Andrew Barr’s Vision

johnboy 23 November 2010 49

The ACT’s Minister for Planning, Andrew Barr, gave a headland speech last night at the University of Canberra for the annual Don Aitkin lecture.

The text is now online.

The bit that’s excited attention is this one:

When it comes to planning our city, there are many reasons for opposing change, and some of them are valid.

But the more spurious arguments tend to come from those who want to preserve Canberra as a museum to their own childhood.

They will for example fondly remember a library that they frequented when they were at school, and passionately fight for its preservation, even though they never use it and never will.

They will fight for the preservation of a tree, not because of its inherent value, but simply because they climbed it when they were young.

So let’s take some time to ask the question – do we really want nothing to change?

Do we really want to preserve Canberra as a museum to our childhood?

And even if we do, then which Canberra?

The Canberra of prohibition?

The Canberra of white, middle class, male, conservative monoculture?

The Canberra where every shop shut its doors at midday on Saturday?

The Canberra where women could only be associate members of clubs and were barred from the snooker room (unless they were serving drinks of course)?

The Canberra of two television stations, both black & white?

Sure, it wasn’t all bad – far from it.

How often have you heard the expression “Canberra, it’s a great place to bring up children”?

So it was; so it still is.

But there has to be more to a city than that.

And like it or not, this city is changing.

Even if we wanted to stop it, we can’t.

There might be no tide in Lake Burley Griffin, but we can’t do a King Canute.

We can try to resist it, or we can embrace change to make Canberra what we want to be.

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49 Responses to Andrew Barr’s Vision
Felix Felix 11:56 am 01 Dec 10

As a member of the Dickaon Residents Group, I’ve found it fun to have my mind read by WillowJim and Genkie – don’t give up the day job guys, as your mentalist act isn’t quite up to scratch yet!
All we’ve ever said all along was that we feared badly planned development, not development per se. We accept that intelligent urban infill or densification will be part of achieving a sustainable future and affordable housing in Canberra. But we note the advice of experts like Professor Brendan Glesson from the Griffith University Urban Research Program: “In short, we now know enough about densification to dispense with the assumption that it inevitably – not to say mechanically – produces benefits. In some contexts it will, in others not; in some (i.e., planned) forms it will; in others (i.e., market driven) it won’t.”
Many of you have already observed that the badly-built, over-scaled six-packs of one beddies are neither affordable nor sustainable. All we’ve asked Young Mister Barr for was proper plans for the whole of Dickson that would ensure that the embedded energy in the existing modest houses on small blocks not be trashed merely to build bad-but-profitable unit blocks that we’ll all end up regretting – particularly when the weather gets worse and the petrol gets scarce!
For this, we got “verballed” by Young Mister Barr, on Facebook and in several public speeches, leading up to the rather flabby and shabby Aitken lecture.
You’re dead right to be concerned for Canberra’s environmental future and the need for decent, affordable housing, but what Barr is backing will do nothing but damage that future.

genki genki 2:29 pm 27 Nov 10

Reading the responses here goes to show why Canberra has the reputation it does as a lifeless suburban backwater. Having recently moved back to Canberra after over 5 years away I can say that the densification and redevelopment in and around Civic has given the place a lot more life and character. Why oh why would people want the ACT population to spread outwards? Places like Tuggeranong are just plain bad – and a lot of these people against densification in inner areas are likely token “green”, disregarding the effects urban sprawl has on the environment – their positions likely have a lot more to do with selfishness. No wonder with this attitude that the best and brightest leave Canberra when they get the opporunity and move to Sydney and Melbourne where, surprise surprise, they are far happier to live in smaller units surrounded by vibrant and active communities and events.

historyofmodernity historyofmodernity 2:47 am 26 Nov 10

Fedupwithbogans: “What is wrong with providing decent public transport so that we can enjoy the benefits living out in the suburbs anyhow?”

The cost is what is wrong. You simply cannot provide decent public transport to low density suburbs. Unless of course we tax everyone so highly that the gov can afford to put in such wastefull services.

Don’t get me wrong you have every right to be self interested. But please do not assume your self interest is the same as everybody else. (that is just selfish).

While I am on the bandwagon. Pigdog above indicated that his straw poll showed people wanted to live in the sticks. Maybe you are correct, or maybe we need to improve innercity living spaces to attract more families to the centre rather than building another suburb of crap, sorry I meant crace.

