City Plan a daft proposal

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

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.


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