Belconnen lake-front eateries

By 29 December, 2013 17

I’m wondering what other RiotACT-ers feel about the atmosphere and functionality/appeal of the waterfront eateries strip along Emu Bank in Belconnen. Went there yesterday late afternoon and, granted, I was hoping for a pleasant drink and perhaps a quick bite at the Lighthouse which disappointingly turned out to be closed.

But in wandering about considering the alternatives, I was struck by a familiar sense that the area just doesn’t work somehow. Could be aesthetic, or something about the use of space, design etc.

I’m referring here to the area roughly between the Arts Centre and the Skateboard Park; there is a recently rebuilt footbridge and some rehabilitation of a small section of the lake nearby.

With a view over Lake Ginninderra towards John Knight Memorial Park, the area should be a humming, vibrant little gem for residents in Belconnen, especially in summer. Unlike Lake Burley Griffin, here is a waterside precinct in Canberra with a commercial presence.

But  somehow, to my mind, it just doesn’t work. The eateries that are there don’t seem to be using the space very effectively — some  have a hedge blocking the view, others some scrappy tables or none at all. The drive-throughs are all car-park of course, which doesn’t help. A number of adjacent properties are for lease, or feature businesses with no connection to the space. It all just seems poorly considered and pretty ordinary in this age of sidewalk buzz and cafe culture.

I’m very interested in others’ views. Do you also find the strip disappointingly lack-lustre, or is it just me?  What’s wrong with it, and what would make the area really come alive as a place people actively looked to visit?

 

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17 Responses to Belconnen lake-front eateries
#1
in_the_taratory12:39 pm, 29 Dec 13

Great question. I’d argue that you’re there at a particularly quiet time. It can be very busy and popular all year round but especially Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings and weekend mornings. But it’s an important issue overall: are we using the space effectively?

I’m the Deputy Chair of the Belconnen Community Council. There is a Belconnen Town Centre Master Plan from 2001. As you would expect, it is outdated. You can read more here
http://belcouncil.org.au/node/3731

It is being updated this coming year. The first public meeting on it will be 7.30pm 18 Feb at the Belco Library on Chandler Street. Would love to hear from you and other rioters about it (either beforehand like through RA or at the meeting). We are also on Facebook and Twitter as well as the website.

#2
arescarti4212:45 pm, 29 Dec 13

It doesn’t work as a lakeside restaurant precinct in its current form.

If you think about some of the successful waterside districts in other cities (e.g. Southbank in Brisbane, Darling Harbour in Sydney, etc.) they tend to have a wide esplanades with the shops and restaurants at the same level, and with chairs and tables extending out on to the esplanade.

The waterfront at Emu Bank is essentially a narrow bike path, with the shops and restaurants set back at a higher grade, creating a barrier between the restaurants and the lake front. The fast food restaurants and car parks which don’t interact with the waterfront at all further kill the area.

I seem to recall that it isn’t a particularly nice place to be at night either, the bike bath isn’t well lit, there’s no one around, and it feels unsafe.

To really make the most of the location, all those problems would have to be addressed.

As for being the only waterside precinct in Canbera with a commercial presence, the Kingston foreshore is rapidly changing that, as could the City to the Lake plan if the ACT Govt ever goes ahead with it.

#3
Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd1:31 pm, 29 Dec 13

arescarti42 said :

It doesn’t work as a lakeside restaurant precinct in its current form.

If you think about some of the successful waterside districts in other cities (e.g. Southbank in Brisbane, Darling Harbour in Sydney, etc.) they tend to have a wide esplanades with the shops and restaurants at the same level, and with chairs and tables extending out on to the esplanade.

The waterfront at Emu Bank is essentially a narrow bike path, with the shops and restaurants set back at a higher grade, creating a barrier between the restaurants and the lake front. The fast food restaurants and car parks which don’t interact with the waterfront at all further kill the area.

