I’m no town planner; never claimed to be. However, I have lived in Canberra for 47 years and I’ve seen the city grow from a large country town into a cosmopolitan city.
There is much to love about Canberra, especially my part of heaven: Tuggeranong. But I’ve extolled its beauties and benefits and its drawbacks for decades. I now turn my attention to the City itself.
Old fogies like me came to town when you could drive down Garema Place by coming in through Alinga Street or Ainslie Avenue. I parked my car in a dirt carpark on Akuna Street when I worked in David Jones back in ’68.
When the powers that were decided to close that area of the city to turn it into a pedestrian plaza, there was much trepidation from the business sector. It seems their fears were justified.
The town squares were Garema Place and Civic Square. These squares are comparable in size to those in other capital cities, such as Queen Street Mall, Bourke Street Mall, Rundle Mall, and Martin Place.
The thing that they have in common is that they are reasonable small and bound at least on two sides by vehicular thoroughfares. This ensures access to the business within and drive by traffic for the business on the periphery.
What’s happened here is that we have a very large pedestrian plaza which is sparsely populated by pedestrians unless there is a major event happening. The businesses, if surviving, are either doing it hard or being swallowed up. In short, there is not much to see, do or shop for in that pedestrian area of Petrie Plaza, City Walk and Garema Place. It is a desert.
It was thought that this area would be attractive to developers to build high rise, high star-rated hotels or permanent apartments. Didn’t happen.
What did happen was the periphery of the pedestrian plaza went off like a rocket. Look at the Canberra Centre, look at the Nishi Complex and the apartments surrounding it. Look at the developments on the edge of the University, look at the intentions of the City to the Lake project, look at a resurgent Braddon.
We have created a donut. It is alive and vibrant around the edges and dead in the middle.
I’ve heard some people say that we should turn City Walk back into street for cars. It would allow street fronts for developers to be tempted to return to invest in living space right in the middle of our heart.
I’m not proposing anything really, but just sayin’ progress? Dunno. Donut? Thinks so.