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Blame the Griffins – really?

By Paul Costigan - 3 August 2016 39

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When about 250 citizens venture out on a cold night to hear about plans for the foreshores of West Basin one would expect that they would be taken seriously.

At least one would hope so. You would expect anyone presenting to this Canberra gathering of like minds – with a huge range of expertise and experiences – that the presentations would be fact-based, not be patronising, and be honed down to ensure that there were main points to be made and would avoid spin and generalisations.

At the meeting called by the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians at the Hughes hall on Wednesday 27th July – exactly the opposite happened. It was sadly laughable! And the audience reacted accordingly – polite chuckles were frequent.

In this short piece it would be impossible to provide all the details of the government presenters’ frequent use of spin, the multiple instances of misleading information and the many occasions of cherry-picking.

It was a strange event to witness. The bureaucrats all presented as if they were talking to one of their specially selected tame consultation groups – that later get counted as participants and included in their reports on the processes of consultations.

Here’s just a few examples of the sad amusements for the night:

The NCA Chief tried vainly to convince the audience that they needed to get things into perspective – after all we were talking about a small part of the total foreshore – being 2km of 40km. A hushed chuckle and grumble went through the hall. Later someone pointed out that we gave away Kingston foreshore for those shocking toasters, and now the NCA was saying that we should give away another important foreshore for more of the same. And next?

There was a footnote to the Kingston toaster debacle. One respondent later pointed out that the original urban design brief for the Kingston foreshore was an innovative urban village complete with ample green open spaces and many sustainable features.

But the original planning and design work was trashed to please the developers. So even if we accept what is being proposed by the LDA for the West Basin – we have to consider it may not be delivered as described and could be trashed for more of the same as we see in Kingston.

The main government presenter – who ran over time and looked like he did not want to stop – based most of his arguments around the now well-used myth that all this fitted within his version of the Griffin Plan. Every time he said this there were murmurings – especially from the several Griffin specialists in the room. Several people from the audience later debunked this.

‘Blame Griffin’ was his mantra for the night. Really!

These government bureaucrats, who are the descendants of those bureaucrats who drove the Griffins out of this town, are now using a very twisted version of Walter Burley Griffin’s concepts to justify something that the Griffins would totally reject.

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This project as with many others around town is a case of selling our land to suit other interests. In the process of dealing with the public backlash they use very practiced and clichéd spin to justify their decisions.

The representation on the night was typical of the LDA bureaucrats who have come to operate in a world separate to the rest of us and totally believe their own spin.

The government presenter even tried to use the fact that his Griffin Legacy document had won a prestigious national award. There was yet another chuckle and a few comments about the value of such ‘awards’. There is wide skepticism about the value of such awards except as marketing tools for the industry that runs them. At this point, gauging by his face, the government presenter realised he was running out of tricks.

Later the LDA used terms such as undeveloped land, isolated, degraded infrastructure, unrealised potential, need to have more density, and of course – more housing ‘choices’ – to convince people that parklands, such as those on the foreshore, should be built on. The presenter seemed a little surprise at the chuckle that came from just about everyone in the room when he resorted to these clichés.

Links were made by speakers to the ‘success’ of Docklands in Melbourne. More chuckles followed from people who know the realities about this site. It is an example of a market(developer)-driven solution for a former industrial dock site that suffers because it was not based on real planning. I have stayed in the towers there a couple of times. It is not a location I would recommend for ambience – as the first thing you do is hop on tram to go back into the city or anywhere – but you do not stay in the Docklands.

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The government presenters had to bear the brunt of one speaker, a learned journalist, who used such term as ‘spivs’ and ‘cronies’ when describing the profit-hungry people behind schemes such as the City to Lake project. He said aloud what I suspect most people in the room were thinking.

There were many more instances that caused murmurs, groans and outright laughter and heckling from the otherwise very patient and well-behaved audience.

Praise must go to the government presenters who fronted up. But given that their whole argument for this development is a very silly exercise in deception – smoke and mirrors – one wonders just what they were thinking.

For The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians the evening was definitely confirmation that there is support for scrapping this project and for the government to initiate some real planning for the future development of these green spaces to the west of Commonwealth Bridge. 

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A final note on the meeting: The meeting was very well chaired by Genevieve Jacobs. Thanks to her chairing, most people (but not quite all) kept to their allotted time.

A comment on political interests in urban matters: I have seen Shane Rattenbury at several community meetings – as an observer. He was there on the night as a presenter (keeping to his allotted time) and it was clear that he was listening.

More of our elected politicians should attend such meetings – just to hear for themselves rather than relying on others to filter the information. I used to see Kate Lundy do this. Gai Brodtmann was there to observe. I have not seen Andrew Leigh attend such meetings – you would have thought he would be interested given the importance of the lake to the national capital.