I seem to recall that it isn’t a particularly nice place to be at night either, the bike bath isn’t well lit, there’s no one around, and it feels unsafe.

To really make the most of the location, all those problems would have to be addressed.

As for being the only waterside precinct in Canbera with a commercial presence, the Kingston foreshore is rapidly changing that, as could the City to the Lake plan if the ACT Govt ever goes ahead with it.

100% this.
So much potential with a little public works money spent on pretty much just concrete and landscaping.

Also, gross smelly lake needs fixing.

#4
c_c™4:05 pm, 29 Dec 13

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

arescarti42 said :

It doesn’t work as a lakeside restaurant precinct in its current form.

If you think about some of the successful waterside districts in other cities (e.g. Southbank in Brisbane, Darling Harbour in Sydney, etc.) they tend to have a wide esplanades with the shops and restaurants at the same level, and with chairs and tables extending out on to the esplanade.

The waterfront at Emu Bank is essentially a narrow bike path, with the shops and restaurants set back at a higher grade, creating a barrier between the restaurants and the lake front. The fast food restaurants and car parks which don’t interact with the waterfront at all further kill the area.

I seem to recall that it isn’t a particularly nice place to be at night either, the bike bath isn’t well lit, there’s no one around, and it feels unsafe.

To really make the most of the location, all those problems would have to be addressed.

As for being the only waterside precinct in Canbera with a commercial presence, the Kingston foreshore is rapidly changing that, as could the City to the Lake plan if the ACT Govt ever goes ahead with it.

100% this.
So much potential with a little public works money spent on pretty much just concrete and landscaping.

Also, gross smelly lake needs fixing.

It’s interesting, the lake was originally conceived as a cut price public space solution for Belco, versus a large expanse of manicured parkland. Early on, there was meant to be greater engagement with the business district, with the foreshore having multi storing buildings on the interface with it, perhaps akin to the new SouthQuay development in Tuggeranong and the Kingston Foreshore. For a considerable time it was also intended that a hospital be sited on the lake foreshore, at one point envisaged for the present site of the College, that was to also be a medical campus for the ANU.

It seems a few factors intervened to sanitise the lake. The Commonwealth’s shopping mall was meant to be on the lake foreshore where the fast food outlets now are extending back to the original bus interchange. It got moved, and amusingly for a long time afterwards was still described as being on the foreshore despite the obvious setback the exists to this day. The original site was intended for the mall to form part of a pedestrian spine to the town centre, linking the lake to the office developments including the Cameron Offices and bus interchange (a concept they did end up employing in Tuggeranong later but which was watered down and largely failed) The designer of the Cameron Offices warned that the decision to move the mall to a site that instead engaged with an arterial road rather than a pedestrian link would cause problems and I’d say with the benefit of hindsight he was correct.

Huge opposition existed to residential development of the Western shores and the peninsular of the lake. There were also concerns about a lack of control over lake water levels, with predictions of frequent flooding. (Similar concerns are why there were three levels of restriction on development traditionally around Lake Burley Griffin). And because the lake is very shallow, there were concerns about how to maintain water quality if development got to close to the waters.

And the NCDC was generally incompetent, to such an extent that by the end of the 70s they were hiring international experts to figure out ways to fix the problems they’d created with the Belco CBD, including what to do with the original site of the shopping mall (which is the area in part the OP is referring to).

So basically once the main offices blocks were built, and the mall moved to a new site and built, and the roads installed, and the plans for a hospital apparently cancelled at some point, that area where the OP is referring to seems to have become an after thought robbed of it’s place within a grand plan for the CBD.

#5
sien4:13 pm, 29 Dec 13

It’s a really good question. Anyone who goes past the area must wonder the same thing.

#6
shauno9:08 pm, 29 Dec 13

Its great place to build some really nice eateries there like a Manuka or Kingston style place and it would work it seems like such a waste of a water front area.

