Skip to content Skip to main navigation

How can Civic be rejuvenated?

Paul Costigan 19 April 2016 41

City-WAlk-P1010588

Urgent action is required by the ACT Government to see Civic regain its position within Canberra as a popular centre, a place with its own character and charm and a precinct that attracts locals and visitors. Having previously outlined the issues behind Civic’s decline (see parts one and two of this series), it is timely to open up the debate with some ideas on Civic’s overdue rejuvenation. Hopefully there will be other ideas.

The open plaza areas of Civic should be renamed as the Civic Village Precinct. The Civic Village encompasses the areas bounded by East Row/Mort Street, into Bunda Street, then Petre Plaza till it meets City Walk, then to Akuna Street onto London Circuit.

Developments within this precinct should be guided by a new set of design principles to ensure that the Civic Village develops a unified attractive character suitable for the centre of Canberra. This precinct needs to have a people friendly atmosphere with a targeted range of commercial outlets, new amenities and activities and a substantial increase in residential apartments.

The civic precinct must not be allowed to descend into a zone dominated by high-rise bland boxes with the boring and unfriendly plazas. It is absolutely mandatory that the Civic Village guidelines and subsequent legislation address sustainability issues with the emphasis on climate change adaptation.

chatswood-P1100992

The project is to be overseen by the Committee for Civic established to develop a detailed vision and a Civic Village master plan, that is to be subsequently linked to legislation. The panel must be composed of a range of interests and expertise and not have anyone who may benefit directly (make money) from the outcomes.

This Committee for Civic model is proposed to deal with the common perception that the government’s planning and development agencies and their processes are not respected by the Canberra population. The Committee is not to be dominated by the property sector as is the present Civic management panel – CBD Ltd.

Resident groups across Canberra despair about the culture of the ACT Government’s planning agencies and long for a friendly, transparent and humane way of doing the business of planning and development. The Committee for Civic must therefore engage with all interested parties, including the property sector.

It is time to try something different. The Committee for Civic is to be answerable to ACT Legislative Assembly and is to be charged with setting design and development guidelines that cover this precinct’s planning and development including an aesthetic design guide. These guidelines, once accepted by government, are to be incorporated by the Planning Authority into new planning legislation specifically for the Civic Village Precinct.

One obvious challenge for the Committee for Civic is to deal with the dominance to one side by that big box mall. The plazas and their buildings need to be rejuvenated to become an alternative experience to the mall. This will mean encouraging a different range of shops so as not to duplicate of the style of outlets in the mall, being mostly fashion.

Christmas-P1020430

The hindrances to updating Civic are the current restrictive and inadequate planning legislation (overseen by ACTPLA) and that most of the buildings are owned by finance companies and developers who have shown little desire to upgrade their building stock (market forces at work).

The brief should allow for high-rise in some areas of Civic. No, this is not a call for developers to go crazy with their high-rise towers of bland boxes glass and steel (sorry guys and gals).

Where possible, remaining plaza level building frontages are to be enhanced as low rise. This would apply to those remaining low rise buildings along City Walk, Garema Place and Petrie Plaza. The owners would be ‘encouraged’ (a polite way of saying forced) to renovate their street frontages in line with the new Civic Village design guidelines. Where possible some limited higher levels (4 stories?) could be built behind in such a way not to send any shadows into the plazas or to become visually dominant.

The possibility should be explored to see if service lane-ways could be redeveloped to have well designed and attractive eight stories apartment buildings (a challenge) built behind the lower buildings. These open alleyways would then become covered service lanes with the buildings above containing well designed apartments (that challenge again). They should be real apartments not the tiny bed-sits and one-bedroom cupboards adored by many developers (but not lived in by developers).

A limited number of stand-alone cafes and small shops should encouraged into the centre areas of the plazas along with a well designed parent friendly children’s playground. The number of trees in and around the open spaces must not be reduced. Some trees may have to be removed to allow for new facilities, but the total number and the amount of shade should be maintained – if not increased – through replacements.

