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Canberra the F*** Off city?

By 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.

What’s Your opinion?


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25 Responses to
Canberra the F*** Off city?
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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 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 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 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 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.

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