#7
shauno9:18 pm, 29 Dec 13

Its got heaps of potential but its correct the layout seems to block the waterfront. We could turn the place into a sort of Singapore Boat quay Clarke quay type area and extend it all the way around to the Florey side and have a few water taxi type boats going up and down the water front. No reason why we cant do that in Belconnen.

#8
JC9:55 pm, 29 Dec 13

The area doesn’t work because it was never planned to be what people want it to be today. What you see today is a mix and match of different developments done over the space of 20+ years. The waterfront area of course is also geographically separated from the rest of Belconnen by the hill that Chandler Street runs up and over.

The better place for this kind of development would have been further around near the water police, though the mall then becomes a bit of an obstacle. It would have also been a better place for the town centre park too, all integrated and connected. But would would have though 35 years ago when Belconnen town centre was being planned how people would want to use it in 2013/14?

If you could bulldoze the lot and start again you might have a fighting chance of doing something with it. In fact the same can be said of Canberra. Much of the cities ‘problems’ and perceived problems stem from the way it was planned and any effort made to turn it into something that it isn’t just doesn’t work and doesn’t seem natural. Sadly not much can be done because bulldozing and starting again from scratch isn’t viable.

#9
Ryoma8:14 pm, 30 Dec 13

Hi Filipio, I agree with you that Belconnen has great potential.

As mentioned by various posters, it just looks and feels higgledy-piggledy. And it is fair (up to a point) to suggest that what people want from Town Centres (or indeed suburbs/public spaces generally) is quite different in 2013 than what was wanted back in the 1970′s. Having said that, good design should actually allow for such change to happen organically.

In my own opinion, I do not like visiting Belconnen for a number of reasons:

1) Basically, it seems to be built to service cars, not people. What public space there is, is generally disjointed and sliced by roads. There is nowhere I know of in the Belconnen Town Centre area big enough for groups of people to fly a kite, kick a ball, do tai chi, and many other unorganised activities.

2) The Westfield vampire sits in the place that should actually be Belconnen’s heart. However, rather than having a mix of housing, small retailers, hospitality, and community services all located within walking distance, these things are scattered in various places that require walking around. For many of us, getting that exercise is a good thing, but for the elderly, disabled, and anyone with young kids, it must be a real hassle.

3) In regards to the Emu Bank area, it just doesn’t appeal to me at all. There’s no buzz to the place at all; either you’re eating within one of the restaurants, in which case there is no connection to the places either side of it; drinking/eating/socialising at the Lighthouse (which has a nice deck but still has no link to the area or the other places around it), you’re in the carpark, or you are on the skinny bike path area on the lake side of these areas.

I grant that Canberra in general does public space quite poorly, but a good contrast would be with Kingston (socioeconomics aside). Kingston seems to be a focal point for many people to go out to, and while it’s not huge, Green Square does at least provide something nicer to look at than Emu Bank’s carpark. Green Square (and in fact the whole square block of Kingston) also subtly shows people that there is “action”: people are walking past, you can see other people enjoying themselves in the next cafe/pub/store 2 or 3 doors down. In short, to me, the Kingston area feels organic, while Emu Bank seems either forced or just desolate.

4) I do not feel entirely safe around the bus interchange, especially at night. I worked in Belconnen for a while, and once witnessed 6 teenagers assault one other teenager for not handing over a cigarette, or some similarly stupid thing. It was brutal. The police turned up quickly, but there were not enough people around to stand up to this group.

5) While I can understand the rationale behind having high rise buildings in Belconnen, and I’m sure living in said apartments might be very nice, simply adding more people to the area is not going to fix the issues. If anything, it will make traffic congestion worse.

6) Finally, (and this applies to Canberra generally), much of Belconnen’s architecture is ugly. I appreciate that places like the Cameron offices are getting on in age, but (especially if they stand empty for a long time) I think that the ACT Goverment should either bulldoze these places themselves, or compel/legislate property owners to do so if they have not improved such properties within (say) 5 years.