P1110470

There are many more ideas to be included – here is one selection: Solar panels on all buildings; Bunda Street for service vehicles only; more lockable spaces for bicycles; real gardens with flower beds; the centres of City Walk and Petrie Plaza redesigned for regular markets; encourage a different range of shops to the usual box mall variety; more public art to add character; and some previous events should no longer be staged in these Civic plazas (more on this in a future post).

There are loads of other ideas out there and bringing these together needs to be the major task for the Committee for Civic.

The biggest challenge is to engage the creative expertise within the Canberra community given that residents continue to have bad experiences on planning and development matters and most would rather get on with their lives than have contact with the dreaded planning agencies.

The other challenge is to get ACT politicians motivated (we can try) and committed to real actions on behalf of the people who may elect them at next elections – which are not far away!

Note one: the high rise photo is of Chatswood in Sydney – a shopping area being crowded out by high-rise.

Note two: Melbourne initiated a Committee for Melbourne decades ago and this led to many initiatives – most successful but not all. It is now dominated by corporate suits at the exclusion of the wider community sectors. This needs to be avoided.

Note Three: This piece was written before the Bunda St Shareway was opened so any reaction to this was not included. Comments will follow in another post.

How would you like to see Civic rejuvenated?  


What's Your Opinion?


Please login to post your comments, or connect with
41 Responses to How can Civic be rejuvenated?
Filter
Order
dungfungus 9:40 am 26 May 15

rosscoact said :

rubaiyat said :

Solidarity said :

Open City Walk to cars again, but close off Bunda St – So in effect adjusting the entire Garema Place precinct up a few hundred metres.

Open both levels of the Canberra Mall to cars. In fact make it possible to park outside every shop top and bottom.

We use our legs way too much. That’s why people were shorter in the old days, over use was wearing their legs down to stumps!

And have electric scooters at each parking space so one can make a smooth transition into the shops that aren’t big enough for you to drive through. I think you’re onto something

If this was a movie script the movie would be called: “A Better Place Revisited”.

BenjaminRose1991 12:20 am 25 May 15

Demolish and redevelop.

Give Centrepoint on city walk the “death star” treatment and replace with a four or five story office building with pubs, clubs, and affordable restaurants on street level and underground.

Fear will bring the other property owners in line. Fear of this aggressive development strategy.

Maya123 10:34 pm 24 May 15

Masquara said :

The only “upgrade” Civic needs is the restoration of ample and reasonably priced parking!

Doesn’t need it. There’s a bus service, and for those that come to Civic in the middle of the night, when buses aren’t running, I imagine (as I’m never there at three in the morning to check) there would be plenty of parking. People close in to Civic can walk or ride.
What there does need to be enough of is disabled parking. I don’t know if this is plenty or not.

Masquara 7:38 pm 24 May 15

The only “upgrade” Civic needs is the restoration of ample and reasonably priced parking!

wildturkeycanoe 8:52 am 24 May 15

I think somebody here made a great point about the after hours night life flourishing but daytime trading is almost dead. Why is that?
I think it may have something to do with;
1. There are many bars and nightclubs in this district, not too many if any at all in the new mall complexes.
2. People going clubbing do not expect to be driving home after a boozy night out, so they take public transport which gets them into the Civic center and is nearby when they go home.
3. The after hours munchies are only satisfied by the fast food outlets that stay open late, not by the ones in a center that is all but closed after 5:30 P.M.

People who go shopping take their car because they cannot carry all those groceries onto a bus. The car parking is over 200 meters and several floors away from City Walk, exposed to the cold and rain plus the outdoor shops offer nothing new or exciting that you can’t find in the Canberra Center already.

The only way you will attract people to Civic is not redeveloping alone but putting something of interest that people want to see and making it easy for them to get there from wherever they park their car.
Perhaps something like an enclosed travelator suspended two stories up connecting parking to the Garema Place/city Walk district. Anything that gives some sort of interest to the place is necessary, because at the moment the only time it looks inviting [and scary at the same time] is after dark when all the bars and restaurants open. It reminds me a little of Patpong in Bangkok, just another dreary side street during the day but full of markets and entertainment at night.

ungruntled 11:51 pm 23 May 15

Rustygear said :
“The other option is to not try and engineer a revival, but just relax planning controls and just leave it to the market – which would probably invest in high density apartments.”

