13 June 2021

Grunge capital: It's time to clean up Civic's mean streets

| Ian Bushnell
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Verity Lane, Sydney Building Civic

The peeling paint of the Sydney Building in Civic. Photos: Michelle Kroll.

For a planned city that is supposed to be a shining light on the hill, Canberra is rotting at its core, and I don’t mean Parliament House.

A recent stroll through parts of Civic was an uncomfortable and disturbing experience, particularly along various sides of the heritage-listed but dilapidated Sydney Building, down East Row and parts of Bunda Street.

Run-down, with empty shopfronts and reeking of neglect, it felt neither safe nor secure. Grime attracts crime and I would hate to be walking around some of these places at night.

The grunge is in stark contrast to the marble tiles and high-end shops hidden away in the vastness of the Canberra Centre, blamed for sucking the life out of surrounding areas such as Garema Place.

But a city is more than a mall and these distressed streets have suffered for too long.

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The City Renewal Authority has been trying to get the multiple owners of the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings to invest in their properties to smarten them up and create a city gateway worthy of the national capital.

Frustratingly, it is still a work in progress, despite the CRA’s cajoling and waving of regulatory sticks.

Verity Lane, Sydney Building Civic

The view inside Verity Lane. It’s taking a long time to realise the laneways’ potential’.

Its laneways project took another step last week with a contract for a design study to see how Odgers and Verity Lanes can be reborn as buzzy, people-filled places instead of the unkempt and on-the-nose back entrances they are.

But progress is excruciatingly slow and the area is being left behind as other parts of the city are transformed, such as the Constitution Place precinct next to the Legislative Assembly.

NewActon has for years set the benchmark for urban redevelopment, creating places that incorporate old and new that people feel comfortable in.

Civic is still waiting for something like that, and many people prefer to retreat behind the Canberra Centre walls.

The CRA also knows the bus interchange in Alinga Street and East Row is a problem and even contemplated going underground near City Hill at one point, but a solution seems a long way off.

The Sydney Building’s heritage status means that part of town will remain low-rise, but nearby on Garema Place and Bunda Street, Geocon’s high-rise hotel project will sweep away a wedge of the city that had lost its lifeforce.

There will be shadows, but the tradeoff will be a modern amenity, greater economic activity and a re-energised city centre.

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It is pointless maintaining a dated, unattractive and dangerous environment in the name of holding back the development tide or misguided notions of heritage.

The trick is to ensure development that will set the tone for the city is up to scratch – surely not an impossible task.

Canberrans deserve a city centre that makes them want to be there, that makes them feel safe and which is in the spirit of the national capital.

At present, there are areas of Civic that are a disgrace and completely out of character with a modern planned city like Canberra. It’s time the neglect ended.

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Ian Bushnell, Canberra’s Civic is more vibrant and vital than ever before in the prior 25 years. Before then it was vibrant too but now begins to regain its former self. I don’t understand what’s your problem.

Anyone who has ever or continues to vote for Barr and his band of incompetents are getting what they deserve. The tram is not needed the business case doesn’t stack up and what else could a billion dollars have bought?
And please before you tell me I’m wrong, do some research. The tram is NOT about relieving congestion, climate change or agglomeration benefits it IS about revenue and in filling spaces which were never ever meant to be built on. Expect even more ugly units. Has anyone though of how raising London Circuit will look. Vote for Barr, get more of this sh*t and shame on all of you!

I agree 100% I have lived here all my life (64 years) and never seen it like this and it’s not only Civic Dickson, Woden, Tuggeranong & lots of other shopping centres and it’s worst around the bus stops they look like they have not been cleaned for year’s

HiddenDragon7:27 pm 14 Jun 21

So the light rail terminus (and the pretty lights in the trees) haven’t done the trick with all that “activation” and “enlivening” etc. etc. that was promised – what a surprise.

Perhaps if there was more in the way of waiving of rapacious revenue grabs in return for specific improvements, rather than “waving of regulatory sticks”, there might be some worthwhile changes to the Civic grunge zone.

Admitting policy failure is not in the DNA of the ACT government, so more likely we’ll get another deluded vision along the lines of Northbourne Avenue as the Champs Elysees and Canberra as London on the Molonglo, complete with “Night Mayor”.

The Melbourne and Sydney buildings are very special. They were the first shops in Civic and are beautifully designed giving the centre of Canberra some real character. It’s sad that some of the owners have no pride in these historic buildings and apparently cannot see that this can be leveraged to commercial advantage. The owner of Verity Lane markets does get it. Also the government may need to be a tad more assertive in enforcing heritage requirements.

ChrisinTurner1:42 pm 14 Jun 21

Imagine the improvements that could be made if the government gave up spending $billions on replacing a few buses with trams. We could not only fix Civic but also our hospitals, schools, police and prison.

60m a year (cost of lightrail) doesn’t go that far. Some seem to think it’s a magic pudding.

$60million a year for one stage of light rail that services a tiny minority of the population.

With the government committing to more stages, that number will grow substantially.

And when you consider that the entire transport budget (not just public transport) is less than $500million, it’s a massive burden on an already extremely stretched budget.

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