6 March 2018

CIVIC – be radical about its future

| Paul Costigan
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Canberra Centre. Photos: Paul Costigan.

I can only guess how many committee meetings have been held to discuss some aspect of how to improve Civic– the traditional urban centre of the city of Canberra.

Ever since the two expansions of the Canberra Centre into a larger mall that is now the real centre of the Civic shopping centre, the once former ‘vibrant’ Civic open malls have struggled – with very mixed success and many closures.

There are shops that have found their niche and a couple that have really lasted the distance. But should the national capital of Australia have a big box mall that is no different to all the others as its main commercial centre?

I think we can do a lot better.

I have written about Civic in previous years, there have been the occasional other discussions, and I know of people who have lobbied for something to be done.

Over the years we have seen a host of activities held in Civic on the basis that hopefully, they would do something to rejuvenate the public spaces – and encourage more people to consider shopping outside the mall.

Many of these events, festivals etc, have been successful. Sadly the reality has been that these staged events tend to have a very temporary presence, and afterward, the open spaces return to their usual semi-deserted manner.

Of course, there are times when it does get busy, such as on a fine day around lunchtime. However for most of the time during the day, Civic’s open spaces does not attract people to make it look as though it is the active centre it should be – especially as it is the centre of the city and as such also the urban centre of the National Capital.

When was the last time you had taken visitors to enjoy the sights and sounds of Civic?

A positive note: Over the years, the ACT Government’s project sections (operating under various names) have done a pretty good job on the redesigning of the actual open spaces – with new seating, trees, various artworks and other landscape architectural features. But while they are wonderful, these attractive landscaped areas alone have not brought people back to Civic.

Civic, Canberra. Photos: Paul Costigan.

While the responsibility for Civic’s urban character and commercial activities has been passed around many times to many different bodies, last year it landed on the agenda of the new City Redevelopment Authority (lucky them).

While they are probably very focused on Northbourne Ave and the now infamous City to Lake project, they were also handed the complicated task of bringing commercial life back into the open spaces of Civic and the surrounding areas. I say this because we have not heard much from them as yet – so I guess that’s what they are doing.

Meanwhile, I am sure that many people share the view that something should be done – soon – and it should not be sitting in the ‘too hard’ basket as it has been for a decade or more.

So what’s to be done?

I have expressed some ideas previously but I think it is time to throw the question open to a broader audience – and what better audience than The RiotACT readers?

So, putting aside the obvious – to bulldoze the lot and start again – what should be the priority?

  • Should the government revisit the leases of the holders of the buildings and insist that they do something major to redevelop their holdings?
  • Should there be a significant increase in apartments – or have we too many already – planned and those being built?
  • Is there some other form of commercial activity that could be introduced (encouraged) to operate in Civic?

The list could go on and on and on.

But it would be better if readers came forward with ideas.

So it is over to you to put your ideas forward – no matter how radical. Go for it!

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Capital Retro2:17 pm 13 Mar 18

According to today’s Canberra Times Tim Overall has been exposed as a one time Liberal Party member. Shame Tim, shame.

Next thing the CT will get information that he has shares in a coal mining company and his dog raids the neighbours garbage can.
There is some truth in what Andrew Barr has been raving on about after all.

Capital Retro10:39 pm 09 Mar 18

“Canberra has so much potential to be a great Capital “

What is supposed to mean or do for us? Are we in some sort of global competition? I don’t care if it is a great or a lousy capital. What I wan’t is a decent, affordable place to live with my family and friends like it was before this current government came to power.

Queanbeyanite9:01 pm 08 Mar 18

Abolish the ACT local council, extend Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council west, then just get out of the way. Tim Overall could run the whole lot for a fraction of the cost.
Constitutional requirements could be fixed by having The Aust. Capital Authority just look after the Parliamentary Triangle.
To pay for it all, grant Queanbeyan free-trade, free migration, business tax free zone status for 99 years, by which time it would be the blockchain capital of the southern hemisphere running on Ethereum Ether.

Matt Donnelly11:32 am 10 Mar 18

This person thinks outside the square!

Capital Retro9:22 am 08 Mar 18

Canberra Metro has it’s own “grand” ideas about Civic and it appears it has approval to do the following:

“The design for Northbourne Plaza has its own specific identity, the generator of which lies in the heritage of the precinct, specifically the relationship of the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings to each other and as framing elements to the space between. Careful consideration has also been given to the landscape heritage intention evidenced through 1930’s photography of Northbourne Plaza and City Hill which demonstrates the use of mixtures of trees types and forms to create a grand plaza space at Civic. The design carefully and subtly reinvigorates the public realm of Northbourne Plaza as its own specific space. The design acknowledges the future visual qualities of the Stage 1 and 2 light rail while responding to the new Alinga Street Stop.”

Capital Retro2:22 pm 07 Mar 18

I thought that the hugely subsidised CBR (I’ve forgotten what that stands for) was to be a panacea for the revival of CIVIC.

Either I am wrong or it has failed.

Canberra centre needs to extend to Anu.

And loads more parking

Belconandonandon1:04 pm 07 Mar 18

I think Civic has really improved in recent years. Bunda Street in particular has a nice bustling feel to it nowadays. I remember when I moved here it was basically just one big car park. Once all the other open air carparks in Civic are similarly replaced, Civic will be a lot more vibrant.

I haven’t lived in Canberra for several years, but it looks like things haven’t changed much. First thing to do would be to have a look at what other cities do to bring people in, especially those with cooler night time temperatures (eg Melbourne, Seattle, Portland etc) . There could be restaurants doubling up as bars serving outdoors til late, dedicated cinema in the centre of for various film festivals and cult films (similar to the Electric Shadows of old), maybe have monthly night markets. Have a look at what Adelaide has done with its formerly dingy alleyways. They have been cleaned out and now host a myriad of tiny bars and eateries. You will need a critical mass of people living within 10 mins walk – does this mean more apartments or are there enough already?

It’s an interesting point about the new seating artworks etc not actually attracting people.

The award winning seating and landscaping on Constitution avenue (at massive cost) hasn’t actually increased the number of people who use the area. From my visuals it has actually decreased use (but that’s only from memory of sitting there at lunch time).

Glebe Park has very few users a day (considering its size and location), my guess is that the park doesn’t tie in well with what workers need for a getaway or recreational space.

I always assumed the Constitution Avenue public realm upgrades were designed to cater for the future development of the land between it and Parkes Way. I can’t think of any other reason why they’d build expensive new seating opposite a gravel car park.

I thought the ridiculous upgrade of Constitution Avenue (what a waste of money for very little use – I never see barely anyone out there using it at lunchtime or any other time) was Canberra’s centenary birthday present from the Feds.

In that sense, it fits the bill well- not really asked for, showed little imagination or thought (surely there were more fitting projects that could have been done) and close to completely useless – like many a present!

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