1 May 2018

How green is my capital? The changing face of Canberra

| Genevieve Jacobs
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How much green space do we need in the bush capital?

Canberra is the bush capital in more than just name. Fingers of bush stretch deep into our suburbs. Ridgelines are protected so we can see the sky. Wilderness is nearby, streets are lined with huge trees. But as the city changes rapidly, will there still be room for green space?

Over the weekend Henry Rolland Park opened, in the midst of much dispute over West Basin’s future. As apartments mushroom around Civic and Braddon, the gloomy alleys of Haig Park are the only space to kick a footy or have a barbecue. Karen was minding her grandchildren there when I walked through last week. She lives nearby, she’s lukewarm about the park, but the kids chipped in fast: “There’s not enough room here to play properly! Where are the swings?”.

Haig Park is one the few green spaces for Braddon and Civic apartment dwellers

And that’s the heart of the problem: green space alone is not enough. It’s got to be useful, good quality, and it needs to match our growing population. National Trust president Eric Martin harks back to the Griffin Plan and Canberra’s garden city principles, pointing out that even the much-maligned Northbourne Flats were deliberately set within a wider landscape. Martin says integrating plenty of public green space is “a fundamental part of healthy living in the city”, and central to our identity and heritage.

That makes him sceptical about the City to the Lake plan if it means that waterfront real estate is prioritised over public access. And it’s not just about walkers and cyclists: he says apartments would also risk blocking out those glorious unfolding views of the Brindabellas from the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.

“It’s a large lake with opportunities for recreation and some development, I don’t dispute that. But at the moment there are no heritage values or integrated plans for the whole lot. It’s piecemeal. It desperately needs a clearly defined strategy on how to handle the changes. The planning process is lagging behind our community concerns”.

Is the West Basin space ripe for development and re-design, or do we need to leave the lake alone?

Martin says that if spaces are high-quality people will use them, but not if they feel uneasy being there. That’s the problem with Haig Park, originally designed as a windbreak for the city, and currently undergoing a design re-think. But the bigger issue is that re-designing Haig Park won’t increase the amount of green space in the city. A pleasant park in West Basin won’t meet the needs of a potential boom in residents or ensure the rest of us can still enjoy the vistas.

So I think we also need to ask what kind of public access we all get. The Kingston lakeside, for example, is great if you’re ordering a seafood platter with a side of artisan sourdough, but not so welcoming if you’ve packed some sandwiches in the stroller for a family picnic. Contrast that with the people thronging Commonwealth Park, walking or running at Lake Ginninderra, or Lake Tuggeranong. They have room to move without feeling that you’re blocking the paying customers.

Anthony Burton has worked in the past with the government and now consults on environmental and community needs. He says we need to have a really good think about how we use green spaces. “We used to look at sports fields as recreation spaces”, he says, “but now planners understand that people see bush and parklands as important for their lifestyles, whether it’s walking the dogs, going for a run, doing bush care”.

“There is room for bush in the middle of the city but you wouldn’t look at that as a high-quality conservation space, because it’s just not big enough unless it links up. One echidna might need an overlapping range of up to 50ha, for example”. But he says education is important for conservation: “If you don’t know what’s in your backyard, you won’t protect it. So you do have to get people into the bush. You can’t lock it up”.

Burton says that other kinds of green space like community gardens can also be highly effective for building neighbourhoods. “People get advice, become friends, swap food. It’s as much about social gardening as vegetable gardening. These kinds of open spaces are higgeldy piggledy, they’re not necessarily beautiful to look at, but they are lovely places in terms of how people interact with each other”.

As we pack more people into our city and town centres, the land green spaces sit on also becomes increasingly valuable.

What green space does your suburb need and how do you use it?

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How green is my capital? Well the way planning is going it won’t be very green. Gradually the Government is chipping away at our open green spaces. Once you start taking the foreshore for private apartments there will be no stopping. Planning is piecemeal – no overall strategy. For instance at West Basin in the last two years there has been pop up ideas for a swimming pool, hotel and a convention center. Parkes Way issues are still to be resolved. We need proper community consultation on what the public would like at West Basin. Having spent many hours at West Basin asking people if they know what is to happen here I am yet to find more than half a dozen people that are aware that 2ha of lake is about to be filled in. I think the ACT government should provide proper plans for the area so the public are aware and can comment. The public needs to know that they are about to lose more green space.

bringontheevidence8:36 pm 18 May 18

Can you list the green spaces that have been chipped away at?

