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The City to Lake smoke and mirrors

By Paul Costigan - 27 July 2016 30

lake-burley

There’s been a load of positive mainstream press about the wonders of the ACT Government’s major project for the centre of Canberra, The City to Lake Project.

Till now I had not paid particular attention to the project beyond noticing the general spin that this development will bring many benefits to Civic. And there is no doubt that Canberra’s centre has become a struggle-town because of the heavy presence of the Canberra Centre Mall (that’s another story).

Recently the In The City group made a statement that questioned whether this development, being beyond Acton, would work against rather than for the rejuvenation of Civic.  I agree, as I have trouble seeing how new apartment towers along West Basin will do much for the Civic traders in and around City Walk.

Commercial opportunities would open up in Acton and West Basin to service these new residents. It would be a 25  – 35 minutes walk into Civic – not ideal for general day-to-day shopping – then there is the return walk with the shopping.  So most people would stay local and not make the walk into Civic. So that supporting argument does not hold up.

City-to-Lake-LDA

Meanwhile the In The City group has been staging the Winter Festival events along City Walk as part of their strategies to get people into Civic. They were successful in getting people in and around the food stalls and other staged events (we did enjoy some great samosas) – and people were flowing from there into the mall.

So again, the mall was the major beneficiary from these events while I doubt whether there was much residual benefit for the smaller traders. Are such events appropriate for the places such as City Walk? They would be much better staged within an open space set aside for such events – such as along West Basin.

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So what is happening with West Basin? To deal with this question, I read through the available online information and looked through the web site of the opposition to the project – The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians.

To assist this research I placed a large map of the area on a separate screen to assess the validity of the benefits being claimed – especially those relating to enhancing the main shopping areas of Civic.

Both the City to Lake Urban Design Framework and The City Plan (2014) have loads of spin but contain little evidenced based arguments. What is proposed for the lakeside is definitely not appropriate and despite the rhetoric will only deliver benefits for the government and the developers who are let loose to build more toaster style apartments along the foreshore, as they have at The Kingston Foreshore.

There are statements within the proposals for the need to do something with the under-utilised and underdeveloped green spaces along West Basin. I agree but totally reject the solutions as proposed by the current government.

When you look at the maps of the area, it does not take long to see that there are more than ample opportunities for apartment developments north of Parkes Way, including along Constitutional Avenue. And as we are now witnessing, apartments are popping up all over the place across the inner north. This is generally a good thing  – with the usual concerns about this government’s lack of attention to the quality of the build and how they address climate change and sustainability.

The City to Lake  – West Basin project is another example of a government being out of touch and uncaring about the amenities that make Canberra a wonderful place to live.

There is no doubt that no apartments or residential thingys should be built south of Parkes Way anywhere along the foreshore. None.

lake-foreshore

As for connecting Civic to the foreshore, forget the super expensive folly of lowering Parkes Way. The solution is simply to build more pedestrian and bicycle bridges and have these connect the enhanced parklands back to the urban areas around the new apartments. Some overhead pathways could be linked to upper decks of the new apartments or parking stations along the north of Parkes Way.

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There is no doubt that the Lake Burley Griffin foreshore green spaces should be enhanced.  There is a need for some serious landscape developments along the West Basin foreshore, from Commonwealth Bridge to the Museum of Australia.

West Basin should have more purpose built activity areas such as a very large (tourist attracting) permanent garden dedicated for Floriade (in spring). The same garden area could host a different garden festival at another time of the year.

Yes – let’s move Floriade to West Basin and stop damaging Commonwealth Park trees.

The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians are correct in their advocacy. I would like to see more suggestions from them about what should happen with these fabulous foreshores and green spaces. I do suggest everyone should avoid any archi-park suggestions.

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There are lessons to be learnt from other so-called ‘master planned’ redevelopments. I happen to know several people who were enthusiastically involved in the very early planning for Kingston Foreshore given the high priority that was to be placed on sustainability and good design. The same people soon departed once they witnessed such principles being seriously watered down to suit the priorities of other forces.

Similarly the Dickson master plan was published with loads of enthusiasm about the benefits. For a short time most people saw this as a positive thing. Any notion of planning has since been set-aside with the government’s push for the proposed supermarket monolith that is no more than an inappropriate plonk development.

Sadly I have to say that the City to Lake Project is looking more and more like hoax being foisted onto the residents under the guise of yet another infamously ‘vibrant’ development  that would somehow help solve Civic’s woes. This connection to the future of Civic is a fabrication to cover up aesthetic and environmental destruction.

So far it seems that the mainstream press has accepted the government’s press releases. The press has not spent any time looking at the detail with the result that the message is that people would be foolish not to embrace the government’s view on the City to Lake Project. The press is wrong – again.

Those foreshores have always been precious. Yes they may be seen as underdeveloped, undeveloped (by developers) and maybe even vacant for much of the time. But they should not be sold off. They should be enhanced and cherished.

Once gone – they will never return for public use.

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The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians are correct on this. I encourage them to be even more vocal. I also encourage others such as the NCCC to be far more vocal in opposition. This project could deliver a serious loss to Canberra and its standing as an attractive city.

There are clear links here to the questionable process by which so much of the city’s urban development is being handled by the current Chief Minister and his bureaucracies.

I will return to this topic several times as it is a complex given the players involved and the money to be made by certain interest groups and individuals. I am also developing a view that putting a large stadium in Civic could be a big mistake.

Watch this space.

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