An exception to this ugly trend, in terms of Belconnen’s buildings, is the Mirimar complex (http://www.allhomes.com.au/ah/act/sale-residential/25a-17-chandler-street-belconnen-canberra/1316881542311). It’s rounded, and some thought and effort has gone into it. I actually like this building (in terms of its contribution to the streetscape) far more than the shiny new apartments.

As for the new architecture, much of it suffers from the same issue as the Westfield box – it could be anywhere in the world, and because it looks like so generic, it holds no appeal. There is very little in Belconnen’s Town Centre that has any connection to the area’s history, or its setting (it could be nice to be able to watch the sun set over the hills, for example). If it’s not a destination, if there is no reason for other Canberrans to visit the area, then why would they bother? At present, there is no “there” there.

And yet, it’s not that hard for developers/business owners to create more attractive public spaces; this place in St. Kilda, Melbourne being a fine example: http://stkildapelican.com/gallery/?nggpage=3
Maybe part of the issue is that people need to get motivated about this – to engage with the Belconnen Community Council and to make submissions, etc, when developments are put forward.
Another thing is to vote with dollars – support those businesses who are trying to actually create a positive change.

One idea which has just occurred to me is up the hill in the area bounded by Lathlain, Nettlefold, Josephson and Luxton Streets. This area consists of smaller blocks and businesses. Could it be possible to change the zoning to make it into something similar to Melbourne’s laneways? To do this, could the ACT Government resume the land over time, and set out a retail plan?

One thing is for sure. Doing nothing is not an option, and the people of Belconnen deserve better.

#10
caf8:39 pm, 30 Dec 13

Ryoma said :

1) Basically, it seems to be built to service cars, not people. What public space there is, is generally disjointed and sliced by roads. There is nowhere I know of in the Belconnen Town Centre area big enough for groups of people to fly a kite, kick a ball, do tai chi, and many other unorganised activities.

There’s Margaret Timpson Park.

One of the problems is that the mall is so inward-facing. I think it would be a major improvement if the shops along the Benjamin Way frontage of the mall were opened up to the outside – that should be a strip of cafes or similar.

#11
Filipio1:04 am, 02 Jan 14

Thanks for the responses folks, I was interested to read your views.

I note I overlooked a thread on the same topic earlier in 2013: http://the-riotact.com/the-view-from-emu-bank/99865 which also has some useful responses.

Between that discussion and this one, it would seem all the key issues are raised.

Perhaps the very fact that the unrealised potential of the Emu Bank eateries strip has come up a couple of times in several months suggests some slowly-building momentum for change? Here’s hoping.

#12
voytek38:54 am, 02 Jan 14

They’re called “skate parks”.

This is Canberra. What do you expect? Belconnen in particular is a gigantic hole and always has been – especially in that area you are talking about. I’m not sure how anybody could think a stagnant man made lake could in anyway compliment a waterside yuppie spot. Why don’t you move to a real city?

#13
watto238:55 am, 02 Jan 14

caf said :

One of the problems is that the mall is so inward-facing. I think it would be a major improvement if the shops along the Benjamin Way frontage of the mall were opened up to the outside – that should be a strip of cafes or similar.

Tuggeranong has tried to do this…. even though I live near there i’d rather drive somewhere nicer for dinner, although as a weekend coffee spot it seems to thrive. I think for Tuggeranong they need to make the street a full pedestrian mall. It won’t affect traffic, most of it is driving along the street in the hop of getting a on street car park rather than walk 50m.

#14
neanderthalsis9:13 am, 02 Jan 14

Ryoma said :

Hi Filipio, I agree with you that Belconnen has great potential.

As mentioned by various posters, it just looks and feels higgledy-piggledy. And it is fair (up to a point) to suggest that what people want from Town Centres (or indeed suburbs/public spaces generally) is quite different in 2013 than what was wanted back in the 1970′s. Having said that, good design should actually allow for such change to happen organically.