FedUpWithBogans FedUpWithBogans 10:24 pm 24 Nov 10

I don’t understand why everyone seems to consider the Dickson residents to be selfish because they do not want a 4 storey apartment block next door. As anyone who has tried to cross Cowper Street in the mornings or afternoons already knows, this will not just effect the people living right next door to these large apartment blocks, it will effect everyone.
As for these blocks providing affordable housing for students – I would really love to know how many students can afford to rent these apartments, as opposed to sharing an old 3 br govie.
What is wrong with providing decent public transport so that we can enjoy the benefits living out in the suburbs anyhow?
Barr is full of it.

WillowJim WillowJim 2:58 pm 24 Nov 10

sepi said :

Why does poor old Dickson get lumped in with the inner circle of the city. Why not include O’connor, Ainslie, Lyneham etc?

Because for many years, almost two decades in fact, Dickson has been a de facto mini-town centre, albeit without infrastructure to match.

It should be developed as a significant transport hub. It would make sense for the housing around it be more dense, as with the other centres.

housebound housebound 1:42 pm 24 Nov 10

I am amazed you are all amazed. Barr developed these tactics and applied them ruthlessly to closing schools, and now the boomers are the next target.

It’s all the same arguments, just with slightly different targets. Instead of pushing children aside to make way for redevelopment of something they value highly, it’s now their grandparents in his gunsights. Just as in 2006, Barr doesn’t engage with the intellectual debate, instead he repeats his stock phrases and demonises (sometimes defames) anyone opposed.

sepi sepi 1:07 pm 24 Nov 10

The sad thing is this will probably work towards getting him re-elected.

Name recognition is huge in Canberra. Simon Corbell got back in after taking extensive time off with depression, and that dimwit right wing footballer got in.

bitzermaloney bitzermaloney 12:20 pm 24 Nov 10

Thumper said :

“The Canberra of two television stations, both black & white?”

Um, that was about 1973 Andrew. Relevance to today? Nil. Please try to keep up.

He wouldn’t know as he was only born in 73 and moved to Canberra after colour was turned on in 77. His folks mightn’t have been able to afford a colour tv back then, but that’s not our problem.

georgesgenitals georgesgenitals 11:12 am 24 Nov 10

So lots of people would like to live in a nice house on a nice block of land a short distance from the centre of the city? That’s why they cost what they do…

triffid triffid 10:55 am 24 Nov 10

Either way he loses.

“Oh look . . . he’s saying the things I want to hear. Hang on. Is that a dog whistle I hear? Does he mean any of that? You mean he’s only saying that to be cool?! Eeewww” (no vote)


“Hooray! We’re gunna have affordable housing in the cool, chic places where we wanna live! Wazzat? A one bedroom unit is still gonna cost me $76.4 million?! And the rest of the infrastructure is on the ‘one day’ plan? What the . . .?” (no vote).

I can remember someone calling me once to ask if an advising they were working on (this wasn’t in the ACT folks) ought to tell a Minister a reality, or what he and the punters wanted to hear. My suggestion was to go with reality. My reasoning was that, by telling the truth (no matter how unpalatable) and coming up with an amelioration strategy, it would make him seem statesmanlike, a person of action and integrity, and it would be that view that would ultimately earn him the respect and the increased vote of the electorate. Do the other, and have people discover the reality down the track, and he’d look like an ineffectual tosser in the fullness of time. The harder road wound up being chosen and the reality was dealt with. Short term hit dished out by the electorate’s mind, but now he’s a bloody hero.

Which one is Minister Barr gonna choose? (‘cos last time I checked, election results ain’t exactly determined by Gen Y alone and I wouldn’t think this to be a huge issue on their collective radar).

sepi sepi 10:02 am 24 Nov 10

it isn’t a path to affordable inner north living for gen y, it is a path to votes from gen y who think someone is on their side – that’s the jack w interpretation.

triffid triffid 9:54 am 24 Nov 10

“Jack Waterford sees the agenda as getting Gen X and Y to vote for Andrew Barr, as their housing affordability champion.”

Crikey . . . is Custer comma General G C fullstop doing strategy for Labor now?

