake Burley Griffin. It is by far the biggest and most important lake of Canberra. The author ignores the main goal of the plan that is connect the city centre with the lake through an urban environment. Have you tried to walk from Garema Place to the Lake and survive to tell it? Have you ever walked around the West basin of Lake Burley Griffin? Have you tried to go walking to the Australian National Museum?
      The City Plan and the City to the Lake initiative are not flawless, but the main ideas are awesome and it is just what Canberra needs to mature as a city.

      Commenter
      JVGQ
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 9:03AM
      • Just one more housing development for the ultra rich.I don't understand why these people want to take away the lake front from a public and democratic space to be like Darling harbour.
        Canberra is not Sydney or Melbourne and the day we stop emulating and charting our own course a bush capital the better will be for all of us.
        Actually I don understand there are tonnes of money to be made from the rich to own a fancy condominium by the lake ..lets state it for what it is

        Commenter
        Kumar
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        May 24, 2013, 9:12AM
        • Prof Troy is spot on when he says that Cnnberrr is more than just Action Park, Constitution Ave and City Hill, and that any Canberra development planning should cover the city from Forde to Banks in toto.

          Commenter
          Woz
          Location
          civic
          Date and time
          May 24, 2013, 9:39AM
          • As JVGQ rightly points out the suburb is called City.
            Just because residents incorrectly call it Civic doesn't make the documents wrong.

            I think these types of plans are exactly what Canberra needs if we are to grow into a real city instead if a large rural town with hopeless public transport and attractions. Linking the city to the lake area is a fantastic idea.

            However I do agree with the point about the stadium. It should be built at the Braddon site which is far more appropriate than the pool site.

            Commenter
            Freddie Frog
            Date and time
            May 24, 2013, 11:13AM
            • "The Griffin Legacy". "The Griffin Plan". I have never, never understood the sometimes blinding, almost patriotic fervour towards sticking to this vision.

              How many other cities in the world stick steadfastly to a town plan designed over a century ago?!?! A few things have changes since then, and planning should change along with it.

              Want an idea as to why Canberra's public transport system is the worst of any capital city I lived in the world? Because it is forced to try to service so many locations within a large geographic area with a comparatively very small population to support it. It's unviable, the people and dollars are not there to support it adequately. Greater centralisation will allow savings and a better fundied and performing public transport system, as well as with a greater population basing around a central location - it will create a far better market for commerce to enjoy and prosper in. Jobs beget jobs.

              You can't have a country town and a capital city as one - you can't have your cake and eat it. A choice needs to be made. If people want to keep Canberra as a large country town, thats fine. Just don't complain that new commerce, employment and people can't be attracted here. It's an out-dated town plan.

              Commenter
              Redmund
              Location
              Canberra
              Date and time
              May 24, 2013, 11:24AM
              • The reason the Canberra public transport system is the "worst" as you and soooo many put it is because it is not needed. Regardless of public transport, look at the transport system as a whole. Canberra has the shortest commute times of any of the capital cities in Australia. Sydney and Melbourne have far more extensive and sofisticated public transport systems because the main transport system (roads) are so poor. A few weeks ago in Sydney a truck flipped up a pit lid in the Harbour Tunnel and this accident caused 1-4 hour delays for bus and car commuters, and trains and ferries were then packed like sardine cans to avoid this, but only those lucky enough to hear the news before starting their commute could avoid it. This sort of thing happens on a weekly basis where a single accident brings one or more of Sydney or Melbournes tranport modes crashing down for half the day, delaying thousands of people and costing millions.

                Commenter
                Stop trying to copy bad transport systems
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                May 24, 2013, 5:16PM
            • Totally agree with the Prof. It's daft trying to wedge a new stadium in that spot. How about getting a first class sporting facility in Tuggeranong for a change, I am so fed up always having to travel to Belco to take my children to sports fixtures. Share the love please!

              Commenter
              Mardi
              Location
              Tuggeranong
              Date and time
              May 24, 2013, 11:46AM
              • Although the W.Griffins plan was a good start for a city, I think it is holding Canberra back… He planned this a century ago, so much has changed (technology and population) that he couldn’t have imagined. Its time to move into the future and make this city what the people demand, not just based the architects vision (that includes the ACT Government telling its citizens what they want).

                Commenter
                Me Mate Dave
                Location
                CBR
                Date and time
                May 24, 2013, 12:11PM
                • And the only people who call Civic 'City' is the govt.

                  Commenter
                  Mardi
                  Location
                  Tuggeranong
                  Date and time
                  May 24, 2013, 12:31PM

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