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Has the Bush Capital had a Brazilian?

By Braedan Kidd 6 March 2018 45

National Arboretum. Photo: Jack Mohr.

Driving through the new housing estates on Canberra’s North Side last week, I couldn’t help but think the landscape is becoming rapidly reminiscent of Western Sydney’s congested sprawl of cookie-cutter homes. There are big houses on small blocks and a narrow labyrinth of streets that don’t flow on to each other. What sticks out the most though is the complete lack of greenery. Bushland is lapping at the edges begging to integrate with the new development but we, as consumers, are not having a bar of it.

Aerial View of Dunlop

Aerial View of Dunlop. Photo: Jack Mohr

Over a century has passed since one of Canberra’s most prominent visionaries got to work with the afforestation of this once empty sheep station. Charles Weston, Horticulturist and Arboriculturist, was tasked with reversing the degradation of the site and establishing a truly unique landscape worthy of the Nation’s Capital.

100 years later and we are at risk of losing our green identity. In the quest for jobs, money, and growth, we have forgotten the true soul of “The Bush Capital”.

Our city’s connection with the bush is slowly but surely diminishing. We ignore studies and data on not only the ecological but also the health and productivity benefits the green landscape promotes. Energy efficiency ratings are mandatory but without the plant cover, we’re cooking the streets and roofs and trapping the heat. Our beautiful mid-century vernacular architecture has been replaced with concrete blocks with no consideration for gardens. ‘Just whack an air conditioner in and she’ll be right’ is the common attitude to modern-day Canberra house design.

Why is there not a push to incorporate biophilic design elements into our homes? Kellert, Heerwagen and Mador’s “Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life” indicates the benefits of incorporating these natural design elements include the cooling of the city through the reduction of the Urban Heat Island effect, reduced energy needs in buildings as a result of the added insulation plant life provides, improved biodiversity, and improved health. The CSIRO’s urban heat-mapping data (as incorporated in the ACT’s Climate Change Adaption Strategy) show the new estates light up like a Christmas tree with greater surface temperatures recorded on a hot day than that of the established leafy counterparts.

Metropolitan Land Surface Temperature 2014

Canberra’s Metropolitan Land Surface Temperatures 2014
Source: ACT Climate Change Adaption Strategy.

The ACT Treasury predicts that Canberra will grow by another 100,000 people within the next 20 years. That could spell many more poorly planned estates that do not harness the image Charles Weston worked so hard to cultivate.

If we’re not careful, an innocent trim of the bikini line may turn into a full-blown Brazilian.

Would you like to see better landscape planning in new estates?

What’s Your opinion?

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45 Responses to
Has the Bush Capital had a Brazilian?
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wildturkeycanoe 8:10 am 11 Mar 18

Wow, I just posted regarding lack of parks and playgrounds in another story about lack of single dwellings, but it would have fitted better in this discussion. Hear, hear. More trees for Canberra. Hypocritically though, I am about to rip up two bottlebrush and one waratah from our yard to fit a third vehicle parking spot. While I hate to do it, with a teen learning to drive it is necessary. To offset the loss however, there will be a new frangipani tree going up and we have a backyard full of fruit bearing vegetation already. If we could afford more than a 460 sq metre block, the destruction would be unnecessary.

    Capital Retro 11:30 am 11 Mar 18

    Actually, I was about to make a comment pursuant to your observation on the other thread about apartments lacking larger children’s playgounds, a similar situations will develop regarding lack of parking space but it could be more relevant on this thread.

    The point I make as that with our children becoming old enough to drive they will get a car – they are so cheap and convenient that public transport will never be an alternative for them in Canberra.

    There is no additional on-site space in unit blocks for extra cars; indeed a lot of the new developments won’t have any allocated parking at all. There will be no space in the surrounding streets so what is the solution?

    If on the other hand, if your drivers licence age kids are living at the family home and that home is a stand alone house with space between the front door and the road one has the choice of sacrificing part of the garden to allow them to park off the street as you have done, albeit reluctantly.

    As I have said previously, parking in some of the streets in Gungahlin (not just the newer suburbs) is becoming impossible. This has become a planning disaster all because the government still believes that people would prefer to use public transport yet their recent target from 8% to 11% public transport use is actually falling and is now near 6%.

    Good on you for planting more trees.

Capital Retro 11:13 pm 09 Mar 18

Canberra has a similar history to Brasilia which is currently sucking in about 100,000 unskilled people a year. They are mostly living in slums on the extremities of Brasil’s capital. The population is over 3 times that of Canberra.

Do we really want to go down the Brasilia road?

Roderick Saunders 6:34 pm 09 Mar 18

It's starting to look like Brasilia?

ricketyclik 6:32 pm 08 Mar 18

While I love trees and agree with the concept that mature trees = less heat, I think the conclusions drawn are wrong.