I think you’re right about the situation for Xs, sepi. But, if what JW has said about it is true, then the Minister needs better advice. What he proposes is not a path to affordable housing for Gen X. Besides, If I wanted my kiddie to grow up in apartment-type living, we may as well move to New York (where we couldn’t afford it either).

It’s stupefying no matter the angle you view it from.

sepi sepi 9:36 am 24 Nov 10

Jack Waterford sees the agenda as getting GEn X and Y to vote for Andrew Barr, as their housing affordability champion.

I think he might get some Gen Ys with this, but most Gen Xs are firmly in the Mortgage/2.4 kids/ cat in the backyard territory. I suppose he is Gen X so he had to go for that age group.

triffid triffid 9:16 am 24 Nov 10

“Density done right produces an outcome hundreds of times better than suburban sprawl as we currently do it.” And “What would you rather see, better parks, schools and public transport in existing areas or 4 lanes of new freeway off to some new suburban dormitory?”

Yes, arescarti, density done right does yield results. But, what I’d rather see (if I was honest and since the Minister evoked Griffin) are four lanes of new freeway off to a new suburban civic centre, with better schools, better parks, better shops and better public transport supporting it. I mean . . . that’s not rocket science, that’s Belgium (or Holland, or France, or Germany). It’s also Griffin’s picture of Belco, Woden, Tuggers, Gunkers. Minister Barr distorts the Griffin legacy to suit a different picture and purpose, which is most regrettable (like I said, the man ain’t no qualified town planner).

And to be fair, silentforce, that’s a bit of a low blow. I understand where it comes from, but . . . you know. Let me chance a view here. I can imagine Andrew the younger being raised in a typical Canberra household (public service parents yada yada). Where it goes off the rails (and this isn’t specific to the Minister, but rather some / most / all political party operatives) is when the political activism starts at uni. What you end up with is quality knowledge untempered by remote or poor or disconnected experience (and by experience I mean first hand experience). Quality Knowledge without quality experience is of significantly lesser value than even rudimentary knowledge gained from poor experience. Our political ‘leaders’ have — since somewhat formative times in more recent eras — developed their world view in a quasi vacuum and with tainted and coloured inputs. They have an incomplete picture of the world. It’s as if it is a certain hue. It’s also the party way.

I don’t imagine the Minister to be selfish, but I recognise the language and the imagery as that of the belligerent Labor operative (and that’s first hand experience speaking). It’s almost purile. Certainly it’s snide. It’s a cheap swipe at those even remotely opposed that makes no effort at building consensus. Its operation actually reinforces cognitive dissonance. And every enunciation thereafter is a veiled escalation. Anyone with reasonable discourse analysis skills (probably students of Foucault) would see right through the words spoken by the Minister and into the true agenda. Bloody sure I have.

sepi sepi 9:06 am 24 Nov 10

if they want us all in units then they really need to provide fantastic community spaces.

a library on the kingston foreshore would have been fantastic.

hey – and at dickson we could have mini-golf, a fun fair and a planetarium….just like weused to have til they got re-zoned for units…..

PigDog PigDog 8:47 am 24 Nov 10

Well, I read it. He needs a better speech writer.

I find these continual claims that people want to live in flats and townhouses strange. A straw poll of my friends – mostly inner north Gen Y latte drinkers – seems to suggest that they want a quarter acre block close to the city, but due to the seven figure price tag, will move to the outer suburbs, rather than stay in a shitty one-beddy. I would love to see the Government’s research that backs up their claims that people will actually stay in ‘apartments and townhouses’.

I was trying to figure out if Mr Barr practices what he preaches and lives in a flat or townhouse, but according to the statement of registrable interests (, Mr Barr does not own any real estate (I didn’t bother looking at how often this needs to be updated, but he claims to be a first home owner…).

And for those who don’t have the time or inclination to read it, here is Mr Barr’s vision for Canberra in 2030:

Canberra as a city of ideas, a city of reform.
Australia’s most liveable and vibrant modern city.
A city where every person has a home.
And where every household – no matter what its make-up – is valued, respected and included.
A city with a diversified economy built on unlimited growth of intellectual capital.
A city which leads the world in sustainable design and planning.
And a city where the apartment or townhouse is just as accepted as the quarter acre block.

