As Canberra goes through an unprecedented apartment boom, our developers seem afflicted by cultural cringe when it comes to naming our newest skyhomes.
Early in the 20th century, Spanish-Californian names were de rigueur when Sydney suburbs such as Bondi Beach and Elizabeth Bay (and Melbourne’s St Kilda and Elwood) got scores of art deco unit blocks. Presumably, it was thought that names like ‘San Jose’ added a glamour that the local culture just couldn’t match.
Likewise, many of Canberra’s current batch of developers are transfixed by New York and London names.
The ‘Park Avenue Apartments’ are currently taking shape at the corner of City Walk and Allara Street in Civic and “pride of place” is the advertising slogan. But just how can you be proud of a place that’s name is borrowed from a New York street a million miles away in style and character? City Walk is a pedestrianised mall that New Yorkers could only dream of having, so why not reference it instead?
A block away, the ‘Manhattan on the Park Apartments’ overlook Canberra’s verdant Glebe Park. It’s a stunning setting, yet the developer also evoked the megacity that Canberra will quite literally never be like.
Canberra’s entry boulevard Northbourne Avenue is set to become an apartment hotspot over the next few years and the ‘Soho Apartments’ will soon rise on a giant site in Dickson. It’s unclear whether the developer meant the New York Soho or the London one - or both - but the ‘Midtown Apartments’ at the corner of Macarthur Avenue is as New York as the Yankees.
You can bet that there will be more to follow. Blocks with names like ‘The Brooklyn’, ‘The Chelsea’, ‘The Hudson’ and ‘Broadway’ are probably on a drawing board right now.
This wistfulness (or just plain pretentiousness) is not just limited to central Canberra.
Down Tuggeranong way, ‘Southport Apartments’ sounds like it belongs in a port city or fishing village, not beside a boatless lake. In Woden, the newly launched ‘Grand Central Apartments’ once again references New York while Campbell’s ‘Greenwich Park’ is named after one of the largest green spaces in south-east London, rather than Commonwealth Park, which is actually nearby.
Fortunately, there are exceptions to this cultural cringe-worthy new trend.
‘Founders Lane’ on the edge of the CBD conveys a sense of history (even if its a manufactured one) while the Midnight Apartments on Northbourne Avenue and the Dusk at Republic in Belconnen (both by Fender Katsalidis Architects) evoke a particular time of day.
In the inner south, ‘The National’ and ‘The Ambassador’ Apartments nod to Canberra’s standing as the national capital while The ‘Capitol Apartments’ on London Circuit keeps the ‘capital’ theme but shifts the focus to America’s one.
Braddon’s Ori, Branx, Nibu, Palko and Yamaroshi all flaunt an easy, quirky coolness while the NewActon and the Kingston Foreshore projects have fortunately escaped the Manhattan madness.
Perhaps it’s a matter of taste - and money. Perhaps the people that live in these apartments are Canberra’s own FIFO workers, politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists who probably spend a fair bit of time in London and New York anyway (“If it’s Monday, this must be Canberra...”).
But for Canberra locals, these try-hard names are detracting from an otherwise mighty effort to give our sprawling bush capital a dynamic centre to be proud of - one that it’s seemingly lacked forever.
The developer’s marketeers would surely say that these names are timeless - but I’d say that they’re just passe. I’m certainly not suggesting that they start adopting the names of our local flora and fauna instead, but please spare us the location-envy.
It’s time that these developers got over their New York and London obsession and started to celebrate someplace else, starting with right here. We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.