The meeting chair read out a statement by the ACT Opposition Leader – which went down well till the end when he could not resist somehow linking the West Basin proposal to the coming of the tram – which caused some laughter. He just could not resist! Shame.

Thanks to the Guardians, the real and open community debate about the use of these foreshore parklands has only just commenced.

What’s Your opinion?


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39 Responses to
Blame the Griffins – really?
Postalgeek 11:48 pm 03 Aug 16

I’m not against development of some areas of the lake. I think the west basin, if done correctly, could be a great development.

Kingston foreshore has some positives, but its biggest fault is that developers came before lake users. People who want to circumnavigate the east basin are channeled into narrow walkways servicing commercial establishments. Cyclists were originally channeled into these same walkways, with posts in the way and pinch points. Even now the cycle route is directed away from the lake, is disjointed, and runs a gauntlet of cars instead of being separated. Given the recent nature of the development and its location I find this regressive approach to recreational users inexplicable and I think Canberrans need to be very vigilant to ensure we don’t have a repeat of the Kingston Foreshore in the West Basin.

The primary focus of any lakeside development should be the facilitation of the lake circuit for all users, with wide direct paths, not some blatant effort to channel people into a commercial zone. I’m not saying don’t have commercial zones to cater for those who want them, but don’t have some dinky 2-meter wide path. If developers are going to encourage milling foot traffic to serve the commercial ventures the path should be at least the width of the Menzies walk and should take precedence over commercial development. Thought should also be given to segregating pedestrians and cyclists for the comfort of both.

creative_canberran 10:03 pm 03 Aug 16

Garfield said :

JC said :

I assume Paul Costigan’s reference ‘the Kingston toaster debacle’ is to the hugely successful and popular Kingston Foreshore. He mightn’t like it, but thousands do.

I’m prepared to give you “hundreds”. One of the conditions for this development was to have been the building of a new library to replace the Kingston library. Never happened. *You* might think that a narrow slice of Canberra yuppy life is happy, but the majority of Canberrans has no reason to interact with this redevelopment as it contains cramped accommodation, a very small number of mono-cultural entertainment venues, virtually no walking, and nothing else of community use.

Not sure how well you know the Docklands down in Melbourne, but right on the water’s edge next to a large green area is the Dockland’s Library. Absolutely beautiful building, and when I popped in every floor was packed with different people, some reading, some having a coffee, some playing games, old and young, as was the green area outside.

There were a lot of “original” ideas for the Foreshore, the island was originally to be half hotel. I think the Library would have been an excellent idea to realise, instead of that narrow shopfront they built. But also don’t forget they are yet to develop the final “arts precinct” which already gives many Canberrans a reason to visit for the bus depot and glassworks.

Firstservingman 8:16 pm 03 Aug 16

Charlotte Harper said :

Nope. I’m going to go with tens of thousands, on account of the fact that there are lots of people who are attracted to ‘no walking’ and ‘mono-cultural entertainment venues’. Equally as shocking is the idea that something doesn’t need a public library, walking spaces or multi-cultural entertainment venues in order to be of community value. Don’t confuse ‘your community’ with ‘the community’.

You are, unfortunately, probably quite correct here.

Many people do indeed live a pretty boring and one-dimensional existence, so a boring and one-dimensional development, while not objectively any good, is probably just the ticket.

Why go walking when you can play with Candy Crush on your iPad, right?
Why visit a public library or have a picnic with the family when there are Facebook posts to like and tweets to retweet?

Society, or what’s left of it at least, wants it, so go ahead and build it, I say.

creative_canberran 7:04 pm 03 Aug 16

“Thanks to the Guardians, the real and open community debate about the use of these foreshore parklands has only just commenced.”

Nothing real or open about it. A group of luddites, led by someone who doesn’t even live in Canberra, who see progress as evil because it scares them. Good on the planners for turning up to address an inherently closed minded and hostile crowd. The fact you brag about the audience’s behaviour, acting like a bunch of school kids snickering, speaks volumes.

Pejorative terms like toasters might play well to the luddite crowd, but few beyond that would prefer what was there before, rotting sheds, puddles, mud and abandoned government buildings, to the greenery and bustle now in that area.

Maya123 said :

the misalignment of the pedestrian crossing and pathway at Trevillian Quay is a standout example of deplorable decision making.

Yeah, that crossing is a head scratcher. I can’t decide if it really is a stuff up, or if someone thought by offsetting the crossing, they’d discourage people (and particularly cyclists) from bolting across without looking. Either way doesn’t work, but it’s a tiny thing.