Why should you think that by removing controls, we would get a better result?

Since Roman times there are records of shonky builders and developers. These people are building to develop their own bank accounts, not to develop a good environment for a community to live in.

Personally, I left Sydney, came to Canberra & decided I liked it so well I stayed. I really would prefer that those people who like Sydney life style would stay there & leave Canberra to have something else.

Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

Gawk 11:43 am 23 May 15

Don’t like the emphasis on refitting exteriors. There’s no need to be shiny and new all the time, that kind of misses the point. Canberra is old enough now that it can afford to take some pride in its 1950s-60s phase, which some may see as old or sterile while others may see as elegantly small town bush capital. You can add to that. That’s where charm comes from.

No need to open anything up to cars either, as some comments suggest. What is that supposed to achieve? Bring in more customers or simply liven the place up? Opening up City Walk to cars would only make it like the rest of Alinga Street or Akuna Street. People drive along them to get somewhere else, they don’t park their cars by the side of the road and go to the shops. Canberra isn’t that sort of town. And look, if they did park their cars you could do some maths and realise it wouldn’t be the large number of people you were hoping for.

What Civic needs first is some consideration of aesthetics. I’m sure the people who have worked on Civic recently have meant well, but it really looks like some public servants decided to liven the place up by cramming as many gimmicky things into the space as possible, without considering how it looks or how people interact with it.

But City Walk and Garema Place have their own charm. We don’t need to be self-hating Canberrans who anticipate that everyone wants a bustling metropolis filled with shiny new buildings or cool gimmicky things. We don’t need to import every trend. Civic could be a uniquely peaceful, sunny, airy space, with an easy charm and a sprinkling of quirky elegance. A city centre unlike any other. The sort of place where visitors have their photo taken because it is so unique to that city.

Start by cleaning up the leaves and the bird poo, for heaven’s sake. There are local councils which sweep the streets of their shopping precincts every night. The ACT has enough money, seriously. It’s disgusting.

Get rid of the ugly stencilled graffiti near the merry go round and the fountain. It’s not cool and urban, it’s crap and embarrassing. It would look better as concrete. Good old fashioned Canberra concrete. Nothing wrong with that.

Open up one or two empty shops to artists and creatives, whether for studio space or artisanal shops. See Renew Australia and Renew Newcastle for examples. The Canberra Handmade shop in the old Electric Shadows is along these lines. Urban renewal always follows the creatives, plus it would be another opportunity for Canberra to show how it’s grown up, as they say.

How about incorporating a sense of play, some greenery. Some large concrete planters. Encourage shops to have pot plants outside. All done in a tasteful way which enhances.

Incorporate a sense of magic. The ice rink is a beautiful example. The giant snails that popped up around Sydney a while ago are another example. Mix things up a bit. Give people something to get excited about, something to come and look at, take photos and share them.

The chunky, angular aluminium benches and bike racks might look cool in some contexts, but they aren’t in keeping with the feel of this space, and their placement is such that they create visual clutter and literally get in the way of pedestrian traffic. People naturally prefer to sit under trees or against walls rather than in the middle of pedestrian traffic in the hot sun or the weather, so they are under-utilised. They could be so much nicer. Remember those concrete seats with the vines growing in an archway over the top that they used to have in Garema Place? They were positioned so people naturally felt like they’d like to sit in them, they had charm and they were unique to Garema Place. You could kiss in them, or eat an icecream with the kids. The vines tangled around and created a sense of magic.

Everyone likes sculptures, and it’s great that the government has been supporting artists, but it’s worth considering how sculptures work with the space and each other. Those freaking dogs just get in the way (they are positioned right where people would be changing lanes after coming around the corner), and the whole setup is too haphazard. Sometimes less is more. Set up a sculpture garden somewhere else and relocate a few.

It would be great if the govt could hire someone/s with a really strong sense of visual aesthetics who could make good use of the space. Even if they were from beyond Canberra.

dungfungus 8:50 pm 22 May 15

TikkenNgets said :

dungfungus said :

TikkenNgets said :

Just in response to the following:
“This precinct needs to have a people friendly atmosphere with a targeted range of commercial outlets, new amenities and activities and a substantial increase in residential apartments.”

