2017 in Canberra began with announcements that many new building developments are about to change the city’s landscape.
Of course, that could be taken two ways – either for the better – or …
One of these announcements was about the replacements for the Currong Flats/Apartments. These old buildings dominated the skylines around Civic and were definitely due for replacement. We now await the developer’s (and by default the government planners’) offerings that will apparently “add to the vibrancy of the city centre and the Braddon area”.
But wait there’s so much more. Gungahlin will have a Geocon tower, there’s a group of towers for Belconnen, Lake Tuggeranong will soon have several new developments by the lake, there’s the much promoted Campbell developments that is to be a village within the suburb (whatever that means), the Canberra Centre is about to be extended (again), and of course we will soon see more ‘unique’ and ‘striking’ buildings in Braddon. Then there are proposals for suburban centres such as Dickson and Curtin – and probably others elsewhere.
And we must not forget there’s the most significant of them all – Northbourne Avenue – an avenue of grand new buildings – and landscapes.
Cities all over the world are experiencing serious changes as a result of a proliferation of high-rise. The former London Mayor, Boris, allowed developers free rein and most of the east of the city of London was due to be become a solid wall of towers. The new mayor has put some sense back into this while still allowing a more appropriate level of tower developments to proceed.
Likewise Los Angeles, known for urban sprawl (as far as the eye can see), is now experiencing intensification programs that will see many towers popping up in areas that till recently have been low rise.
According to the Canberra announcements, there will be soon significant towers in many of our centres. In theory this could be a good thing. But (there’s always a but) …
Up till recently, this has been a ‘bush capital’ and one more or less based around being a city of gardens and greenery. The continuation of this ideal is still achievable. Our planning directorate needs to be increasing (not reducing) greenery when they are looking to encourage and approve high-rise developments across the city.
What you rarely see in these announcements by the government or the developers is how their developments will deliver enhancements to our cherished green environments. When did our government stop caring about such things?
Other cities have embraced renewables and progressed sustainability. These new Canberra buildings should be designed to be part of the climate solutions – but that is not mentioned. Visiting specialists have noticed that we do not take design seriously.
The future image of this national capital should be about good design, about good architecture and enhancing the landscapes around these new developments. It should not be about more bland glass and steel boxes with a few decorative additions – and less greenery (trees and loads of other stuff).
The ACT Government should stop taking a back seat on architectural design and should not allow the market to deliver what they see fit. Based on recent developments, the end results have been pretty ordinary – being about profit rather than the total ambience of the city.
There’s a lot of spin and the use of similar words across many of the recent proposals.
We need to file away all these recent announcements and then revisit them in a year or two (or whatever it takes) – in time for the next elections. By then we should be able to judge whether the Government and developers have as a minimum delivered what they said they would and whether all these new developments have become pleasing additions to the skyline of this city – and whether the government has added to (or diminished) the cherished legacy of the garden/bush city they inherited.
It is not about objecting to developments in our backyard – being a so called NIMBY – but wishing and hoping for good architecture and great landscapes. These new buildings should not be just more ordinary stuff – they should not be boring.
Then again maybe it is about being a NIMBY – about not wanting any more of that crap in our backyards, front yards or anywhere in our streets or suburbs. If so, I’m happy to be a NIMBY.
Again – good architecture and great landscapes – not too much to ask for – is it?