There was an announcement recently by the planning authority on the fate of the three blocks of flats along Northbourne Ave in Dickson. I used to walk past these buildings regularly and noted that some tenants had established quite attractive small gardens and had comfortable seating gathered together for social occasions.
Unfortunately the buildings are very plain boxes on stilts occupying a prime spot that welcomed tourists to the National Capital. They may have been a wonderful addition to social housing in their day, but they are very basic by 21st century aesthetic and sustainability standards.
I think the first signs of the madness about these towers appeared when architectural specialists claimed that the buildings were a significant part of Canberra’s heritage. The most amazing response was when one guy argued that these buildings were the equivalent to the famous and beautiful New York Brown Stone apartments. I think I can see a difference in the styles!
The general consensus was that the time had come for these towers to go. I would like to be able to say that any new development in Canberra should be welcomed, especially if it were to be sustainable and well designed. A lovely optimistic theory!
The trouble is that in recent decades new development in Canberra has meant very ordinary, or more often, very ugly new bland box buildings. The Canberra planning and development agencies continue to allow developers to build new buildings that do nothing for the environment, that ignore all the climate change issues and have little or no aesthetic values.
I was not optimistic at all about what was to be built on this site on the edge of Dickson. I was also very concerned that this site along with the whole of the redevelopment of the Northbourne corridor was not being overseen by anyone with any sort of vision. We do not presently have any visionary or well-informed politicians leading urban development in Canberra.
The proposals for demolition of the Dickson Towers went to the local planning authority (ACTPLA) for final sign off. The common perception is that ACTPLA is locked into being an arm of the development lobby, so the decision should have been easy to predict.
ACTPLA recently announced that while development had the nod for most of the site, one of the towers had to be retained as a token gesture to the heritage of the original buildings. So according to this decision, while the majority of the development will be dominated by the usual glass and metal apartment tower boxes, at the northern end there will be a solitary block of ‘heritage’ on stilts in honour of the former social housing flats.
This decision is way beyond the usual madness of our planning authority. I have yet to work out how to colourfully describe such an utterly stupid bureaucratic planning decision. But then, maybe it is beautifully perverse. This thing will sit there to greet tourists and to remind future generations of the stupidity that is the norm within Canberra’s planning and development agencies. Shall we call it ‘The ACTPLA Folly’?
The Dickson precinct, in which these flats are located, potentially has a great future but I fear we are not going to see it. There are so many bad decisions being thrown about to destroy the good things about the precinct.
It must be time for a cup of coffee and a long sit down on my front verandah.