Adding apartments could very well mean big changes to licensing and noise restrictions and legislation which would really damage the city’s nightlife. Restrictions like that are fine for Braddon and the Foreshore but not appropriate for Canberra’s city. I don’t think the addition of residential space is worth the loss of bustling bars and other late night venues (which I believe would have other negative ramifications for all of Canberra).

It is the daytime commercial traders that need salvation; the after dark life will always “flourish” as long as there are drunks looking for their fix and licensing laws to accommodate them in provide government revenue.

But if you added residential space, it’s the licensing laws that could change. You’re not going to see a venue with a 4am license (maybe even 2am) next to an apartment block.

There already are.

reddy84 5:35 pm 22 May 15

What is with the anti developer attitude in Canberra? You want all these great things but at the same time ridicule the people who want to bring them to you. It is naive to believe a developer will redevelop their building because you say so. Like everything there are costs involved and the developer would like a return for that cost. Simply redeveloping the ground floor of a building fronting a dead space provides no economic incentive. Creating more and more rules is a pointless venture as it only adds another ‘minimum’ the developer needs to achieve for approval.
The government needs to give greater freedom and incentive to developers to allow for the creativity experienced in other cities. Why are their buildings so great? Because they have market competition and therefore rely on better outcomes to attract tenants. Instead of focusing entirely on what SHOULD be done, let’s look at how it can be achieved.
Tax breaks, reduction of LVC and other incentives would see the outcome we want from the city.
Postcode 3000 in Melbourne did that and look how great their city is.
In regards to city walk, it has very little activity and opening it up to cars would in fact bring more active frontage in an otherwise dying location. Look at all the popular places in Canberra and you will see they front streets. Pedestrian malls are difficult to achieve even in big cities.

Solidarity 4:24 pm 22 May 15

rubaiyat said :

Solidarity said :

Open City Walk to cars again, but close off Bunda St – So in effect adjusting the entire Garema Place precinct up a few hundred metres.

Open both levels of the Canberra Mall to cars. In fact make it possible to park outside every shop top and bottom.

We use our legs way too much. That’s why people were shorter in the old days, over use was wearing their legs down to stumps!

So open it only to delivery and service/emergency vehicles then, do you really have to lose sight of the bigger picture and have a dig at car usage every single chance you get? It’s getting tiresome.

TikkenNgets 4:24 pm 22 May 15

dungfungus said :

TikkenNgets said :

Just in response to the following:
“This precinct needs to have a people friendly atmosphere with a targeted range of commercial outlets, new amenities and activities and a substantial increase in residential apartments.”

Adding apartments could very well mean big changes to licensing and noise restrictions and legislation which would really damage the city’s nightlife. Restrictions like that are fine for Braddon and the Foreshore but not appropriate for Canberra’s city. I don’t think the addition of residential space is worth the loss of bustling bars and other late night venues (which I believe would have other negative ramifications for all of Canberra).

It is the daytime commercial traders that need salvation; the after dark life will always “flourish” as long as there are drunks looking for their fix and licensing laws to accommodate them in provide government revenue.

But if you added residential space, it’s the licensing laws that could change. You’re not going to see a venue with a 4am license (maybe even 2am) next to an apartment block.

rosscoact 12:58 pm 22 May 15

rubaiyat said :

Solidarity said :

Open City Walk to cars again, but close off Bunda St – So in effect adjusting the entire Garema Place precinct up a few hundred metres.

Open both levels of the Canberra Mall to cars. In fact make it possible to park outside every shop top and bottom.

We use our legs way too much. That’s why people were shorter in the old days, over use was wearing their legs down to stumps!

And have electric scooters at each parking space so one can make a smooth transition into the shops that aren’t big enough for you to drive through. I think you’re onto something

rubaiyat 11:15 am 22 May 15

Solidarity said :

Open City Walk to cars again, but close off Bunda St – So in effect adjusting the entire Garema Place precinct up a few hundred metres.

Open both levels of the Canberra Mall to cars. In fact make it possible to park outside every shop top and bottom.