In my own opinion, I do not like visiting Belconnen for a number of reasons:

1) Basically, it seems to be built to service cars, not people. What public space there is, is generally disjointed and sliced by roads. There is nowhere I know of in the Belconnen Town Centre area big enough for groups of people to fly a kite, kick a ball, do tai chi, and many other unorganised activities.

There is plenty of open space around the lake. Large tracts of grass near John Knight Memorial park, Diddams Close and all along the western shore. There are often multiple boot camp groups polluting the air with their enthusiastic jiggling as I do my lakeside shuffle of a morning and plenty of cricket matches, fooseball, large picnics and kiddies chasing the ducks on the weekends.

I do agree that the commercial space needs an urgent revamp, the few restaurants and bars that take advantage of the views do well, HaHa bar and further along at the Thai place and Bella Vista you get a great outlook over the lake, but HJs and Red Rooster festering in the middle is a blight on the landscape. The new wetlands (officially opened but still fenced off and “under construction”) removed the cess poll that used to be outside the college and will hopefully filter out much of the crap that used to wash into the lake.

The Buildings around the Lighthouse need a total revamp (or a decent fire), Princes Palace and the eateries at that end of the strip need to open up the northern aspects to look out over the lake instead of a street. Plenty of potential to turn it into a vibrant entertainment hub with a young population in high density housing as well as plenty of mixed commercial development nearby.

#15
Skidd Marx10:03 am, 02 Jan 14

The fact that this precinct is indeed under-utlised is underlined by the fact that you have the nicest real estate in Belconnen currently occupied by establishments as suave as Hungry Jacks & Red Rooster.

#16
JC10:08 am, 02 Jan 14

watto23 said :

Tuggeranong has tried to do this…. even though I live near there i’d rather drive somewhere nicer for dinner, although as a weekend coffee spot it seems to thrive. I think for Tuggeranong they need to make the street a full pedestrian mall. It won’t affect traffic, most of it is driving along the street in the hop of getting a on street car park rather than walk 50m.

So has Belconnen, though on the Lathlain Street side, fronting onto the rotting corpse of what was once the police station and the soon to be redundant fire and ambulance stations.

#17
JC10:21 am, 02 Jan 14

Ryoma said :

Hi Filipio, I agree with you that Belconnen has great potential.

As mentioned by various posters, it just looks and feels higgledy-piggledy. And it is fair (up to a point) to suggest that what people want from Town Centres (or indeed suburbs/public spaces generally) is quite different in 2013 than what was wanted back in the 1970′s. Having said that, good design should actually allow for such change to happen organically.

In my own opinion, I do not like visiting Belconnen for a number of reasons:

My first belly laugh of the year. Your reckon good design allows things to grow organically? Yeah right. As much as I hate the term organic, in this context means to grow naturally. Would have thought if you planned, the growth would be as per the plan which is what has happened in Belconnen. The core problem for Belconnen is the plan was set by the attitudes at the time the place was designed, which was car oriented.

So IMO planned and organic are really mutually exclusive concepts.

On second thoughts maybe I am wrong. Take Gungahlin town centre for example. Here is a place that was planned and has grown organically. The whole place is a disjointed mess of separate developments, a main road leading into a high he pedestrian area and no lake or in the case of Tuggeranong a storm water settlement pond. Though Gungahlin does have this a KM or so away from the town centre.

Does it have a town centre park? I think so if you want to call it a a park built in the median between two roads.

Ryoma said :

1) Basically, it seems to be built to service cars, not people. What public space there is, is generally disjointed and sliced by roads. There is nowhere I know of in the Belconnen Town Centre area big enough for groups of people to fly a kite, kick a ball, do tai chi, and many other unorganised activities.

Exactly as planned using the planning brain farts of the 70′s. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

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