Former government architect Roger Pegrum recently lamented the dullness of Canberra’s growing skyline. His comments were directed generally to the cluster of uniformly sized high-rises - such as they are - that have appeared in recent years in Canberra’s town centres.
But he could just as well have been referring to the plans to reshape Northbourne Avenue and the Federal Highway. That is, both the original and revised plans.
At this stage, Canberra’s own driveway - the first glimpse of Canberra many visitors will see as they drive into the capital from interstate - risks becoming a missed opportunity. Not an epic failure, but rather the result of a lack of momentum that the ACT government and National Capital Authority's Gateway plan has been trying to supplant ever since it first announced its plans.
As reported on Monday, the ACT's peak business, property, planning and architecture groups have united amid concerns about revised plans to reshape Northbourne Avenue and the Federal Highway.
They say changes made to the original proposal could jeopardise planned projects and constrain future development on the light rail route.
The show of unity will put pressure on the National Capital Authority to make further tweaks to proposed planning rules designed to pave the way for 37,000 new dwellings along the corridor in the coming years.
But community groups have voiced real concerns about how the plans might affect the amenity of their suburbs. This is community consultation in action - residents having an actual say into what goes up, and how high - and yet their voice is already being drowned out.
But the group pushing for original height limits to be reinstated are not just developers with a direct stake in how Northbourne evolves, but a group of industry bodies that don't always align on planning matters.
What do the ACT branches of the Property Council, Master Builders Association, Planning Institute of Australia, Institute of Architects and Institute of Landscaped Architects, and the Canberra Business Chamber have in common in lodging a joint submission to the National Capital Authority outlining their "shared concerns" with planning and design rules proposed in the City and Gateway strategy?
The same thing that links them to the community groups that have raised their concerns in the first place - an opinion about urban density, and what it might mean to them.
While it seems that all agree with the premise of the strategy - to revitalise the main gateway into the national capital - opinions are constantly differing as to the appropriate building heights along the corridor.
Running through the centre, of course, is the soon-to-be-completed light rail, one of the first and most significant parts of that revitalisation push.
In an ideal world, the gateway design framework would have been in place well before work on the light rail even began.
The challenge for planners is to find a middle path that takes into account the needs of industry and residents without resulting in a bland, watered-down outcome. Done well, the revitalisation of Northbourne Avenue could give the city an impressive entry way, befitting of its grand boulevard status. However, done without due consideration of the overall vision for the area there is a risk of piecemeal redevelopment, missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create something of which the city can be proud.