Last time I checked most of the sites being redeveloped for apartments were either car parks or older buildings, and any trees lost were tiny in number compared to those on the edge of the city that would be lost if detached houses were being built instead!

Oh, and can you tell me what the problem is with a small section of artificial lake being reclaimed? I’m a little confused as to why so much effort would be going into ‘protecting’ an area that is just a car park surrounded by introduced plant species. I suppose I’ll have to add it to my confusion around why you respond with such horror to open car parks being turned into places where people can actually live.

I agree that we need to protect our “greenspaces” around West Basin, and the only way this can be achieved is by demolition of Scrivener Dam, to restore the river corridor to its former natural green beauty.

I’m sure Slovenia would agree.

I use to regard Canberra as the most beautiful capital in the world and I know many. Unfortunately successive bad governments have been destroying it, destroying all green areas to build houses and now very ugly buildings (my gosh Tuggeranong is looking terrible). Our main problem is overpopulation that is out of control (like if we ever had any). Politicians are not concerned about the people all they want are more votes, they don’t care that we don’t have infrastructure for more people. I am close to retirement and unfortunately will have to look for a place to go, but will go very sad after seeing my beloved city destroyed.

bringontheevidence3:52 pm 02 May 18

I think the main point here is good quality public space is very short in Canberra. The city needs to have more places for people and community, whereas at the moment its deeply dominated by car infrastructure and private detached houses with fenced-in green space.

Haig Park is terrible, but at least it’s accessible. A massive proportion of Canberra’s potential space is locked up in dead zones like road medians and road interchanges, wasted on vast swathes of open air carparks, or simply poorly designed like the grassed areas of the old public housing blocks.

If I could live in a future Canberra that had replaced all of its surface carparks and sprawling road interchanges with a good balance of apartments and public open space I’d be very happy.

Capital Retro8:21 am 02 May 18

“Garden city”? Where?

I agree with Kerry Baylor,
How dare they considering blocking off views of the lake with development.

This will completely ruin the natural ambience of the 50 year old man made lake………….

You are spot on. Money buys everything, inclusive politicians.

HiddenDragon5:52 pm 01 May 18

It would be good to see a more balanced approach to this issue across Canberra, with some of the energy and public resources (verging, at times, on zealotry) currently applied to issues such as tree protection in suburban Canberra re-directed towards ensuring the benefits of greenery in the rapidly densifying parts of the city.

Good piece and resonates with long term Canberrans, there is a huge body of research showing the benefits of green environments in our lives both physically and psychologically so to see iconic sites like the West Basin being concreted over, largely, with a walkway left around the lake shore is a terrible and non-recoverable asset for current and future Canberrans being lost.

This city needs to become denser, and green space is an important part of ensuring that happens. It’s part of what makes cities like London and New York surprisingly liveable in their urban centres, and sprawling wasteland suburbs where you need a car to go anywhere (e.g. swathes of Sydney) so unliveable.

There are suburbs like the latter in Canberra, where there are streets of McMansions occupying almost all of their blocks, with room for a lawnmower shed, a barbie and a 3 metre wide strip of lawn (give or take). Forget any park, community gardens etc within walking distance.

The local govt needs to start planning for densification and think about how they’re going to ensure there is sufficient green space on amongst the ever-taller buildings. I do think once a development occupies a certain land area, they must make provision for a certain amount of land to be set aside as a public park, or, the development not exceed a certain amount of roofed and paved space.

In Lyneham, it’s rapidly densifying (finally) as the light rail gets built, and we have Southwell Park (not really great for picnics), the Sullivan’s Creek corridor, the various ovals, and so on. That, to me, is the minimum. I can’t think of a really good playing area for kids in any of that – the play area by the Lyneham wetland is pretty pathetic, and there really needs to be a lot more dotted around.