Silentforce Silentforce 12:00 am 24 Nov 10

Hey Andrew

Was there a Mr and Mrs Barr? Or were you conceived in a vacuum inside a test tube that happened to be located in Canberra as part of some experiment?

If you had ‘parents’ what plans did they have for their offspring? What sort of environment did they tell you they hoped you would grow into? Did they intentionally raise you to be selfish and infect the rest of the community by stealth or as a ‘sleeper’ for Labor?

CraigT CraigT 11:55 pm 23 Nov 10

The deal with the Griffith Library was that it was going to be closed, and to compensate, a new one would be included in the Kingston foreshore development.

Well, they closed the Library, and then realised they’d make more money by leaving the new library out of the Kingston foreshore.

But who cares? Libraries are for old people and people with children, so why would Barr care?

Barr’s speech is a logically-fallacious, low-brow, anti-intellectual insult to our intelligence, just like everything else the morons in ACT politics produce.

“There might be no tide in Lake Burley Griffin, but we can’t do a King Canute. ”
Huh? Has this idiot made it all the way through three levels of formal education without ever being taught who was King Cnut?
No surprise he’s pitching this arrant nonsense at Canberra’ premier non-University…

PantsMan PantsMan 11:37 pm 23 Nov 10

sepi said :

Why does poor old Dickson get lumped in with the inner circle of the city. Why not include O’connor, Ainslie, Lyneham etc?

Or is it because Dickson is mostly ex-govvie houses, on medium sized blocks, wned by average people. RE-developing O’Connor might be a bit harder to push through. Poor old dickson doesn’t have those streets full of really expensive mansionss owned by influential people who might lobby more effectively against poorly planned development.

Like to see this sent in to free up a bit of space for affordable housing in red Hill, Barton, O’Connor…

Mr Lubberlubber Mr Lubberlubber 9:41 pm 23 Nov 10

I-filed said :


A long-term approach would recognise that Canberra should keep its unique “garden city” centre and keep development to a little further out – other than perhaps Aranda with its special character. No, this is not just nimbyism. Think of say Paris – the centre of Paris is magical because it’s carefully preserved. You can maintain an illusion that Paris ends at those old city walls, and ignore the high-rise housing if you wish. Ditto old towns in Mexico – ns many other places. And who would call Paris staid and frozen in time?

That’s an interesting call on Paris that I agree with entirely. The centre of Paris is very dense but makes up for it by having beautiful, high quality open spaces and jardins that everyone uses. Couple this with the second most used public transport systems in the world (after the Moscow subway for the trivia buffs), and it is extremely livable and a great place to raise kids as well as be single or childless (gay or not).

I assume that you do not consider that Paris has high rise but that the heights and densities that they have in Paris are quite acceptable. I would suggest that if we had half the heights and densities that Paris has in a place like Dickson (RZ2 and RZ3 anyone?), it will still be far too much for many people – and the majority of posters on this forum. If this kind of density cannot happen in Dickson (a nice walk or a short ride to employment centres) where can it happen? I can’t wait for the trades area of Braddon to get going with the increased density – it will be awesome to walk along there in a few years with a local population supporting the diverse businesses that spill out on to Lonsdale Street.

Spend the money made from the developers on making Haig Park a great space like Glebe Park is becoming. Give us open areas to use that are looked after and provide well for the community rather than heaps of dry grassland areas that are litter strewn and filled with poorly maintained trees and facilities. I would rather have Black Mountain Peninsula, Weston Park, Tidbinbilla, etc, as good as John Knight Memorial Park in Belconnen. Or Kambah Adventure Playground returned to its former glory.

One final note on Paris – everything that has been retained in Paris is of a particularly high quality. The crap stuff gets reworked and the low density stuff is virtually non-existent save for a few outstanding buildings. Less than 200 years ago, Paris looked very different to the way it looked today. It took an aggressive planner in Haussmann, a very forceful approach by Napoleon III and many private developers acting in partnership with the State (extending to State support for finance) to transform Paris into the beautiful city it is today. If you exclude its peripheral gardens, modern Paris is the most dense city in the world – twice as dense as Tokyo, three times inner-London and 2.5 times New York (note that Manhattan is but a mere borough of New York).

Be careful what you wish for. One of the methods used was compulsory acquisition of property (I am not sure that they believed in market value for this) from those who stood in the way of the Haussmann plan. . . .

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