Canberra the F*** Off city?

johnboy 29 July 2011 25

Andrew Leigh’s reading list has lead me to an epic Canberra whinge in the SMH by Elizabeth Farrelly.

But it’s particularly annoying because she’s probably right in her criticisms.

And her solutions:

But what Canberra desperately needs, and what it should have before Garnaut delivers his next Climate Change bromide from there, is the dramatic densification that would achieve three things at once: congruence with Griffin’s vision, a genuine urban grandeur, and sustainability. Now there’s a triangular plan for you.


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smokeycastle smokeycastle 10:40 pm 31 Jul 11

I like Canberra the way it is, I just wish that the designing of the buildings followed a better plan than what it does.

Ryoma Ryoma 2:26 pm 30 Jul 11

I can see some validity in what the article says.

Because Canberra is only 100 years old, we missed out on the terraced housing built in the inner suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, etc, and on the density that came along with it.

To me, one of the biggest tragedies is that there was actually a rail line planned (not sure if it was ever built) that ran into Civic from Kingston (you can see this on one of the map thingies in Glebe Park), it ran through Glebe Park and finsihed up somewhere near where King O’Malley’s is now.

On a larger scale, maybe one of the issues is that people’s tastes have changed. Now that many Canberrans can travel overseas easily and enjoy the cosmopolitan culture that occurs in dense cities from Bangkok through Tokyo to London, many would like us to have that replicated in a balanced fashion. And you’d have to say that it is happening recently, for better or worse.

But that’s only really been popular in the last few decades. Go back 100 or more years, and some of the capital city suburbs that had such density were being condemned as slums, where poorer people huddled together in abaject poverty so as to be close to work. More than that, in Fitzroy (Melbourne) there was typhoid, and in the Rocks (Sydney) bubonic plague broke out (http://www.emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM00473b.htm).

Now, of course we now know that proper sewerage and preventative health measures can comabt such things, but at the time, the “garden city” idea was just taking off – (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_city_movement.) So by the time Canberra was designed, I think this type of thinking (along with the fact there was then plenty of space in Canberra, and the horse and cart were still dominant) were a pretty strong influence.

100 years on, while we have some individually beautiful buildings (such as the Sydney and Melbourne buildings), and suburbs full of character (nice houses and tree-lined streets,etc), there is still no clear “centre” that exists for its own sake, as opposed to mere shopping.

The areas around the lake are what you’d expect of a capital city built to be a showpiece – built on a monumentally large scale to awe the citizenry into respect (not that it necessarily achieves that!). But in day to day terms, it means that the land which in any other city would be prime real estate, and would finction as such, is left as a museum piece.

As a result, when visitors are finished doing all of the “national” stuff, there is a hole in the location where other cities have their “heart”, and it is unusual. Even what does count as the city centre (which I classify as roughly bounded by Glebe Park, Casino Canberra, Northbourne Avenue, and up to the Griffin Centre/Tax Office buildings) is still not all that dense, and requires a car to get around.

Because most of the actual (government) work of Canberra is done elsewhere, Civic doesn’t really have a compelling reason to exist, and this shows in the types of businesses existing there. The Canberra Centre has its pluses and minuses (plus being that it acts as a magnet, minus being that it acts like a vampire for the surrounding streets and suburbs), and there are a handful of skyscrapers.

As for the suburbs, many of them do not have a layout that says “welcome”. Some are shielded by hedges, and the streets do often look identical….there’s no sense of being “here” rather than “there” for visitors. And the suburbs built since the Town Centres turned up? The kindest thing I can say about many is that they are similar to their cousins in any other Australian city – but that still doesn’t help our visitors to get a feeling of either pride, or to work out where they are.

********************************************************************************************************************

What would you like Canberra to be if it was indeed a blank slate, or, what would you do given the current layout and unlimited funds? 🙂

Watson Watson 10:14 am 30 Jul 11

OpenYourMind said :

My favourite line is “… All grass and trees and lakeside bike paths…”. She says that like it’s a bad thing. Our city has a parkland feel and that’s something we need to fight to defend. I like that in Canberra your family can jump on bikes and ride round the lake, let the dog have a run (where allowed), breath in fresh air and generally be nice and close to nature. Sure, we could be more like Melbourne or Sydney, but would we really want to be?