If you look at the older parts of Gungahlin on the heat map, they’re not dissimilar to most of Tuggeranong. Kingston’s doing OK, despite its density.

It’s more the age of a suburb. These days suburbs are moonscaped and smoothed before construction, which is good for drainage and avoiding future local flooding. Unfortunately it also means a wait for that established, cool, green environment. But it does come, eventually.

The reference in the comments to Radburn style planning is erroneous, as the newer suburbs reduce private open space but increase public open space, making it readily accessible for all, which is in line with Radburn philosophy. Several of our newer suburbs have won awards for just that.

Give a suburb 20 years before judging it. The older Gungahlin suburbs are pretty good in my opinion.

Anohs Llihpmeh 8:14 am 08 Mar 18

Hear, hear to more trees! Six Mr Fluffy blocks in our really nice Belconnen area street have gone up for auction, the auctions are on weekdays ... hardly conducive to the average family turning up to buy and build. We shudder to think what will go up if developers buy them.

HiddenDragon 5:29 pm 07 Mar 18

“….What sticks out the most though is the complete lack of greenery…..”

Indeed – but what really “sticks out” is the contrast (or more frankly, contradiction and hypocrisy) about the bottom-line driven lack of greenery in new developments, and many redevelopments, and the at times almost manic determination to preserve trees in established suburbs. The latter, and the resultant costs and risks borne by some residents, is justified by carefully chosen words about the benefits of the “urban forest”, but if those benefits are so great, why are we not seeing provision for the development of Canberra’s future urban forests – or at least some worthwhile greenery which goes beyond token garnishes…….?

Lee Sheather 2:17 pm 07 Mar 18

Come to Coombs, unit after unit block are under construction,add many public housing blocks as well.

No trees ,skinny streets going downhill at a rapid place .

Etienne Blumstein Jones 1:07 pm 07 Mar 18

They should get rid of the ugly houses and new suburbs and put more trees up. We’re losing part of what makes Canberra so great which is having so much bush

Stephen Matthews 11:02 am 07 Mar 18

Lets lose the dirty street gum trees

Angela Hunter 9:28 am 07 Mar 18

It's not only visually unappealing but as we've seen recently with the heavy rain fall, it's a natural disaster waiting to happen. No trees to slow the heavy winds, no soil cover to slow floodwaters and of course massive temperature rises from all that concrete. It's ugliness with dire consequences.

Babs Mabbs 12:14 am 07 Mar 18

IMO Lack of awareness about weeds and weed trees is a bigger threat. Garden escapees are spreading via birds and wind dispersal across whole suburbs and into bushland .

Damaris Wilson 11:10 pm 06 Mar 18

There is a government house in our (non-native oak-lined) leafy CBD street which has recently had its tenants moved on and is now being sold off by the government ... the auction is being held on a Thursday in working hours. I've no doubt this is to favour 'developers' who will face little competition and build some execrable dual-occupancy on the site. The street cannot cope already with the influx of cars being parked along it - commuters with their bikes attached, they park, hop onto their bikes or simply walk away. Too bad if a resident actually has a visitor; there's nowhere left to park!

Maureen Nolan 10:18 pm 06 Mar 18

The Bush Capital has really changed sinc self government, it was once a pretty Capital,we r loosing this greenery and tree lined streets for what is to become our future slums, it's being destroyed by our greedy government,who just want money from Taxes.

Cathy Beckhouse 9:55 pm 06 Mar 18

There used to be trees there - what happened to them? Driving along the Barton hwy the Gungahlin suburbs look appalling! I can only think of the song "little boxes".

Stan Vizovitis 9:45 pm 06 Mar 18

Tomorrows slum here today .the experts warned them years ago about these same concerns which they choose to ignore

Mark Dawson 9:27 pm 06 Mar 18

Unfortunately, with the demise of the NCDC, our town planners moved away from the Radburn influenced suburb design.

Michael Ahern 8:53 pm 06 Mar 18

Landscape and infrastructure planning in Canberra - that stopped when self-Government started.

Susie Deards 8:39 pm 06 Mar 18

Yes. More trees wanted :(

Jacqui Owen 8:10 pm 06 Mar 18

Maybe if the ACT Gov really looked at the cost of what they are creating, they would look for alternatives, just the health costs from the heat will be enormous! Livability will drop. Real estate is a finite resource in the ACT. Wake up. Develop environmentally and strategically and people will want to live in Canb and prices on existing properties will rise. Stop giving away land to developers and start businesses which will benefit the community and provide income. E.g carpark, e.g tours through namadgi.

Robert Warn 7:32 pm 06 Mar 18

Maybe the ACT government could loosen its purse strings and plant more street trees? And not natives, which tend to drop branches on people and provide little shade in our blisteringly hot summers. A letter a few years back to the Adelaide Lord Mayor when the Council was going to plant 'gum' trees in city streets, led to a change to plane trees, to create a shaded urban oasis in a very hot city .... I wrote that letter. 😊

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