25 November 2020

Is Woden Town Square really a great place?

| Fiona Carrick
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Woden Town Square

Woden Town Square is a focus for renewal. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Without consultation, a 10-year-old DA was approved in March for a 24-storey building on Borrowdale House, the old Post Office on the north-west perimeter of the Woden Town Square.

Woden Community Council has strong concerns that this development will create more wind and overshadow our public space – the east-west connections to the library and the town square – diminishing the potential for activity and entertainment where people want to socialise and spend time.

While we support urban infill, we expect it to be underpinned by a plan to attract people to the centre, to create social environments where people want to gather and visit again and again.

The City Renewal Authority’s (CRA) ‘Great Place Guide’ has a people-first philosophy. Its golden rules of placemaking are that places should be accessible and connected to other places in the area, comfortable and project a good image, attract people to participate in activities, and social environments where people want to gather and visit again and again.

The vision in the Woden Town Centre Master Plan aligns with these placemaking principles and has the potential to create an attractive place for residents and small business to thrive.

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According to the Master Plan: “Woden Town Centre is a major community and commercial hub for the Woden Valley and wider Canberra region. It will be a place that attracts people to live, work, socialise and enjoy throughout the day and evenings. The town square is the central focal point for social and community activity that will connect people to a network of safe and active streets and public parks”.

Sounds good, but is it being implemented with places for the people and business in mind?

  • The zoning (which enables great places) is a building hierarchy that provides for the taller buildings towards the centre of the precinct overshadowing our town square.
  • Investment decisions – piecemeal, with the commitment to a new CIT and community centre not considered in the context of the placemaking principles. These facilities could have been built into the fabric of our town square and used as anchors to attract people throughout the day and evenings. Unfortunately, the CIT is located in the bus interchange and the community centre is on the other side of Callum street and the drain. It is not clear that these are social environments where people will want to gather and visit again and again and benefit small business.
  • Green spaces – we have lost the Alexander and Albemarle courtyards, the pitch ‘n’ putt and the Athllon Drive corridor to zoning for residential developments and a part of the Woden Town Park has been rezoned for community space (a child care was proposed).
  • Loss of the recreation precinct – the pitch n putt, basketball stadium, bowling greens and tennis courts have been demolished for residential towers and now the pool and ice-skating rink are at risk of closure leading to reduced opportunities for the town centre to be a destination.

To reinforce the importance of planning, in the 2016 Statement of Ambition, the Chief Minister said that “cities don’t succeed by accident or by leaving things to chance – they require design, good governance and great collaboration”.

To this end, the CRA was established to focus on planning to encourage and promote a vibrant city and social and environmental sustainability through the delivery of design-led, people-focussed urban renewal.

Lucky for some!

The renewal of Woden, however, has been left with a simple strategy that more people living in towers will bring more activity, so we demolish our community facilities to make this happen. We are also concerned that we are becoming a dormitory centre from which people drive to other districts for amenity, increasing car trips and transport emissions.

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If an overshadowed town square diminishes its potential as a social place, the vision in our Master Plan becomes obsolete and the need for a new plan becomes more urgent as residential towers continue to be approved at the expense of public space and community facilities – around 25 residential towers and 10,000 people have been earmarked to date.

While we have supported urban infill and rightly asked that it be done well with a balance between homes, jobs, public spaces and community facilities, it feels like our concerns have not been heard.

Fiona Carrick is the President of the Woden Valley Community Council.

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Woden valley cc is right to feel aggrieved with the loss of public amenity in Woden town centre, but their obsession with this space is absurd. Its a walkway that happens to be a square. It houses great draw cards such as a post office, access canberra, an entrance to Westfield and is adjacent to the bus interchange. Plus westfield (or some investor) has invested heavily in the redevelopment outside hoyts so the square isn’t in play for restaurants nd cafes. Time to move on

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