28 January 2024

Housing and local shops a good mix to provide homes and revitalise communities

| Ian Bushnell
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Redeveloped Curtin shops

The redeveloped Curtin shops are thriving. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

No one should be surprised by new Planning Minister Chris Steel’s push for apartments to be built around and above local shops.

Government master plans include scope for new housing, community facilities and the development of surface car parks at several group centres such as Weston Creek, Mawson and Kippax.

Already apartment blocks have sprung up next to or above local shops such as Chapman and Curtin, the latter after a bitter fight that won some concessions to ensure the central square was not overshadowed.

But there is no doubt that the Curtin development has revitalised the shops, which like many around town, was past its best and showing it.

Whether every makeover needs to be like that depends on the locality.

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For example, in Manuka, stage 1 of the Liangis family’s European-style hotel development is standing and construction on stage 2 will soon commence as the demolition of the old Capital Theatre comes to a close.

When that side of Franklin Street is complete, it will stand in stark contrast to what is mostly a tired and dated strip of buildings that will be crying out for a fresh look.

Franklin Street Manuka

Franklin Street in Manuka. The shops are going to need a lift. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

That should not have to be half a dozen or more storeys of modernist apartments with some shops on the ground floor but kept to a Parisian scale size and style, like those at the Griffith shops, that will complement the new hotel.

Elsewhere could be a different matter. It will be all about context, character and locale.

But the principle is right. Our local shops and group centres, already located on bus routes and in some cases destined to be on a light rail route as well, unless the Canberra Liberals can convince enough Canberrans that the “tram” is dud, are the obvious starting points for sensible infill.

The Property Council sees the government-owned car parks as land that can be leveraged for affordable housing – either government-owned public housing or social housing run or owned by community housing providers.

That, too, makes sense. Going underground opens up all kinds of possibilities for shopping centres in need of a refresh.

Above all, they must be places for people.

Putting housing into local shops not only provides much-needed homes in established areas close to public transport but also residents who, in turn, will boost the vitality of businesses benefiting from greater foot traffic and a captive market.

This “ecological” approach will drive local economies and communities.

But change is difficult and as we have seen in Curtin – and I think the apartment building could have had a kinder design – there will be opposition and fights over heights, aesthetics and green space.

Like much of Canberra’s densification debate, it will be about how it is done and its outcomes.

That is where the new planning system comes in. If it works as intended, innovation will be encouraged and bad, inappropriate design won’t pass muster.

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But there should be little affection for ageing, run-down buildings, grunge, nostalgia or what some call “charm”. Heritage value? Well, that will be up for debate.

If designed and built correctly, these new buildings, in some cases retaining worthy facades, should hopefully last longer than some of the dilapidated examples they will replace.

None of this will happen overnight, but Mr Steel has served notice that change is on the way.

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Kerry Clifford2:24 pm 30 Jan 24

Start with the absolutely disgracefully abandoned Richardson zone. I’m flabbergasted that the ACT Government has permitted the vacant building to lay vacated and vandalised for years.

There’s an extra side to the Curtin shops story – the square it looks more vitalised, partly by having private commercial seating areas replace public spaces. Curtin also shows that the multiple ownership model of commercial buildings is not necessarily a bar to keeping areas vital: despite the other wing of Curtin ships having multiple owners, it has some successes and redevelopments – that are not dependent on new residential development. Most of the customers around Curtin shops are not from the new apartments.
Perhaps we need more focus on smarter commercial enterprises in existing buildings, with better (publicly funded) care for the surrounding public spaces, instead of simple minded knock down rebuild planning ideas like replacing conveniently accessible open-air car parking areas by new buildings. Underground car parking is very expensive to build, and has to be paid for out of higher commercial rents and customer prices . Shopping centres need to think focus rather than sprawl?

HiddenDragon9:37 pm 29 Jan 24

“The Property Council sees the government-owned car parks as land that can be leveraged for affordable housing – either government-owned public housing or social housing run or owned by community housing providers.”

Of course they do, and anyone who believes that will be interested to know that there’s a bargain-priced bridge for sale in Sydney.

The cunning plan (a la Blackadder) to do away with free car parking in group centres and larger local shopping centres is typical of the short-sighted over-reach which so often characterises the development lobby and its government enablers in this town.

Rather than being contented with the prospect of balanced infill/densification they always want more, and in this case are pursuing a strategy which will destroy an essential element of the appeal of the smaller shopping centres compared to the malls – i.e. convenience – which would not augur well for the longer-term survival of businesses in the redeveloped centres.

Should consider opening up parks next to local shopping centres to allow morning fresh food markets.

And all the shops will be selling the same stuff to the same social demographic. The rent will be too expensive for anyone to take the risk of doing anything different. That’s the advantage of “ageing, run-down buildings, grunge, nostalgia or what some call “charm”. The rents are lower so people can have a go at something without having to sell their first born into slavery. Hence the rund-down appearance of many of the so-called vibrant areas of Sydney and Melbourne.

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