CIVIC – be radical about its future

Paul Costigan 6 March 2018 45

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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45 Responses to CIVIC – be radical about its future
Capital Retro Capital Retro 2:17 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 Retro Capital Retro 10:39 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.

Babs Mabbs Babs Mabbs 10:18 pm 09 Mar 18

Return Garema place to its former glory. Boutiques, lovely paving,

    Em Pea Horgosi Em Pea Horgosi 10:19 am 13 Mar 18

    I think the landscaping in the city is way better than it used to be. They opened it up, took the chess pit and massive block in the middle out, plus the walk to the bus station got opened up. kept the trees, got rid of the horrid planter boxes with vines and red metal (which was also over that fountain too!) I think it has a lot more appeal than it used to and the Cafes down one side gives it life too. Gus's pic ur dad drew had it full of people and cafes, it might not be fully there but it is better than it was. many of the boutiques that were in the now office building at the end moved into the canberra centre. the pavement was horrid and rocky and I remember mum in pain walking on it. plus there is also sculpture in the city too. the running dogs are my fav, and look like button. then the events that get held in it now is good to see. before it wasn't so much a meeting place.

Julia Piccoli Julia Piccoli 11:36 pm 08 Mar 18

I’d like to feel comfortable shopping without displaced individuals approaching me and pretty much demanding my cash.

Queanbeyanite Queanbeyanite 9:01 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.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:22 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.”

Tim Cole Tim Cole 4:52 am 08 Mar 18

Level it and build more apartments. Apartments everywhere!

Marg Christensen Marg Christensen 10:27 pm 07 Mar 18

Subsidise the Merry-Go-Round so it can stay open Friday and Saturday nights

Marg Christensen Marg Christensen 10:25 pm 07 Mar 18

Employ a clean up team to hose down the interchange area and around the clubs/pubs early morning (5am) as happens in other cities

Marg Christensen Marg Christensen 10:21 pm 07 Mar 18

Pay School of Music students to busk around Civic. Install old pianos around Civic that can be played by anyone

    Lauren Melksham Lauren Melksham 9:22 am 11 Mar 18

    Well by the nature of it, you don’t pay buskers, and you already don’t need a permit to busk so there really isn’t anything standing in the way of more buskers.

    Marg Christensen Marg Christensen 10:55 am 11 Mar 18

    That’s one line of argument; however, I imagine students would be lured out to perform in Civic (pardon. not busk) if, in so doing, they were generating some pocket money.

Marg Christensen Marg Christensen 10:17 pm 07 Mar 18

Put Parkes Way underground from Commonwealth Bridge to ANU tunnel to bring Civic and the Lake together

Shane L.J. Ryan Shane L.J. Ryan 4:56 pm 07 Mar 18

Someone needs to show some love to the Sydney Building. What's the point of having such an iconic, historic building in the very centre of Canberra and then letting it rot and decay?

    Elena Williams Elena Williams 12:48 pm 08 Mar 18

    That is the "Northbourne Plaza" project. Muchos details for those with an eye for ploughing through APS/consultant-generated PDFs:

    Elena Williams Elena Williams 12:51 pm 08 Mar 18

    Also, as tenant of Bailey's Corner, definitely feel the rot and decay of this area.

Jeff Gadd Jeff Gadd 4:47 pm 07 Mar 18

Clean out all the drugged up welfos that spend all day around Civic looking for things to steal and drugs to score would be a good start.

Veronika Sain Veronika Sain 3:30 pm 07 Mar 18

Put streets back into the centre - street fronts bring traffic and with that you get customers (the parts of civic with street fronts are the parts that are doing well).

Mark Dando Mark Dando 2:38 pm 07 Mar 18

One of the questions Paul Costigan puts is 'Should the government revisit the leases of the holders of the buildings and insist that they do something major to redevelop their holdings?'

I think you misunderstand the nature of these leases. The properties are leasehold in the same way that anyone who owns a house in Canberra is actually leasing the land. The government has as much right to insist that the Civic leaseholders redevelop their properties as it has to insist that the owners of houses anywhere in Canberra redevelop their properties. Are you really suggesting that the government should review land use in say Dickson with a view to telling homeowners they should redevelop?

    Ab Fabco Ab Fabco 10:41 am 09 Mar 18

    I was in building that has been empty most of last 20 years as owners are waiting to make $ out if redevelopment, ie Knock down and build high-rises. If they do rent they want high rents for hovels that are sweltering in summer and freezing in Winter, don't have hot water, awful toilets, poor security. There are heaps of small businesses, many making good quality items who could enliven City with interesting unique items, where you could move between them comfortably instead of walking around the hard floored unintersting Canberra centre. But only if they were paying the rental the buildings are worth not what greedy owners want for buildings paid off 20+ years ago. Fyshwick suffers same problems for same reasons.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 2:22 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.

gooterz gooterz 2:15 pm 07 Mar 18

Canberra centre needs to extend to Anu.

And loads more parking

Simon Jenkins Simon Jenkins 1:32 pm 07 Mar 18

I believe some of the buildings in Garema Place are owned by the mall's owners so therefore if rent is expensive and foot traffic is low in Garema, the outlook is bleak for a business if they have to generate income and pay high rent.

Belconandonandon Belconandonandon 1:04 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.

OLydia OLydia 12:31 pm 07 Mar 18

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?

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