Editor note: It’s been a several weeks since Floriade, but that doesn’t mean the debate about Floriade’s future has gone away. We asked local leaders about where it should go next, and Mike Hettinger, Chair of North Canberra Community Council, was the one to respond.
Question: Should Floriade move to Glebe Park? If not Glebe Park, where?
Floriade should stay where it is and not move to Glebe Park.
To see why, let’s first set the scale. Floriade is an annual event that is held over a one-month period, with each event bringing in up to nearly half a million visitors who have spent up to $40 million. Many of these visitors are from interstate or overseas. While the Floriade website says that the event covers four hectares, the website also says that the circuit around Floriade is 1.6 km, which can cover an area of up to 20 hectares! A cursory estimation from Google maps shows that the event covers closer to 10 hectares, plus at least two more hectares nearby for parking. Bottom line: Floriade is a big event that needs a big venue.
The venue for Floriade for the past 28 years since its inception has been Commonwealth Park. It is located in the Parliamentary Triangle along Lake Burley Griffin and covers 34.25 hectares. It therefore draws local, interstate and international visitors and is used for other events such as Australia Day and Canberra Day. Bottom line: Commonwealth is a big park that can host big events.
Glebe Park is a park in Civic, next to the suburb of Reid, covering 4.7 hectares, with little adjacent parking, providing valuable green space for thousands of nearby residents and employees. For many it is the only easily accessible green space available. Sometimes Glebe Park hosts low-key small and/or short-term events. Bottom line: Glebe Park is a small park for locals and small events.
It should already be obvious that shoehorning an event as large Floriade into a venue that is less than 15% the size of its present location makes Glebe Park an exceptionally ill-suited alternative.
This simple physical fact is compounded by the logistics required to support an event as big as Floriade. Floriade needs constant, consistent and easy access for providing large-scale equipment and supplies, not only for the general event, but those with stalls at the event. Commonwealth Park has ample space to do this while Glebe Park has little to none. The only way to accommodate this would be to appropriate any nearby open space to support Floriade. This would take up any remaining space at Glebe Park as well as nearby parking areas. This would exacerbate the shortage of parking that already exists in Civic and spill over into Reid. In addition the movement of support traffic in out of a Glebe Park venue would also exacerbate traffic volumes around Civic.
Next, let’s look at attendees. Commonwealth Park can support the nearly half million people to attend Floriade because it has the space and facilities to handle large events. These facilities such as Stage 88, nearby parking and relatively easy access help attract interstate and international visitors. There is no way Glebe Park can replicate this and effectively support the same numbers of attendees.
Finally, we need to consider the impacts to usual park visitors as well as residents of areas surrounding the park. Commonwealth Park’s location minimises impacts that Floriade may have to usual visitors to Commonwealth Park because its size allows visitors to easily use other areas in the park. It also does not impact surrounding suburbs due to the simple fact that there are no immediately surrounding suburbs. Glebe Park is at the other end of the spectrum. Usual visitors to Glebe Park will be unable to use the park for the entire period of Floriade and may have nowhere else to go. In addition, the effects of Floriade at Glebe Park would spill over into the nearby suburbs of Reid and Braddon, and possibly Ainslie and Campbell as well. This includes parking as well as the number of visitors traversing suburbs to access the venue. Night-time events would also impact on the surrounding community, who would be justified in complaining because they were living there long before a Glebe Park Floriade became a thought bubble.
Ultimately Floriade itself would have to shrink significantly to be able to squeeze into Glebe Park. This fact as well as the comparative lack of other facilities would reduce attendance and therefore the amount of money these visitors would spend in stalls at Floriade and more generally in Canberra. While there might be some benefit for some businesses in Civic, Canberra business overall would suffer from the drop-off.
As an aside, a Glebe Park Floriade wouldn’t necessarily boost income to City Walk businesses because there are physical barriers that hinder easy access to Glebe Park. The Multicultural Festival demonstrated this when it attempted to extend to Glebe Park, with mixed success. If visitors to City Walk don’t go to Glebe Park, the converse can apply from Glebe Park to City Walk. The ultimate irony is that if Glebe Park had remained eight-times its present size before chunks were excised for the Casino, Hotel and other buildings, then there would be more seamless access from City Walk to Glebe Park.
Ultimately Floriade is what it is because it is inextricably linked to Commonwealth Park. Out-of-area visitors visit Floriade in the context of national institutions such as Parliament House (Old and New), the National Gallery and Questacon. Moving Floriade from Commonwealth Park would break this link and not be the same event.
In any case, if Floriade must move, any alternative to Commonwealth Park would need to replicate the factors that make Commonwealth Park an excellent venue for Floriade. These include size, accessibility, location and function. I’m happy to be awarded a contract to find such an alternative, in the meantime here’s some free advice: Glebe Park does not replace Commonwealth Park in any of these aspects and would be a lose-lose for users of Glebe Park, nearby residents, Canberra businesses (whether at Floriade itself or not), Floriade visitors, and Floriade itself. Glebe Park must therefore be excised immediately as an alternative location for Floriade.
Mike Hettinger is the Chair of the North Canberra Community Council. In 2004, he ran for Molonglo in the ACT Election, missing out by a slim margin. He continues to stand with the community on issues that matter