If Garema Place is part of Canberra’s ‘soul’, we’re in purgatory

Zoya Patel 26 August 2020 31
Garema Place

Garema Place used to be a hub of outdoor dining and a safe environment. Remember? Photo: File.

Outdoor malls and paved public spaces have been the hallmarks of vibrant cities the world over. Singapore, New York, Wellington, Shanghai – these are just some of the locations where I have enjoyed a meander through a bustling outdoor boulevard lined with stores and cafes and thriving with locals and visitors alike.

When I take those images and transpose them to Canberra’s Garema Place, the vision dims somewhat.

Garema Place has been the subject of debate for many years and has evolved over decades through numerous versions of its potential. Older relatives remember a time when Garema Place was the hub of outdoor dining, a safe environment to enjoy a meal while letting the children play in the open square.

Of course, other memories will include the ongoing use of the space by the homeless, down and out, and drug-addicted members of our community, its proximity to the bus interchange bringing all sections of Canberra’s wider populace together (whether they like it or not).

But even just in my own memory of frequenting Garema Place over the last 15 years, I’ve witnessed the swift decline from a space that still clung onto some remnants of the glory it was designed to encompass into a hollow empty space where (imagined) tumbleweeds blow, only enlivened three times a day when office workers walk to and from work or travel through the space to grab lunch at the Canberra Centre food court.

The outdoor dining culture, the use of the space for rallies and public events (difficult to imagine in COVID-19, but they did happen and could still happen again) seems destined to die out, especially if the development plans for a hotel by Geocon, and the inevitable ongoing expansion of the Canberra Centre unfolds (the latter might not be locked down, but I can’t imagine prime real estate just across the street from the existing Centre will be left untouched for long).


READ MORE: Instagramable rooftop and new Gus’ Cafe within new greenlit Geocon Garema Place hotel development


Now, as plans for a mixed-use precinct on the north side of Haig Park from Braddon are promoted, I can’t help but wonder why the City Renewal Authority maintains the charade that the government gives a hoot about revitalising Garema Place when all of the development to date seems bent on driving traffic further and further away from it?

A consultation recently closed on the place plan being drafted for Petrie Plaza, City Walk and Garema Place, and I’ll certainly wait to see the proposed strategy when it’s announced. But it does seem interesting that in the many years throughout which Canberrans have been calling for a revitalisation of Garema Place, numerous other development plans for the areas around the city (indeed, the areas closer to various apartment developments), have been swiftly approved and put into action.

The City Renewal Authority states on its website that Garema Place is part of the ‘the heart and soul of Canberra.’ If that’s the case, and so little attention has been paid to it, Canberra’s soul appears to be in purgatory.


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31 Responses to If Garema Place is part of Canberra’s ‘soul’, we’re in purgatory
Queanbeyanite Queanbeyanite 8:25 pm 03 Sep 20

I remember back in the 80’s when unelected bureaucrats considered it immoral to drink coffee after Saturday lunchtime, it was all tumbleweeds and empty concrete.

They were right; now it’s packed with the drunk, drugged and Greenpeace touts all week.

Of course the local council now think this colosseum a national attraction, worthy of a 5 star hotel. I recall the chief minister promoting its closeness to the tram to Gungarlin as an other major attraction.

I suggest the council take a well earned break and leave it up to the surrounding landlords and tenants, what’s left of them, to come up with their own solution on which they can spend their own money to implement.

Paul South Paul South 11:44 pm 30 Aug 20

Where has all the cafes gone

steve2020 steve2020 7:32 am 30 Aug 20

A common complaint and analysis outcome related to urban planning is that the Civic pedestrian malls are too wide, giving a sense of emptiness. Practical solutions would be to fill the median of the pedestrian malls with stalls, such as food stalls, for example.

Christopher Cuba Rabanal Christopher Cuba Rabanal 7:42 pm 29 Aug 20

The one thing I did noticed was the large number of homeless people in the area.

There were three homeless people just outside that Italian restaurant with the gelato stand. It’s very very sad 😞

Neil Graham Neil Graham 1:25 pm 29 Aug 20

If the act gov was smart they would transform it, it’s a very valuable piece of dirt, a community street stadium, easy to enclose temporarily, put a permanent stage, public address system, large flood lights, available for hire to different groups, have street market space available for weekends, portable seating for music events or public speaking, surrounding shops could be involved improving business, give the place an identity that doesn’t involve junkies, it has always had a dark past going back to the 50’s so maybe the time to turn the lights on. The more people that come will bring more police improving public safety. A retractable roof and heating for the winter months! A drop in the ocean compared to what they spent and spend on the light rail.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:49 pm 29 Aug 20

    Gees, when I lived in Civic in the 1970s, somehow I missed that 'dark past'. Speakers, flood lights. People live in Civic!

jibril jibril 3:35 pm 28 Aug 20

Ugh so true. Though I think Garema did get better pre covid with restaurants like iPho, Pepper Lunch, the Italian patisserie / gelato place, etc. I really wish they’d move those shoe shops elsewhere as that could be utilised for more cafes / restaurants too. More live music and buskers could be good too to provide a vibe?

