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Has the Bush Capital had a Brazilian?

Braedan Kidd 6 March 2018 46

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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46 Responses to Has the Bush Capital had a Brazilian?
Babs Mabbs 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 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 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.

    Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 11:04 am 07 Mar 18

    You mean dirty gum trees that make messes every where

    Maureen Nolan Maureen Nolan 12:20 am 09 Mar 18

    Stephen Matthews No, not gum trees,I think the lesson has been learnt from planning messy gum trees.

Cathy Beckhouse 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 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 Mark Dawson 9:23 pm 06 Mar 18

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

Michael Ahern Michael Ahern 8:53 pm 06 Mar 18

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

Susie Deards Susie Deards 8:39 pm 06 Mar 18

Yes. More trees wanted :(

Jacqui Owen 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 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. 😊

Mat Nai-son Mat Nai-son 7:00 pm 06 Mar 18

If it doesnt pass the "rubbish truck" test then the streets are too narrow. If you cant park your car under a tree on the street or have birds chirping in your back yard in the evening it means theres not enough greenery on the street ... 🤔🤔 anyway

Beverley Wallace Beverley Wallace 6:15 pm 06 Mar 18

New areas have indeed had a Brazilian . They get a look of Slum after awhile 😩 very sad for the Old Bush Capital .

Louis Sotiropoulos Louis Sotiropoulos 5:59 pm 06 Mar 18

Tiny blocks equals more houses along with the atrocious apartment block designs, which at the end of the day equals more rates to pay off the light junk

Drew Reis Drew Reis 5:57 pm 06 Mar 18

Planning for the mid and long term future. It’s not wise to be short sighted when planning...

Canberra is becoming more populous. This is increasing. What we don’t want to increase are house and apartment prices due to undersupply. They are already expensive enough in this city of over 400,000 people...

PS: Plant more trees 🌞🌴🌲 🌳

Drew Reis Drew Reis 5:56 pm 06 Mar 18

Well have a looksie at this perspective:

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 6:07 pm 06 Mar 18

    Looked, and think it avoids the whole problem of shoddy unattractive buildings having only fire escapes and no beautiful staircases(would that not help our obesity problem?) as well as facades that are pleasant? Not many of those about!

    Drew Reis Drew Reis 8:08 pm 06 Mar 18

    The unattractive buildings are from the Government/opposition and “Market” being too afraid to “step it up” and have amazing, bold architecture for fear of backlash from the public, as such. So “ordinary” is what they pump out until we, the Canberra society, demand more “extraordinary”.

    ...So, what do you suggest? ACT Government, Canberra Progressives and the majority of the public have it wrong and we do nothing as suggested by the ACT Liberal Party? And we all just kick back and watch our lives pass by?

Kip Deveson Kip Deveson 5:48 pm 06 Mar 18

Bloody oath. Stop these tiny roads and no parking.

Arjay Arjay 5:35 pm 06 Mar 18

It’s interesting – there are whole streets of smaller (500-600m2) blocks in places like Ainslie that don’t suffer from this problem. I think the reason this has become such a big issue in the newer suburbs is because people are now consistently building houses that fill up most of the block, regardless of how big that block may be.

For instance, the other day I saw an absolute monster of a house being built in Lawson that streched to all three fencelines, on what turned out to be a 1000m2 block! At two stories, I have no idea how it avoided breaching the 50% plot ratio restriction, but there it was for all to see.

This has also been happening on redeveloped blocks in the older suburbs, with more modest buildings being demolished to make way for houses that are twice the size and have almost no private green space.

The truth is, when it comes down to green space or floor space, people are overwhelmingly choosing floor space. It’s a trend that’s happening all over Australia, with no end in sight:

    Arjay Arjay 7:09 pm 06 Mar 18

    For example, compare Lalor and Piper Streets in Ainslie to Kettle and Evadell Streets in Gungahlin: Despite sitting on smaller blocks, the houses in Ainslie have backyards that are proportionally much bigger than the yards in Gungahlin, where the blocks are almost entirely taken up by the footprint of the house.

    If people seriously want big backyards and leafy suburbs, then they’re going to have to stop building such enormous houses.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 9:48 am 07 Mar 18

    One thing to be mindful of is that older Suburbs like Ainslie have ‘on average’ three times larger Nature Strips than the newer Suburbs. These Nature Strips are not calculated as part of the block size and they often hold large attractive trees that were planted by Government.

    Some of the new and old comparisons of block size are difficult with narrower streets, less small green spaces in streets and much smaller nature strips.

    Do the sums on the square KM of the Suburb and the number of lots. This shows how the Government is squeezing far more lots into a Suburb (which is probably a good thing).

    Arjay Arjay 12:33 pm 07 Mar 18

    While it might be true that the average size of Canberra nature strips has fallen over time, it’s worth pointing out that the roads and nature strips in the examples I’ve cited are roughly comparable in size:,149.1518602,3a,75y,57.82h,90.94t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sZQVBMAOuKlu0Wj5Jy-wWug!2e0!7i13312!8i6656,149.1374112,3a,75y,155.94h,87.64t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1szzaVfspAztUOdv6gxqi5OQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    It just goes to show that small blocks, narrow roads and (comparatively) small nature strips can produce leafy suburbs if people don’t get greedy with the size of their house.

Blake Swadling Blake Swadling 4:53 pm 06 Mar 18

It's ridiculous. Streets are so narrow that people have to park on both sides of the street, blocking traffic and obscuring visibility. Someone's going to get killed

James Ward James Ward 3:59 pm 06 Mar 18

For gods sake, yes! Canberra boasts some of the most desperately ugly, soon-to-be-slum estates that I have ever seen. It seems that the ACT is the land where the greedy developer reigns supreme.

    Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 5:51 pm 06 Mar 18

    Absolutely! The current government is completely ignoring urban planning and design and thinking only of money. The government is greedy and thinks nothing except revenue. One thing that nobody mentions in all this planning is - will we have the water to extend the size of the city?

Julia Ross Julia Ross 3:54 pm 06 Mar 18

Yes, because the government has allowed greedy developers to design suburbs where the streets are so narrow the rubbish trucks have difficulty collecting the waste. For a 'planned' city, it's lost the plot!!

    Adrian Fui Fui Moy Adrian Fui Fui Moy 7:02 pm 06 Mar 18

    You do know the government is the developer of the new suburbs right?

    Jacqui Owen Jacqui Owen 8:03 pm 06 Mar 18

    ACT Gov lacking innovation in creating income streams!! Real estate and motor vehicle infringements. Argh!

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