8 January 2018

Gungahlin is a future slum – Really?

| Paul Costigan
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Photos: Paul Costigan.

Photos: Paul Costigan.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on the threats to biodiversity caused through inappropriate developments across Canberra. One responder commented, “some of the new suburbs look like slums in the making with too much concrete.”

Someone else then stated that they were tired (insulted) with the linking others were making between high-density developments (such as in Gungahlin) and that these developments were to be the future slums. They did agree that much of the recently built medium and low-density new construction are poorly designed, constructed and unattractive.

I doubt that any parts of Gungahlin will become a slum any time soon. So yes – I agree with the inappropriateness of that first statement.

But given the nature of planning regime here in Canberra and many other precincts nationally and internationally, the possibilities are endless for bad outcomes in our urban areas due to short-term profits being made at the cost of a reasonable level of sustainability, green infrastructure, and 21st-century urban amenities.

What we have in recent suburban developments is a hands-off approach that compares badly to the common sense we used to see implemented through real planning processes.

Both my photos used in this post are of Kambah. This area was planned and developed with a neighbourhood character. Decades on it remains an inviting urban environment.

I doubt whether later areas of Gungahlin will ever have the equivalent urban forest (both on the streets and in the backyards) and will ever be able to accommodate an equivalent healthy and complex biodiversity.

The problems for these newer suburbs with concentrations of badly designed (cookie cutter bland) apartments and large houses on small blocks will become more apparent as the effects of climate change result in a rise in average temperatures. These new areas have little greenery (shade) and very little chance of much being introduced.

They are also already heavily dependent on energy sources to cool and to heat. They will require a greater usage of energy into the future. There is no sign of energy becoming cheaper. Given the politics and the other goings-on in the energy sector, this essential service is likely to become even more expensive.

Canberra is not alone in building suburbs and developments that are not what was promised and are instead problems waiting to happen given the inevitability of rising temperatures.

This city has had several versions of planning authorities and many planning, urban and environmental ministers during the last decades. All have had available to them data on what not to do – and how to go about planning and developing urban areas for the 21st century and how to address the issues relating to climate change.

Yet here in Canberra, as with other cities, the government continues to roll out developments that are poorly designed, constructed and unattractive – as well as containing very little contemporary features to address sustainability issues and to ensure less use of energy.

People now occupy precious homes – whether it be stand-alone, terrace housing, town house or apartment – in the newer suburbs of Gungahlin. They would have done this with the belief that what they were buying would meet all the current standards.

The trouble being all the evidence points to the standards required have suited the developers’ requirements (profit and less ‘red’ tape) but sadly have not met what should be 21st-century user (resident) expectations.

The damage is done.

What to do now?

A quick scan through government policy identifies that at least in theory or on paper, this government is taking some serious actions to deal with climate change threats in other areas of its responsibilities. Yet in the area of planning and development, it is as if the government is consciously ignoring these matters.

Those responsible are being willfully blind to these matters.

Maybe they realise the obvious. The detrimental effects that are to flow and reduce the livability of the newer suburbs are to occur when the present bureaucracy and politicians have departed. They realise that it will fall to the next generations of politicians and bureaucrats to deal with these serious issues. So why bother?

To be honest, the solutions are not going to be simple, easy or cheap. However they are issues that the current government cannot go on neglecting. Solutions need to be found as good people are living in the newer developments. They deserve to know that the politician they elect cares for the future of their suburbs – no matter what mistakes have already been made.

The responsibility to put in place significant changes that will assist with the urgent climate change adaptation required must now fall to the current ACT Government.

It is time for these matters to be talked about openly and for this ACT Government to work out how to deal with them.

And most importantly – it is time to stop questionable developments and to put in place some real building and development standards to deal with the all the contemporary issues relevant to the various areas of Canberra.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Comment below.

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Capital Retro9:59 pm 14 Jan 18

Reality check on the Netherlands:
The Netherlands have a temperate maritime climate influenced by the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with cool summers and moderate winters. Daytime temperatures varies from 2°C-6°C in the winter and 17°C-20°C in the summer.

They don’t get the blazing hot north west winds that we do either.

What works in gardens there won’t work in Canberra. Also, the high cost of water in Canberra is now a huge disincentive for keeping things green. Even Parliament House is building a pipeline from LBG to keep the (non-native) lawns green.

ChrisinTurner3:20 pm 12 Jan 18

In Braddon developers were told the street trees next to their redevelopment must be removed, and this has started already. In The City Ltd carried out a survey of missing street trees in the CBD and offered to replace them at no cost to the government but their offer was rejected. In The City Ltd have now been disbanded.

Gungahlin was established in the late 1980s – 30 years ago. If it hasn’t become a slum by now it never will.

I agree that much of the housing is badly designed. However much of the blame also goes to buyers. They choose to buy this! If they didn’t, the houses we have now, wouldn’t be built. When I wanted a house I too was unable to afford a well designed house, but I refused to commission a new house that I considered badly designed (I felt morally obliged not to add another ‘bad’ design to the housing stock); instead I bought an old (far inferior) existing house for about the same price as a new house. The house I bought might have been considered a (if I were cruel I could have said, slum), but at least it was close to the bus and I could cycle to work. Then, except for basic things like painting and basic maintenance, I did very little to the house. I saved the money. I didn’t even bother plumbing the house for hot water. Yes, it was cold and hot, but I was young and could put up with this. But this was how people used to live. Finally, after many years I was in the financial position to have a well designed house built. Only when I could afford good design would I add another house to the housing stock. My house needs no air-conditioning (it was comfortable during the recent heat wave) and almost no heating. I doubt many houses being built could have his said about them. But most people want their ‘ideal’ house ‘now’, so hence lots of houses that could have been better designed if they waited till they had more money. Plus most people don’t care enough.

Gungahlin could easily turn into a slum. How is it different from Tarneit in terms of street layout, block size, building mix, cultural mix and lack of local non-franchise businesses?

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