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Canberra – Donut capital of Australia

By John Hargreaves - 12 January 2015 28

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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.

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.

What’s Your opinion?


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28 Responses to
Canberra – Donut capital of Australia
Maya123 9:32 am 13 Jan 15

Weatherman said :

I think the pedestrian malls in Canberra are too wide for the population it serves. It looks sparse. Queen Street Mall in Brisbane is often full of shoppers, however, there are prominent shop fronts and events there. Even Liverpool pedestrian mall in Sydney is more happening than Petrie Plaza and Garema Place.

“there are prominent shop fronts”

Most of them are in the mall, that is the problem.

watto23 9:28 am 13 Jan 15

HiddenDragon said :

watto23 said :

pink little birdie said :

Stick a playground in there a cafe with seating near by.
A free decently fun playground for kids. Yes there is the merry go round but it costs money.
If you think about the shops there that are successful in Garema place it’s the really specific ones… Games capital, impact comics, redpath, bookmart. Not really shops that have direct competion in the area

The shops is the key. The issue is retail property owners couldn’t give two hoots about who operates from where as long as they pay rent. Get some more interesting stores in Garema place and city walk and more people would visit. Oh and ban the chuggers please!

The level of rents demanded (for what is on offer in terms of passing trade and the quality and attractiveness of the premises) is likely the problem – as it is throughout much of Canberra. For most of its existence, this town has been run by people who show little, if any, real understanding of small business and who just mouth, from time to time, the usual hollow and impractical platitudes which are in favour with those who are firmly, and comfortably, attached to the public teat. We could do so much better, but that would involve upsetting the status quo – and that is not going to happen – so let’s just be grateful for the interesting, worthwhile small business operators we still have (while we still have them).

I agree as a regular visitor to the game shop, bookshop and comic shop there, plus there are the shoes and music shops that other would frequent. I also miss having a good camera store in Canberra, although teds isn’t far away at Baileys (the canberra centre Ted’s is a joke), its a shame we lost the 2 other camera stores we had in Civic.

In fact I saw an article the other day to refute claims that the weekend loading on staff wages had less of an impact on retail, and rent was in fact the largest cost. You only have to look at the kinds of business opening in old suburban corner shops (with lower rent) to realise this. Local shops are less about groceries now and more about small businesses like restaurants and speciality shopping.

Weatherman 6:11 am 13 Jan 15

I think the pedestrian malls in Canberra are too wide for the population it serves. It looks sparse. Queen Street Mall in Brisbane is often full of shoppers, however, there are prominent shop fronts and events there. Even Liverpool pedestrian mall in Sydney is more happening than Petrie Plaza and Garema Place.

HiddenDragon 6:53 pm 12 Jan 15

watto23 said :

pink little birdie said :

Stick a playground in there a cafe with seating near by.
A free decently fun playground for kids. Yes there is the merry go round but it costs money.
If you think about the shops there that are successful in Garema place it’s the really specific ones… Games capital, impact comics, redpath, bookmart. Not really shops that have direct competion in the area

The shops is the key. The issue is retail property owners couldn’t give two hoots about who operates from where as long as they pay rent. Get some more interesting stores in Garema place and city walk and more people would visit. Oh and ban the chuggers please!

The level of rents demanded (for what is on offer in terms of passing trade and the quality and attractiveness of the premises) is likely the problem – as it is throughout much of Canberra. For most of its existence, this town has been run by people who show little, if any, real understanding of small business and who just mouth, from time to time, the usual hollow and impractical platitudes which are in favour with those who are firmly, and comfortably, attached to the public teat. We could do so much better, but that would involve upsetting the status quo – and that is not going to happen – so let’s just be grateful for the interesting, worthwhile small business operators we still have (while we still have them).

watto23 4:36 pm 12 Jan 15

pink little birdie said :

Stick a playground in there a cafe with seating near by.
A free decently fun playground for kids. Yes there is the merry go round but it costs money.
If you think about the shops there that are successful in Garema place it’s the really specific ones… Games capital, impact comics, redpath, bookmart. Not really shops that have direct competion in the area

The shops is the key. The issue is retail property owners couldn’t give two hoots about who operates from where as long as they pay rent. Get some more interesting stores in Garema place and city walk and more people would visit. Oh and ban the chuggers please!

pink little birdie 3:32 pm 12 Jan 15

Stick a playground in there a cafe with seating near by.
A free decently fun playground for kids. Yes there is the merry go round but it costs money.
If you think about the shops there that are successful in Garema place it’s the really specific ones… Games capital, impact comics, redpath, bookmart. Not really shops that have direct competion in the area

dungfungus 3:32 pm 12 Jan 15

Maya123 said :

dungfungus said :

I am with you on this one John (hope this doesn’t put the mokkas on you).
Canberra City is for the young and wealthy only these days.
You may call it “vibrant” – I call it “vibrational” (as in noisy).
Are there any restaurants in Canberra where one can have a conversation across the table with out shouting and competing with the other noises like music, ring-tones and foul mouthed young people?

And how will opening up the streets to parking and noisy traffic change any of this to make it quieter?

I don’t normally eat my dinner sitting on the middle of a road.

