For our second RiotACT Face Off, we invited The Yarralumla Residents Association and John Miller (Executive Director of the Master Builders, ACT) to answer the following question:
Is the proposed development of the area surrounding the Yarralumla Brickworks simply inevitable change in progress, aligned with society needs, or does it represent the end of a community for local residents?
Executive Director, Master Builders ACT
The proposed new development at Yarralumla including the Canberra Brickworks makes absolute sense. It makes sense in dealing with the imperative to take immediate steps to minimize the environmental footprint of the city. It also makes sense lest we wish to be judged harshly by future generations for selfish inaction on urban intensification.
The difficulty for local residents and the broader community will be about how Yarralumla happens rather than if it happens. The current negative reaction by some to the proposals is to be expected. The default position of most people when confronted with something new is to oppose it. Former Assembly member and ACT Government minister, John Hargreaves, summed that sentiment up nicely in this column recently when alluding to the National Arboretum.
Indicative concept drawings have the more intensive development interfacing with the major transport corridors but this will not appease some. The mixture of dwelling type seems to make sense in catering for market segments desperately in need of quality living options in good locations. For those already living in Yarralumla this proposed project vastly increases the opportunity for a future lifestyle change without having to leave the area.
The juxtaposition of the new development against the backdrop of the older suburb is something that can work with careful design elements. Again, it is the issue of change and dealing with the great unknown that will raise the hackles of suspicious opponents. There is no question that increased commercial activity sitting alongside the development will have some impacts. Minimising those impacts will need to be a priority but it shouldn’t torpedo this project at the start.
The key linchpin to this entire precinct is the Canberra Brickworks. For many Canberrans, these remnants are a spiritual connection with a bygone era. Most Canberrans, however would have no idea exactly where they are or how to get there.
We finally have a driver to bring the Canberra Brickworks to life and make them more than something we think we might have heard of or know about. We can sympathetically create a physical connection with the Canberra Brickworks and make them a real part of the life of Canberrans. It’s time to unlock the mystery and really interface with our past. This happens the world over. Our response should therefore be to celebrate the history and heritage of the Canberra Brickworks and introduce them to contemporary society to respect and enjoy.
There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge before the machinery moves in to effect the transformation. The debate will be vigorous, necessary and, no doubt, occasionally nasty. The challenge will be to get that water to pass under the bridge quickly and get on with the responsible intensification of the city that just has to happen.
John Miller has been Executive Director of Master Builders ACT since June 2007. He was formerly Executive Director of the Canberra Business Council and a past member of both the ACT Skills Commission and the ACT Heritage Council. He is a board member of Oz Help Foundation, a not-for-profit, community-based mental health support organization. John has been a resident of Canberra for more than 35 years.
The Yarralumla Residents Association
Neither. Yarralumla residents, for the most part, are not opposed to Canberra’s development and are not opposed to inner city infill. At community meetings, several people have asked “Where are our beautifully and sustainably designed inner city spaces, cafes, community spaces, and childcare facilities”? The development proposed for the area surrounding the Brickworks will certainly not win any awards for urban renewal. What the proposal offers is a poor quality grid design of high-rise apartments that over-develops the site with unprecedented levels of density for Canberra, while failing to deliver local residents and the Canberra community the long-promised development of the Yarralumla Brickworks as a heritage site and with no provision for proper transport or infrastructure.
Residents are genuinely attached to the Yarralumla Brickworks as a physical part of Canberra’s history. Many of the elderly in our suburb have fond memories of this important piece of Canberra heritage, and newer residents are keen to help preserve this icon for future generations to enjoy. The Yarralumla Residents Association regrets the ACT Government’s decision to only ‘make safe’ the Yarralumla Brickworks — a form of managed decay.
We are keen to have meaningful consultation with government planners that includes a real vision for the future of our city. We endorse the ACT Government’s own commitment to “continue to support and facilitate the future of Canberra as a vibrant city, while also improving…heritage asset management, public art and events across the city…” (Chief Minister’s Department, 2004).
We support development – we want sustainable communities where workers can walk, bike or use public transport to access employment and where residents can walk to nearby shops and community facilities instead of having to rely on cars. Where new housing is sympathetic to surrounding parkland, designed around active recreation, and oriented to take advantage of passive solar heating to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.
The current concept for the proposed housing development between Adelaide Avenue and the Yarralumla Brickworks fails to deliver any of these social needs. This is not inevitable change – it is sloppy design with an eye to maximizing density and short-term profit. It erodes current resident’s community amenity, while denying future residents a genuinely visionary urban design.
So does it represent the end of a community for local residents?
Not if local attendance at community meetings and signatures on petitions are any guide. Yarralumla is a strong, diverse community. The same energy that brings hundreds of local residents to community events has galvanized them to demand a better development proposal. Hundreds have attended meetings organized by the Yarralumla Residents Association and the Inner South Canberra Community Council; residents of the streets most likely to suffer under the current proposal have organized their own street meetings and joint responses to the government’s proposal. More than 2000 people have already signed a petition asking the ACT government to go back to the drawing board on this one. We want a fully thought-out and costed proposal for community review. This is only the beginning of community action.
We are not anti-development and we welcome new residents to Yarralumla. We are fighting for the high quality inner city development, adequate traffic planning and investment in heritage that will make the Yarralumla Brickworks and surrounds a vibrant place for residents and the Canberra community.
Established in 1988, The YRA is an incorporated association formed to represent the views of residents of Yarralumla. Membership is voluntary and by subscription. It is available to residents located within Yarralumla.
The YRA has been active over many years in putting forward members’ interests to Government. One of our prime goals is to maintain and improve the quality of life for the Yarralumla community; and to keep the Yarralumla community informed about policy, environmental and social issues affecting or likely to affect Yarralumla. The YRA keeps all residents of Yarralumla informed of such matters whether they are members or not through hard copy newsletters and a noticeboard at the Yarralumla Shops.
(Main Image by John)