We use our legs way too much. That’s why people were shorter in the old days, over use was wearing their legs down to stumps!

rubaiyat 11:07 am 22 May 15

bryansworld said :

I’ve got a query about the Ainslie Avenue axis and the Canberra Centre. Clearly there has been some effort to preserve the feel of the original Walter Griffin axis e.g. the open area near Target. I rode my bike through there, but was worried I would be tackled by security. 🙂 Is there any documentation of how this arrangement is supposed to work? I couldn’t find anything online.

The Ainslie axis was I believe supposed to be the arrival point of the Sydney to Canberra train, but like so much of Walter Burley Griffin’s plan, it was sabotaged by the recalcitrant local planners.

bryansworld 10:42 am 22 May 15

I’ve got a query about the Ainslie Avenue axis and the Canberra Centre. Clearly there has been some effort to preserve the feel of the original Walter Griffin axis e.g. the open area near Target. I rode my bike through there, but was worried I would be tackled by security. 🙂 Is there any documentation of how this arrangement is supposed to work? I couldn’t find anything online.

bryansworld 10:36 am 22 May 15

TikkenNgets said :

bryansworld said :

Rollersk8r said :

bryansworld said :

Sounds good. Some cars on the Shareway still treating it like a 50 km/h street.

Agree – the education campaign was way too early, before the entire shareway way opened. Great for all the pedestrians and cyclists that got flyers – but I don’t think too many reached people inside their cars.

Cars aren’t giving way to people and you can’t really blame them – how are you supposed to know how it works if you’ve never driven down there before?? Yes it looks different but there are no signs telling cars to give way.

There are smallish “Give Way to Pedestrian” and 20 km/h speed limit signs at each entry point, but not very prominent. I think the bigger factor is that it still more or less looks like a normal street, a fact that is exacerbated by the parking along both sides. I ride through there regularly, and you need to be pretty careful. It’s not quite Piazza Nirvana yet. 🙂

Most definitely agreeing that it’s not quite perfect, but it’s not hard to see the street is now operating differently. The streets are painted and there are garden beds throughout, there are large speed bumps every 250m and there are speed signs sayin ‘shared zone’. I personally think that there is adequate signage and warning of what’s going on and what you are expected to do. I walk through the area pretty often and find that most people are doing the right thing; driving slowly, everyone giving way. I don’t think we should be making excuses for people (mostly drivers!) not following the rules and endangering pedestrians and cyclists!

True, generally everyone is getting with the program. But those mavericks – like the cab this morning doing about 50 kmh….

Rustygear 9:06 am 22 May 15

The other thing to do for Civic is allow x-rated retail into this zone, as well as more bar licensing. This in turn would attract ancillary businesses, probably more food, and fringe fashion. Civic would be interesting. It would complement Canberra Centre (there is no point trying to compete with it), and the coupling of the two would give Civic a much more complex character and offer a much wider range attractions than anywhere else in Canberra. It would also help Canberra shake off its boring maiden aunt feel.

dungfungus 8:04 am 22 May 15

TikkenNgets said :

Just in response to the following:
“This precinct needs to have a people friendly atmosphere with a targeted range of commercial outlets, new amenities and activities and a substantial increase in residential apartments.”

Adding apartments could very well mean big changes to licensing and noise restrictions and legislation which would really damage the city’s nightlife. Restrictions like that are fine for Braddon and the Foreshore but not appropriate for Canberra’s city. I don’t think the addition of residential space is worth the loss of bustling bars and other late night venues (which I believe would have other negative ramifications for all of Canberra).

It is the daytime commercial traders that need salvation; the after dark life will always “flourish” as long as there are drunks looking for their fix and licensing laws to accommodate them in provide government revenue.

dlenihan 11:09 pm 21 May 15

Why is there a picture of the Chatswood business district in the supporting photos? Is that the blueprint for the way forward?

JimboJones 8:23 pm 21 May 15

Get rid of that Merry-go-Round!!! Cringeworthy, tragic and embarrassing.

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2019 Region Group Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
the-riotact.com | aboutregional.com.au | b2bmagazine.com.au | thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site