Maya123 3:06 pm 12 Jan 15

dungfungus said :

I am with you on this one John (hope this doesn’t put the mokkas on you).
Canberra City is for the young and wealthy only these days.
You may call it “vibrant” – I call it “vibrational” (as in noisy).
Are there any restaurants in Canberra where one can have a conversation across the table with out shouting and competing with the other noises like music, ring-tones and foul mouthed young people?

And how will opening up the streets to parking and noisy traffic change any of this to make it quieter?

dungfungus 1:50 pm 12 Jan 15

I am with you on this one John (hope this doesn’t put the mokkas on you).
Canberra City is for the young and wealthy only these days.
You may call it “vibrant” – I call it “vibrational” (as in noisy).
Are there any restaurants in Canberra where one can have a conversation across the table with out shouting and competing with the other noises like music, ring-tones and foul mouthed young people?

Tenpoints 1:40 pm 12 Jan 15

I’d blame the mall more-so than the lack of car access to City walk. The convenience bonus of the mall means that you wouldn’t be able to revive city walk without also turning it into a mall, or at least go some way towards restoring the balance.

I might suggest some city beautification projects to improve the ambience of city walk and make it a more attractive spot for restaurants and bars (since that is what suits the outdoor environment best).

Last time I was in New Zealand I stumbled across Eat Street in Rotorua, with a fantastic LED illuminated awning structure enclosing at least 10 restautrants. http://www.rotoruanz.com/eatstreat/

I would suggest a similar concept for Garema place. Improve the ambience. Turn it into a thriving centre full of colour and activity, not a paved park as it is at the moment. Have large outdoor spaces for restaurant areas, with a wide central channel for through traffic bordered by flora or *aesthetically* designed structure.

My 2c.

Ben_Dover 12:02 pm 12 Jan 15

City centre shopping? What a lovely, if antiquated, idea.

The Canberra centre suffices for the sort of folk who want that form of leisure activity. It’s air conditioned, has escalators, a range of shops selling bright shiny things, a cinema, and a junk food court, what more could the dedicated non-thinker want?

Civic, you are right to say John, is the dead centre of Canberra. No decent pubs, bars or restaurants, no night life, no evening attraction for perambulations. Icky.

Bradon is the “in place” at the moment, try there instead. Or, better still, Newtown.

Maya123 11:43 am 12 Jan 15

Yes, VERY bad planning, by allowing the mall to grow as large as it has. That’s what killed Civic; not stopping cars from parking there. The mall drained the life from Civic. Proper planning would never have allowed that. I don’t understand what great attraction malls have for many people. They are bland, controlled spaces, but that’s a personal opinion, and some people like bland, beige houses too. For me, perhaps that’s a good thing. I don’t want to go to a mall; rarely do, so I save my money. I can’t be alone there in that opinion either, judging by the more exciting shopping/cafe areas springing up on the edges of Civic.
If I go to Civic I usually use the bus. It’s just as convenient (more so I generally find) as driving, finding where to park, paying for parking and then walking to the shops. Bigger ‘shops’ are not done in Civic. They are done at a supermarket closer to my house, or in places such as Fyshwick. If the streets in Civic were opened for parking, there would be little gain for a greater loss.

Mysteryman 10:49 am 12 Jan 15

We have created a donut

If by “we” you mean you and your Labor colleagues, then yes. You have created a donut.

Poor planning abounds in Canberra. Particularly over the past 10 years.

bd84 10:11 am 12 Jan 15

You need a combination of ability for people to get there easily, a link between areas and businesses that offer people something good enough to actually want to go there.

Civic Square is just a paved monstrosity, there’s no shade or grass go people to sit and eat, no businesses to visit, why would anyone go there?

City walk has the problem of being cut off from a large part of the Canberra Centre by a road. Users are subject to harassment of chuggers, beggars, the cyclists riding thru at 50kph and the 500 scavenging magpies almost flying into your head and pooping absolutely everywhere.

The traders argue that they need on street parking for business, which is absolute rubbish. Roads like Bunda St go nowhere except to zebra crossings and the number of people that would actually park on the street is minimal… Why would one crawl along the street waiting for someone to leave when you could park in one structured parking with plenty of spots?

If they want people to visit, they need to have business that offer things people want or be attractive enough to make people walk past. They’ve just created a half assed shared zone on Bunda at which won’t work as it’s still just a normal road with bits added, until they make the area attractive and easy to get to, people will still avoid it.

Felix the Cat 9:40 am 12 Jan 15

How is letting cars back into these areas going to encourage people to shop there? They are either going to want to shop there (ie they want/need to buy something at a particular shop) or they don’t. Having vehicle access isn’t going to change that. A lot more pedestrians can access the area than motor vehicles so if we get similar vehicle numbers as to pedestrian numbers now where are they all going to park?

At the moment the pedestrians/shoppers don’t have to worry about vehicles potentially running them down. Having vehicles back in Civic centre could discourage people with young children to shop there.

Maybe it’s the type of shops that are turning people away? Maybe it’s the ‘chuggers’ on every second corner that puts people off or the so called homeless people trying to bludge money for a ‘bus fare’?

Maybe it’s just easier and more convenient to go to a shopping mall such as Canberra Centre or Westfield Woden/Belconnen? Undercover parking away from the heat, wind or rain and a variety of shops all within a reasonably compact area, again, undercover and away from the Canberra weather.

I work in Civic but haven’t shopped there in years, much prefer going to a shopping mall for the reasons I’ve just mentioned.

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