Mark of Sydney 6:14 pm 03 Aug 16

Garfield said :

JC said :

I assume Paul Costigan’s reference ‘the Kingston toaster debacle’ is to the hugely successful and popular Kingston Foreshore. He mightn’t like it, but thousands do.

I’m prepared to give you “hundreds”. One of the conditions for this development was to have been the building of a new library to replace the Kingston library. Never happened. *You* might think that a narrow slice of Canberra yuppy life is happy, but the majority of Canberrans has no reason to interact with this redevelopment as it contains cramped accommodation, a very small number of mono-cultural entertainment venues, virtually no walking, and nothing else of community use.

Given that I’ll be among some 4,000 residents of the Foreshore by the end of the year, I’ll stick with thousands. As to your other points, there is nothing cramped about my new place, there are a huge range of entertainment venues within 15 minutes walk (‘virtually no walking’??) and people come from all over Canberra to enjoy the markets, the Glassworks and what’s on offer at the Fitters Workshop.

But even if a majority of Canberrans have no reason to interact with the development, so what? I’m confident that a majority of Canberrans don’t have any need to interact with your suburb. No doubt you couldn’t care less. I feel much the same about your view of the Foreshore. It suits me, and I’ve paid the developer, who has paid millions for the block to the ACT Government to spend all over Canberra.

Mike_Drop 4:26 pm 03 Aug 16

Garfield said :

JC said :

I assume Paul Costigan’s reference ‘the Kingston toaster debacle’ is to the hugely successful and popular Kingston Foreshore. He mightn’t like it, but thousands do.

I’m prepared to give you “hundreds”. One of the conditions for this development was to have been the building of a new library to replace the Kingston library. Never happened. *You* might think that a narrow slice of Canberra yuppy life is happy, but the majority of Canberrans has no reason to interact with this redevelopment as it contains cramped accommodation, a very small number of mono-cultural entertainment venues, virtually no walking, and nothing else of community use.

Nope. I’m going to go with tens of thousands, on account of the fact that there are lots of people who are attracted to ‘no walking’ and ‘mono-cultural entertainment venues’. Equally as shocking is the idea that something doesn’t need a public library, walking spaces or multi-cultural entertainment venues in order to be of community value. Don’t confuse ‘your community’ with ‘the community’.

Personally I don’t think the foreshore is cutting edge, nor is the architecture my cup of tea. It doesn’t mean that people should be patronised or marginalised for liking it, or that one should cite it as an example to keep Canberra unchanged in perpetuity.

For my money I think they should build a Mosque in the West Basin. I’m certain there’d be an altogether different kind of critic at any future ‘town-hall’ style meetings, but they’d employ the same methodology. Condescension and name calling, criticising planned architecture and making broad judgements about ‘community value’ and the types of people who attend these ‘developing spaces’. Same NIMBY – different spots.

Holden Caulfield 4:14 pm 03 Aug 16

Garfield said :

…it contains cramped accommodation, a very small number of mono-cultural entertainment venues, virtually no walking, and nothing else of community use.

Huh?!

If the accommodation is cramped that’s a larger issue than the Foreshore; is it any worse than any other similar development undertaken in Canberra in the last 10–15 years?

Within the Foreshore area there’s Megalo, the Glassworks, OBDM and the Fitter’s Workshop, the latter two used for varying entertainment purposes. With more arts offerings to come.

As for walking, there’s the new-ish pathway linking the Foreshore to the lake’s central basin, which gets a lot of use, especially on weekends.

I have no reason to interact with Tuggeranong or Belconnen. But you know what, living in a city means that not every development has to suit every resident. To think or want that to happen is just going to end in continued disappointment.

I don’t know enough about the library issue to comment other than I suspect library use across the city has probably diminished considerably since development of Kingston Foreshore began almost 10 years ago.

HenryBG 2:59 pm 03 Aug 16

JC said :

I assume Paul Costigan’s reference ‘the Kingston toaster debacle’ is to the hugely successful and popular Kingston Foreshore. He mightn’t like it, but thousands do.

I’m prepared to give you “hundreds”. One of the conditions for this development was to have been the building of a new library to replace the Kingston library. Never happened. *You* might think that a narrow slice of Canberra yuppy life is happy, but the majority of Canberrans has no reason to interact with this redevelopment as it contains cramped accommodation, a very small number of mono-cultural entertainment venues, virtually no walking, and nothing else of community use.

