7 October 2022

Sky's limit for Woden but will social infrastructure match the towers?

| Ian Bushnell
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Building crane

The cranes show Woden is on the up but what about facilities on the ground? Photos: Ian Bushnell.

Many would say Woden’s future is looking up, literally.

Nearly 60 years on from when work began on the first two suburbs – Hughes and Curtin – Woden is being transformed, particularly the town centre where high-rise residential towers already pierce the sky, with more to come.

At present two giant cranes sit on key blocks of land as Geocon’s massive four-tower development on Launceston Street prepares to come out of the ground while on the town square the controversial W2 building will soon rise.

W2’s aging neighbour the Lovett Tower, which used to be the tallest building in Canberra, is in for a refresh to provide A-grade office accommodation.

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Across from the library, DOMA’s four-tower development is underway, while across from the western entrance to Westfield, Zapari’s The Shard is soon to begin construction.

On the other side of the town centre, Hindmarsh will build yet another behemoth – this time three towers on the corner of Easty and Wilbow streets.

Already Amalgamated Property’s phalanx of buildings commands the northern entry to the town centre overlooking the roundabout, and Grand Central Towers stands guard over the interchange.

The town centre has thousands of new residents and there will be thousands more as home-hungry Canberrans and investors snap up whatever the market can deliver.

In the suburbs, there are pressures where multiple occupancy development is changing the face of longstanding neighbourhoods, for good or ill.

View in Woden

Looking past the library down Furzer Street towards the WOVA site.

Besides residential development, the Canberra Hospital is being expanded, the library updated, a new interchange is being built to cater for the extension of light rail, and next year a new CIT will begin to emerge from the cleared site of the old one.

The Hellenic Club is also planning a big redevelopment to pivot away from gaming and secure its future including a new dining precinct, theatre and office block.

No one can say there isn’t a lot happening in Woden and revitalisation is the buzzword from politicians and real estate agents alike, understandable for a district heading toward its seventh decade.

But for some there appears to be something missing from all the frenetic activity – the people factor.

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Woden Valley Community Council President Fiona Carrick, who made an honourable debut at the 2020 Assembly elections, has been battling with the ACT Government for years over its planning policies and intent for Woden.

Carrick insists the council is not anti-development, welcoming densification in the right places, but asking the basic questions about what facilities and public spaces will be available for the thousands who call and will call Woden home.

Fiona Carrick

President of the Woden Valley Community Council Fiona Carrick welcomes development but asks where are the public facilities for the thousands of new residents. Photo: File.

She has campaigned relentlessly for public sporting facilities such as an indoor stadium and public pool to no avail.

“We’ve ended up now with all these tiny little pools around the place in the towers but nothing for the broader community,” she laments.

She feels the Government has neglected Woden in favour of Belconnen, and the inner north, and says City Services Minister Chris Steel misled the community when he suggested the CIT could include a basketball court.

Carrick frets for the town square, the key open space left in the town centre, around which 28-storey buildings can now be built, and despite the installation of furniture and potted trees remains a dead space bereft of activity on all sides.

“It takes more than coloured furniture to activate an area,” Carrick says. “We need things to do. There needs to be cafes, restaurants and bars around it, and we need to see them and be alfresco to bring people and activity.

“You don’t say to someone, ‘Do you want to meet up at the town square on the coloured furniture?'”

Westfield ground floor

The unactivated Westfield side of the town square.

W2 and the new offices in Lovett Tower might create the demand for such things but Carrick says Westfield has turned its back on the square, putting its efforts into the new dining precinct on Bradley Street.

“It’s dragged the activity away from the square and is continuing to build up its Eat Street,” she says.

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While welcoming the CIT development, Carrick says the inclusion of a student accommodation block has robbed the community of more open space.

It seems the Government is content to let the private sector developers lead the way with their own amenities and facilities, and ground floor commercial tenancies to create the vibrancy so loved by urban planners.

Unfortunately, that is not necessarily a given.

Carrick says commercial premises at the Grand Central Towers next to the interchange are still empty.

She fears the Government has lost the planning plot in Woden and the new outcomes-based new planning system does not offer much of a change.

Town Square looking desolate

The underutilised town square, with Grand Central Towers in the background. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

She wonders whether the decentralised planning model still applies to Woden and what outcomes Government sees for places outside of the city.

“Are they trying to make us a cosmopolitan urban hub for Canberra’s south or are they trying to make us a residential transit hub,” Carrick asks.

Where will there be an entertainment precinct that can operate without complaints? Where will Woden’s residents, including children, play and gather? Can a town centre live by coffee alone?

“Give us a balance between homes and jobs and public spaces and community facilities,” Carrick says.

All fair questions to ask as the Woden Valley prepares to mark its 60th anniversary on 16 October.

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Andrew just wants people to live in Woden and pay taxes. Hes not thrilled to spend money as he tries to expand the act past the northern border.

All the fun stuff is in the city and all frivolous spending.

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