I would suggest you go to some of the newer Gungahlin suburbs. Yes they are full of McMansions but there are plenty of parks and open space.

And I am confused you want higher density but then complain about the new suburbs that have that density.

Juliet Ramsay1:56 pm 30 Apr 18

Like Arjay I get sick of people rolling out Griffin to justify development. But unlike Arjay some of us realise it is both Griffin’s planned composition of 3 central lake basins combined with the NCDC’s technical research and construction reality that gave us a Lake and parklands and VISTAS we have today including needed changes to Griffin’s lake delineation and spatial arrangement. The justification of development of all of West Basin’s parklands by the few blocks shown on the Griffin’s last plan is just spin. The West Basin development proposal is a Government-business proposal to make as much money as possible without showing any respect for what people want or the heritage we have. The lake itself belongs to the Nation and should not be mined for ACT real estate.

The Henry Rolland Park may have novelty appeal and will certainly create a surprise coming from the tranquil Commonwealth Park to the extravagant and over-designed playground with more than 30 light poles and deluxe barbeque shelters but it seems —no toilets. The new park has cleverly used the $13m of taxpayer’s money to add slick appeal for the future West Basin apartment real estate bonanza. But with no toilets in the park no parking planned in the new development the park will definitely not be attractive for the less ambulant, mum’s and bubs, and family picnics.

Juliet, you and your “residents” action group are exactly the sort of people I had in mind when I wrote my previous post, so let me say this – the Lake Guardians are not the first group to fundamentally misread Griffin’s work and selectively appropriate what about it is and is not significant, and nor will they be the last.

Furthermore, it is not up to the Guardians to determine what people can and cannot enjoy about the lake. The Kingston Foreshore is a great case in point – the Guardians might denounce the “toaster” apartments and restaurants, but people vote with their feet. Compare the Foreshore, which is always lively and full of people, to West Basin, which I dare say has seen more activity in the last 72 hours with the opening of a “novelty” park than it has in the last 72 days.

All the available evidence suggests that there is a demand for more intimate, formal and human-scale development on Lake Burley Griffin. That is what is being planned at West Basin, and if built, will be in all likelihood become an incredibly popular destination for decades to come.

In the end, it is not the Guardians against the evil Government-business proposal, but the Guardians against the people of Canberra – not the ones who show up at public meetings to abuse public servants at 6 pm on a Wednesday, but the everyday Canberrans who actually use the lake and will appreciate having even more choice in how they can enjoy this city’s greatest man-made asset.

The city would be ‘greener’ if they stopped designing suburbs with doodling roads that take extra driving to get from A to B, using up more fuel and creating more emissions doing so. One example, I was within 50 metres of my destination, but between it and me was a narrow grassed area with boulders to stop traffic. Result, I needed to drive TWO extra kms to get to a place 50 metres away. I parked and walked, but that’s not the point; a simple road opening between the boulders would have fixed this. It need only be one lane wide.

Another recent example. I wanted to drive to the next suburb, from memory maybe 500 metres away, but the drive was over 3kms, because there was no direct link.

I’m getting very tired of seeing people laud the “Griffin Plan” (which plan? It’s never specified) while simultaneously criticising the NCA and ACT Government’s West Basin plans for “blocking” the “vistas” from Commonwealth Avenue north of Albert Street. Guess what? In Griffin’s final 1918 plan, those vistas didn’t exist! They were “blocked” by continuous multi-storey development extending south from City Hill! Behold:
https://i.imgur.com/KIidDkb.jpg https://i.imgur.com/wnEePDGl.jpg
So look, if you’re going to criticise the plans for West Basin, please don’t use the nebulous and misleading concept of “Griffin” to fight elements of the proposal that were included in his actual plans for Canberra.

The much maligned new Gungahlin suburbs seek to be providing a good balance and providing good quality kids play parks to boot.

Casey, Moncreif, Throsby and the new suburb of Taylor being very good examples. The park being built in Taylor near the new primary school looks like it will be great and with a nice walk along a water course (not a concrete storm water drain like older suburbs) that cuts through the suburb.

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