It may be a constant refrain when it comes to complaints about developments in Canberra, but most of the time we’re right to be concerned when large numbers of apartments are planned for a single precinct.
The City Renewal Authority announced last week that under revised plans for the controversial lakeside precinct, there would be far fewer residential buildings than originally planned.
The original planning of the precinct defined it as a high-density area, but the authority is intending on mix-use buildings, with more public space, and fewer apartments.
But there are still likely to be at least 2000 apartments going up in the area. It’s no surprise that many are concerned.
A large tranche of valuable private land is being privatised, and it’s more important than ever that the City Renewal Authority gets it right in the planning stages.
A large public park on the lakefront is a good start; many have bemoaned the lack of such a space on the Kingston Foreshore, which is instead a tight enclave of restaurants and luxury apartments.
The authority is adamant that West Basin will have an open feel, and be an amenity for all Canberrans to enjoy.
Professor Ken Maher, an authority board member and landscape architect who is leading the design committee for the projects, says developing a precinct like West Basin - directly connecting the city centre with the city’s much-prized lake - is an opportunity like no other.
And he says he’s aware that many people have a stake in seeing the development done properly.
“We know that there are people who highly value that [lake-front], and we would hope that we can convince people over time that what we're doing here is very much part of Canberra, very much respecting the experience of the lake, very much respecting Canberra as a landscape city, very much building on the kind of intent of [Walter Burley] Griffin, which makes it very particular,” he says.
Invoking Griffin’s intent here is not fanciful: Canberra’s original landscape architects - Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin - had many ideas for lakeside development, and were concerned above all that the capital be a “cosmopolitan” city. They never intended the artificial lake to be as underused as it currently is.
But the concerns about density of apartment living, and of unsuitable and unsustainable development in Canberra is real. The city’s planners have made many mistakes over the years - parts of the Kingston Foreshore are among them - that the City Renewal Authority must learn from.
Mixed-use precincts rising from scratch sound all very well, but too often the reality doesn’t match up to grand master plans. Apartments, for example, are frequently far smaller - and more numerous - than original plans would suggest.
The authority knows better than most that it’s impossible to please everyone - see the continuing debate about cyclists and pedestrians. But this project, when it eventuates, will be an opportunity to finally live up to the hype of good planning, and build something that lasts and is loved by all Canberrans.