And of course, Canberra is one of those cities you appreciate more, the more you are settled here – especially if you have kids. Visiting Sydney is like watching a war film. Exciting, captivating for a couple of hours, but if you were living in it, it’d be hell.

I didn’t read that article like it was advocating becoming little Sydney or Melbourne. It’s merely pointing out that even though it has a lot going for it – like parks, etc. – it is missing something very important. Something that joins it all together or something.

I too appreciate our open space and quiet suburbs. But it would be nice if it were more than just one big urban sprawl area. If our utopian garden suburbs would be joined by something more lively and exciting and harmonising. I am all for urban infill in the city centre and along the major inter-town roads.

And oh, what I would give to see just one single cafe or shop in a residential street somewhere! Canberra’s lay-out is almost clinical.

And she is very right in saying that it we are setting a really bad example when it comes to carbon efficiency! Everyone agrees that this is a city where you cannot live without a car. (I know some who do, but they have to rely on other people with cars very regularly.) Once you have kids, it becomes extremely hard to do without. Sure, it’s nice that we can take the bike out for a spin on the weekend. But not many live close enough to work to also use it for commuting. And unless you live close to a town centre, public transport just cannot compete with the convenience of driving the car to work.

And this is an article written from the perspective of an Australlian looking at the National Capital. It is not yet another snooty Sydney-sider going on about why they could never live in such a backward country town. I think we have to accept that this city is supposed to be so much more than a family-friendly homebase. It has a responsibility to mean something to all Australians. We should have a say in what our city becomes because we are the ones that keep it going and justify it’s existence, but it does not just belong to us.

OpenYourMind OpenYourMind 11:12 pm 29 Jul 11

My favourite line is “… All grass and trees and lakeside bike paths…”. She says that like it’s a bad thing. Our city has a parkland feel and that’s something we need to fight to defend. I like that in Canberra your family can jump on bikes and ride round the lake, let the dog have a run (where allowed), breath in fresh air and generally be nice and close to nature. Sure, we could be more like Melbourne or Sydney, but would we really want to be?

And of course, Canberra is one of those cities you appreciate more, the more you are settled here – especially if you have kids. Visiting Sydney is like watching a war film. Exciting, captivating for a couple of hours, but if you were living in it, it’d be hell.

creative_canberran creative_canberran 9:33 pm 29 Jul 11

grunge_hippy said :

TL:DR

it lost me at the second paragraph. Why do people think they are clever by writing long winded, pompous diatribes with convoluted sentences that you need to re-read 3 times before it makes sense.

or is that just me?

Nope, not just you. Even though I could follow it, the writing is terrible and disjointed. (Read enough high court judgements and you’re able to cope on the first read though).

A lot of people think that to look intelligent, you need to write in a verbose manner with long sentences and far too many adverbs and adjectives in a sentence. Concise and with clarity should be the real aim. This article is like a relic from the days when lawyers and journalists we’re paid by the word, not the hour.

Frustrated Frustrated 9:23 pm 29 Jul 11

Sleaz274 said :

I liked the article, I didn’t see any bashing, hate dripping, sydney is the best of everything that everyone else seems to have read.

Hobart is better than canberra for “culture” and social life so there’s your example rightup ya.

It wasn’t a whinge it is an opinion piece with a carefully constructed argument drawing from historical fact linked to a suggested solution. I have also not seen any counter argument coming from these responses other than some foot stamping that “we aren’t like them!!!” referring to Sydney siders. Projecting much?

Additionally the British government is often referred to as Downing Street. The US media oftens says Washington that or the White house this. Get over yourselves trying to be separate from the government of the day, if there wasn’t a need to house the government somewhere Canberra would be a sheep station in the middle of no where on the way to the snow. It was a very Australia solution, instead of picking one of two options (Sydney or Melbourne) and making a grand historical decision and be damned to the haters who are going to hate anyway just pick something in between a little 50/50 then cock it up along the way pleasing no one particularly much.

Recent example – the last election

One of the problems I now see, after living here since 1981, is that Canberra is too close to Sydney.

Slowly over the decades since my arrival, this city has become increasingly more Sydney centric every year.

Watson Watson 9:12 pm 29 Jul 11

grunge_hippy said :

TL:DR

it lost me at the second paragraph. Why do people think they are clever by writing long winded, pompous diatribes with convoluted sentences that you need to re-read 3 times before it makes sense.

or is that just me?