Mikolajczak Ewa Katarzyna Mikolajczak Ewa Katarzyna 8:12 am 28 Aug 20

Good article! I have been wondering the same for the last 20 years why this public space is so dull and neglected. Great location with so much potential, totally forgotten about. Apparently many of the buddings there are privately own which makes it difficult.

JC JC 6:41 am 28 Aug 20

I’m now into my 50’s and lived in Canberra on and off for 45 of those years and I don’t ever recall Gaerma place being vibrant, nor do I ever recall it being an outdoor dinning mecca where you sit outside to eat and let the kids run wild.

The food places I remember were mostly takeaway shops, one or two may have had some seats outside. But when it comes to food choices there are more of them now than ever and more have outside seating that ever. In fact food is the one thing that seems to be doing ok in this part of town.

It seems to me this article has been written through some very foggy glasses and some very forgot memories of times gone by.

Theresa Rand Theresa Rand 11:15 pm 27 Aug 20

Haven't you noticed people are visiting the shops in inner inner suburbs more often now... they are more interesting and accomodating...

Dingo Dom Shanahan Dingo Dom Shanahan 11:05 pm 27 Aug 20

My plan is to sell the chess pit area and have a building in the middle where the ground floor is retail and restaurants. This would close the space in and make it feel less desolate then get rid of the merry go round and create a gathering place there in the totally unused corridor in front of David Jones - put the merry go round in Glenn park

Chris McInerney Chris McInerney 8:51 pm 27 Aug 20

Outdoor paved malls are a 70’s planning idea like shopping malls (50’s!)

Main streets are always and still vibrant

Ask the Hibberson St traders in Gungahlin (before it became a paved mall)

Planners need to move on from the 70’s

Ashley Denton Ashley Denton 5:12 pm 27 Aug 20

Maybe some policing to clean up the screaming junkies that make people not want to go there? It's putrid and scary.

Lori Lethlean Lori Lethlean 4:32 pm 27 Aug 20

Bring some greenery into the place...grass, trees and cheaper parking in civic..it's just a concrete mess.

Monty Ki Monty Ki 3:53 pm 27 Aug 20

If you want it to bring families, put in green spaces, a playground, maybe even a childcare centre right in the city. Then families will use the space and businesses will grow which support family needs. Just an idea.

Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 3:32 pm 27 Aug 20

Garema place been the local druggo meetup spot.

Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 10:21 am 27 Aug 20

Really needs a facelift and so much more could be done with the Sydney and Melbourne buildings to give Canberra an attractive and vibrant heart.

Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 10:04 am 27 Aug 20

This article feels like it was written over a year ago.

Garema Place is suffering now due to Covid and the restrictions on visitors associated with that.

But each little step the CRA has made recently has had a positive outcome.

From simple things like renewing the painting on the pavers, to the very effective things like the brightly coloured moveable furniture that gets used all day on sunny days, bringing a lot of life to the area.

Protests still gather there, just a few months ago the BLM March started there.

There are more restaurants and businesses in Garema Place itself right now than there has been in a while. Not withstanding the emptying Garema Arcade building that was supposed to be getting demolished by now, almost all shopfronts have a tenant, and most are independent and locally owned.

Don't believe the hype, Garema Place is the heart of the city, the people bring the soul.

    Suzanna Palombi Suzanna Palombi 2:42 pm 27 Aug 20

    Mal Briggs the 'efforts' in turning the gloom around has been a big fail, then and now. It's still a miserable place and has been for years

    Suzanna Palombi Suzanna Palombi 3:01 pm 27 Aug 20

    Mal Briggs I haven't been since probably May?

    I can't imagine it's changed too much in such a short time but will check it out again.

    The concrete was/is in dire need of cleaning

Amanda Larsson Amanda Larsson 9:57 am 27 Aug 20

It’s a scary place now

Suzanna Palombi Suzanna Palombi 9:02 am 27 Aug 20

The concrete all through Garema Place is dirty greying and dotted everywhere with black goodness knows what filth?

Definitely not the bustling lovely meeting place it used to be?

Sher Young Sher Young 8:50 am 27 Aug 20

Barr neglects areas he wants to plonk concrete towers

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