February 28, 2008 | Ronda Jambe

Canberra is becoming a Capital Mess

This week the ACT government revealed plans for a large car park close to the city centre, at the edge of Lake Burley Griffin. This is not likely to enhance Canberra’s appeal, either as a tourist destination or a place to live. This is just typical of the mis-guided policies of the Stanhope government. For a Labor bunch, they seem to be following very closely in the footsteps of previous ACT Liberal regimes.
Of course, you will need lots of parking if you have over-loaded Civic with offices and shops and failed to provide for public transport. (Tick that box) Other dysfunctional policy orientations that are turning Canberra into lego-land include:
Gradual abandonment of the principles that created Canberra as an early successful example of a ‘garden city’, a concept that was continued well into the 1970s through the work of Weston and other enlightened planners.
A retreat from local services, either schools or shops or petrol or libraries, in favour of ‘superschools’ and centralised amenities.
Gnawing away at any committment to meaningful or accountable public consultation. The LAPACs, or local area planning and advisory committees, are long gone. Underfunded community councils are left to do much unpaid work in liaisisng between government and citizens. Legal changes to planning legislation, for example, will limit the access of community groups and individuals to Administrative Appeals Tribunal processes.
Isn’t it ironic that Greens member Deb Fosky offered an example from Brazil of communities being offered the opportunity to prioritise how a modest amount (say $1 m for Canberrans) should be spent. At a recent meeting of a community council, a long list of items that had been submitted to the ACT gov for action had been mostly ignored.
Determined disposal of public assets, such as schools, ovals, open spaces. Developers have the government’s ear and its blessing, especially for mega projects such as the redevelopment of Capital Hill into yet another shopping precinct. They don’t ‘get it’ that a piazza is inherently small, discrete, and embodies low key human scale facilities. Would the occasional fountain surrounded by greenery be too much to ask?
These sins all get a tick in the box, because the Stanhope government looks, acts, smells, quacks and is otherwise indistinguishable from a Liberal duck. Gone are any holistic approaches to planning, such as retention of local community sensibility and cohesion. (Well, that might lead to democratic uprising and a demand for a greater say in decision making.)
On SBS’s Insight the other night, strong arguments were being made by planner Peter Newman and the Western Australian Ministor for Planning, among others, for integrated planning that takes into account demographic change, the coming of peak oil, and climate change. So WA has sensibly invested in a train line that is both faster and cheaper for commuters than car travel.
The ACT, on the other hand, is chasing the Los Angeles of the 1950s, with bigger and less functional freeways, huge and growing shopping centres and less available local services, such as libraries. A trip to Belconnen now involves convoluted road changes that remind me of computer games, which I also can’t figure out. The scars on the landscape make Canberra so much more boring than it used to be.
And the planned massive development of Molonglo will involve damming the river, damage to riparian environments, and is being done without adequate planning for either bicycles, public transport, or local services. My area of Weston Creek is doomed to become more intense with traffic and pollution. Ah, but a water feature will push up the prices for the blocks of land, and there are sure to be lots of takers.
Such a new cluster of suburbs, if needed at all, should surely be done as an eco-village, and adhere to the highest 7 star resource standards. Yet rumour has it that Stanhope is going to knock back the solar feed in tarriff, which is due to be tabled shortly. This could put Canberra on a par with Germany and even South Australia, two jurisdictions that have seen fit to encourage solar electricity.
There are clear equity concerns with this, as the rich should not be subsidised by those who can’t afford to put panels on their rooves. But getting everybody in on the act, by using some of the ACT (or federal) surplus to reduce the payback time, would make better sense. All the warnings are that climate change is now urgent, so it is time to find equitable policy setting that take everyone forward, not just the eco-elite.
Just one example of bad planning and project management: the excellent bicycle path into Civic from Weston Creek, a distance of at least 12 km, goes over a wooden bridge near Scrivener Dam. This bridge is now being rebuilt, fair enough. I have rattled over it many times and it looked rather splintery. However, they are going to take 3 months to do this. Taking this bridge out effectively removes all possibility of bicycle commuting into Civic from my part of the city. Any alternative routes involve either going way out of the way or over the parkway where you place your life at risk.
Surely a small wooden bridge could be rebuilt in a matter of weeks, rather than months?
Returing to the issue of the car park at the lake’s edge: at least it will deter people from finding Canberra a lovely place to move to, despite the many millions the Stanhope mob has spent on that campaign. Without its relaxed natural beauty, Canberra is just another city. No wonder one sees graffiti saying ‘John Hopeless’.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 5:05 am | Comments (2) |


  1. The one thing that strikes me about Canberra is that it is a city designed for the motor car. Without knowing for sure, I suspect that it has the lowest residential density of any Australian city, capital or otherwise, and is least suited to efficient public transport.
    To drive in Canberra is like being in Alice’s Looking Glass country. You are always travelling in the opposite direction to the one you think you should be going in as you zip around massive roundabouts with nothing in the centre. A small nuclear device dropped on Parliament House out of sitting hours would hardly do any damage as the legislature sits in the middle of the largest roundabout of all.
    Carparks would appear to be a logical consequence of designing the national capital around the automobile.

    Comment by Graham Young — March 1, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

  2. Yes, it is a logical consequence of not planning for the future. Today’s papers report that California, where people practically live in their cars, has cut back on oil use.
    The new Gungahlin drive extension for Canberra not only perpetuates car use, it makes it worse by introducing lots of needless and confusing lights at intersections where everyone seems to sit idling for long minutes.

    Comment by ronda jambe — March 1, 2008 @ 5:05 pm

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