I didn’t pay much attention to the writing style. The content made sense, even if it wasn’t the easiest read.

grunge_hippy grunge_hippy 7:33 pm 29 Jul 11

TL:DR

it lost me at the second paragraph. Why do people think they are clever by writing long winded, pompous diatribes with convoluted sentences that you need to re-read 3 times before it makes sense.

or is that just me?

Watson Watson 5:52 pm 29 Jul 11

trevar said :

Thumper said :

The articel is a classic “I’ve got nothing better to write about so I’ll do an anti Canberra rant.”

I don’t think it’s that classical rant at all; it is well-considered, and very targeted in its criticism. She doesn’t dismiss the entire city as worthless by citing a few design or implementation flaws, as most of them do. She also doesn’t judge Canberra in relation to unplanned or unimaginatively-planned cities like Sydney and Melbourne; she compares it to Washington and Versailles, which is much more sensible (I didn’t miss the irony, BTW, of her whining about Canberra’s carbon footprint from Sydney, of all places!).

I think it’s a very well-considered response to Canberra, and an especially astute assessment of the relationship between design, construction, and operation, all of which are virtually impossible to unite. That said, I do think her assessment is wrong. For instance, she laments the lack of public transport as a design flaw, despite the plans for a recessed light rail network in Griffin’s plans (as revised after the 1912 competition).

What I would like to know, though, is why the plans are crated up in Telstrayama instead of in the National Archive?

+1

I found myself agreeing with lots of it too. Even her comment on the absence of sub-cultures. I’ve lived in small cities in Europe and I know that Canberra doesn’t behave or feel like a city. It’s also not a country town though. After living her for 14 years, I still don’t know what it is actually.

I did however roll my eyes at this: “when you attend an important government meeting, say, and sink up to your stilettos in mud on the way there because there’s no footpath across the paddock”.

There really was no need to exaggerate to demonstrate Canberra’s weak points! We do footpaths very well, thankyouverymuch. If only that was all it needed…

damien haas damien haas 5:08 pm 29 Jul 11

I agree about capithetical. its nonsensical. thats the best they can do to celebrate our city ?

Sleaz274 Sleaz274 4:36 pm 29 Jul 11

I liked the article, I didn’t see any bashing, hate dripping, sydney is the best of everything that everyone else seems to have read.

Hobart is better than canberra for “culture” and social life so there’s your example rightup ya.

It wasn’t a whinge it is an opinion piece with a carefully constructed argument drawing from historical fact linked to a suggested solution. I have also not seen any counter argument coming from these responses other than some foot stamping that “we aren’t like them!!!” referring to Sydney siders. Projecting much?

Additionally the British government is often referred to as Downing Street. The US media oftens says Washington that or the White house this. Get over yourselves trying to be separate from the government of the day, if there wasn’t a need to house the government somewhere Canberra would be a sheep station in the middle of no where on the way to the snow. It was a very Australia solution, instead of picking one of two options (Sydney or Melbourne) and making a grand historical decision and be damned to the haters who are going to hate anyway just pick something in between a little 50/50 then cock it up along the way pleasing no one particularly much.

Recent example – the last election

yellowsnow yellowsnow 3:24 pm 29 Jul 11

Mologloid – Lyon metropolitan area = 1.7 million; Nice metro area = 955,000. Montpellier is admittedly smaller than 300k but you can’t seriously compare a 1000+ year old provincial city on the French riviera with Canberra. And at any rate try living in one of the hideous high rise estates on the outskirts of Montpellier, rampant with crime and poverty and tell me life there is better there than here.

Anyway, density eurostyle is very different from density oz style. If you let developers loose and build up canberra the way you suggest you’d just get something that looks more like Gungahlin or the southwest suburbs of Sydney than Nice.