TOF 2:27 pm 03 Aug 16

I was there and also at the April meeting about the unsolicited proposal by GWS Giants and Grocon to kick in a few dollars to upgrade Manuka Oval facilities in return for being given (FREE) almost all the remaining valuable heritage land inside Manuka Circle to build and sell apartments, shops and a hotel! Both meetings were scathing of the so called planning and consultation processes.Both meetings were full of very experienced people who would gladly engage in a genuine consultation process. There is a strong perception in Canberra that the development industry is too close to government.

chewy14 1:55 pm 03 Aug 16

If the tone of this piece is indicative of the audience and their ability to objectively consider different points of view and competing objectives, then it’s hardly surprising the meeting went as it did.

The close mindedness is breathtaking.

mcs 11:40 am 03 Aug 16

West Basin as it currently is represents a highly underutilised part of our City. It may be a ‘foreshore parkland’, but like the ‘Dickson parklands’ that the author has reported about on many occasions on here, it is hardly a well used parkland. I would go as far to argue it really isn’t a a ‘required’ parkland – given the substantial parklands at other parts of the lake foreshore.

I’m not for one second saying what is proposed is appropriate or the best that can be done (development outcomes in this city often leave plenty to be desired), but we shouldn’t just have an ongoing default position of ‘no no no’ – which seems to be the view held by some in this town, that want to keep Canberra as a city stuck in the 1970s.

Cities change, develop and grow over time – they are not static. If a reasonable plan for better utilisation of this part of the city can be developed, then I don’t see the issue. Its not like the whole of Lake Burley Griffin’s foreshore is developed and this is the last bit of undeveloped foreshore left. It is in a pretty good location, close to the city centre, so it makes sense that options for development be given serious consideration. In that sense, my view is pretty close to Mike_drops view, that this should be an opportunity to explore options for better using that space.

Mark of Sydney 11:26 am 03 Aug 16

This post is another example of the generation gap that has opened up over Canberra’s future. Were any people at the public meeting held by these 250 self-appointed Guardians under 50?

I assume Paul Costigan’s reference ‘the Kingston toaster debacle’ is to the hugely successful and popular Kingston Foreshore. He mightn’t like it, but thousands do. I suspect the same will apply when the currently shabby and degraded parkland at West Basin becomes a lively mixed used precinct.

TuggLife 11:20 am 03 Aug 16

The lake isn’t in Andrew Leigh’s electorate any more, is it?

Mike_Drop 9:58 am 03 Aug 16

Perhaps if the 250 citizens want to be taken seriously they should refrain from name-calling and condescension (polite though it may be), and be prepared to engage in good faith, and use appropriate avenues to escalate concerns if they feel they’re not being heard. As an opinion piece masquerading as journalism, this article smacks of cynical baby-boomer groupthink and does nothing to promote the generally positive work that the Guardians do.

I don’t think another Kingston style development is suited to West Basin – but it’s good starting point to discuss what options might exist. I am not opposed to mixed residential/commercial development in the space, but the architecture and development must be aesthetically and environmentally sensitive to the lake side.

But that’s just my opinion – and you all what opinions are like.

Holden Caulfield 9:55 am 03 Aug 16

I wasn’t at the meeting about the west basin, so can’t comment on that, but a few words on the “Kingston toaster” commentary:

Firstly, you might think the toaster name is clever and catchy, but really, it’s just childish and undermines your general approach.

I won’t suggest the Foreshore is perfect; the comment made elsewhere about the misalignment of the pedestrian crossing and pathway at Trevillian Quay is a standout example of deplorable decision making. But it doesn’t make the foreshore unworkable.

The issue I have is the misalignment of Paul’s planning utopia with reality. To be fair, I don’t live on the foreshore, but I do live in old Kingston and am at the foreshore on a regular basis. It’s a very enjoyable part of town to live in. There is open space nearby; Norgrove Park is well used and enjoyable to walk or ride through, or even exercise in as I have done a few times.

Similarly, the open space in front of the Bridge Point residences is a welcoming place to sit and enjoy views across the lake. Perhaps there is not as much green open space as Paul would like, but there is open space nearby. And Bowen and Telopea Parks are just a short walk away.

Back to reality for a moment, real estate IS Canberra’s economy. While it is easy and at times correct to criticise the local government for being in the pockets of developers this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Best to accept that, within reason, and frame your views accordingly.

Furthermore, the Kingston Foreshore has shown Canberrans want places to go where they can enjoy the lake ways previously unavailable to them. Lake Burley Griffin is one of Canberra’s best assets, I’m sure almost everyone would agree with that. But in many ways it is terribly underutilised.

On paper, West Basin seems like a fantastic idea. It may not reach Paul’s idea of planning utopia (although, it seems clear nothing ever will), but I have faith that as an overall project the outcome will be better for the majority of Canberrans.

Life is rarely perfect. Rather than continually whinging over pretty much everything, perhaps take a breath and enjoy Canberra for what it does offer, imperfections and all. It’s still a pretty great place.

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