Swaggie Swaggie 3:21 pm 29 Jul 11

There must be a few Media types who read Riotact so will they please consider referring to Federal Parliamant as just that and not ‘Canberra’. No one refers to the British Parliament as ‘London’. Don’t associate us all with that bunch of overpaid under worked representatives we are forced to elect every 4 years and immediately Canberra’s ‘image’ will improve

chewy14 chewy14 2:47 pm 29 Jul 11

What a massive dribble.
She may have been able to get a cogent point together if she hadn’t let her obvious hatred of Canberra get in the way.
Far too many out of towners come from their 1mill + population cities and then whinge that we’re not like them. Uh maybe because we only have 350K people living here?
Densification will happen as the city grows but it shouldn’t be forced overnight.

molongloid molongloid 2:32 pm 29 Jul 11

yellowsnow said :

Many people complain about canberra’s lack of life etc but at the end of the day it’s a city of 300,000 not 3 million, so you can’t compare it to syd or melb. I challenge critics to find another city of 300k that the critics would prefer to live in and/or fits their criteria of not being, ahem, ‘boring’.

If you had the 300,000 people living in inner Canberra you’d reach critical density. Splitting the population out in 50,000 clusters makes Canberra less than the sum of its parts. Densification dude!
Lyon, Nice, Montpellier.

yellowsnow yellowsnow 1:47 pm 29 Jul 11

Agree with Mysteryman and Stevou — Canberra is a great city, only thing stopping it being awesome is its amateur-hour government/local council (and also lack of decent public transport, and transport planning in general in my opinion).

Many people complain about canberra’s lack of life etc but at the end of the day it’s a city of 300,000 not 3 million, so you can’t compare it to syd or melb. I challenge critics to find another city of 300k that the critics would prefer to live in and/or fits their criteria of not being, ahem, ‘boring’.

Amanda Hugankis Amanda Hugankis 1:28 pm 29 Jul 11

Sigh. Does this woman like the sound of her own voice (er, um … like the look of her own words?). Who decided what a capital city should be? She gave no indication of what she thought it should contain to appease the people that would still never visit or give it more than a moments thought – because its only pollies that live there, right?! And we all hate them! So it makes sense to hate the city they live in!! Doesn’t it? Oh, and lets trot out the usual ‘circular roads’ argument, like no other city in this country has a roundabout.

For the most part, it works as a capital city. The issues with traffic, cabs, transport … well, we ‘non-tourist’ types live with that crap everyday … fancy! the hide of us subjecting the aussie battler tax paying weekend sight-seers to that. This critical, uninformed, op piece garbage saps my strength.

trevar trevar 1:25 pm 29 Jul 11

Thumper said :

The articel is a classic “I’ve got nothing better to write about so I’ll do an anti Canberra rant.”

I don’t think it’s that classical rant at all; it is well-considered, and very targeted in its criticism. She doesn’t dismiss the entire city as worthless by citing a few design or implementation flaws, as most of them do. She also doesn’t judge Canberra in relation to unplanned or unimaginatively-planned cities like Sydney and Melbourne; she compares it to Washington and Versailles, which is much more sensible (I didn’t miss the irony, BTW, of her whining about Canberra’s carbon footprint from Sydney, of all places!).

I think it’s a very well-considered response to Canberra, and an especially astute assessment of the relationship between design, construction, and operation, all of which are virtually impossible to unite. That said, I do think her assessment is wrong. For instance, she laments the lack of public transport as a design flaw, despite the plans for a recessed light rail network in Griffin’s plans (as revised after the 1912 competition).

What I would like to know, though, is why the plans are crated up in Telstrayama instead of in the National Archive?

Mysteryman Mysteryman 12:03 pm 29 Jul 11

steveu said :

Canberra will always be the place Australian blame when they dont like the decisions of the government they elected. Most dont understand we are a territory not a state, and as a result have a much under-represented presence in parliament. They also dont understand that the public servants simply do what they have been told to do by the people they elected. When things go wrong, they blame the public servants. When things go right they step up and accept the praise. Just the way the world works I guess. Personally I think Canberra is a great place marred only by the local council that we voted not to have but got it anyway.

That pretty accurately describes the way I see it, too.

steveu steveu 11:38 am 29 Jul 11

Canberra will always be the place Australian blame when they dont like the decisions of the government they elected. Most dont understand we are a territory not a state, and as a result have a much under-represented presence in parliament. They also dont understand that the public servants simply do what they have been told to do by the people they elected. When things go wrong, they blame the public servants. When things go right they step up and accept the praise. Just the way the world works I guess. Personally I think Canberra is a great place marred only by the local council that we voted not to have but got it anyway.

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