The urban farm can be part of our growing, green city

Ian Bushnell 26 April 2020 38
Curtin horse paddocks

The Curtin horse paddocks. Land such as this in the city could be more than just future real estate projects. Photo: File.

The coronavirus crisis has turned many presumptions on their head. One of them is that high urban density is a good thing and that suburban sprawl is to be avoided.

As cities such as New York suffer terribly as the virus rips through its tightly clustered communities of apartments, urban planners who have always championed the use of open space as public health measures are again reiterating the importance of giving communities room to breathe and not be so susceptible to contagion.

Some commentators are even suggesting that the spread of Australia’s cities may be contributing to the apparent success of lockdown measures to contain the virus.

Certainly, the ACT, an island within NSW that remains a reasonably decentralised society, has found it easier than most to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Perhaps it can be a wake-up call about the march of the high-rises in Canberra and the government’s infill policy, which is turning over town centres to concentrated living and converting suburban green spaces into medium-density housing.

It’s a balancing act and all the arguments have been well traversed but the ACT continues to head down a path that ignores opportunities to use its open space more productively than simply as potential development sites.

The summer bushfires, and now the coronavirus crisis, also highlights how fragile our supply chains are, especially for fresh food. When the South Coast burned and communities were isolated, the local growers came into their own when supermarkets ran empty as cut highways left their trucks stranded.

Canberra is perfectly placed to earth a different vision of how a city imagines itself.

How many Australian cities and towns have seen productive agricultural land go under housing, losing market gardens, orchards and even dairies that fed its people, all the while putting an ever greater distance, psychologically as well as physically, between consumers and the source of their food.

Canberra, for strategic and security reasons, was meant to have a fair degree of self-sufficiency, and there is no reason why parts of the city can’t again be part of that story.

Take the Curtin horse paddocks as an example. A significant portion of that land is now destined to be an elite diplomatic estate after the recent land swap. Other parts near the light rail route may end up being high-density housing. And inevitably as precedents are set, other areas may fall.

Why can’t we think about a use for this kind of land that contributes to the city’s economy and its public health?

Why not market gardens or orchards that can supply fresh produce to not just households but the burgeoning cafe, restaurant and winery culture that is contributing to the Canberra region’s growing attractiveness as a tourism destination?

Low-kilometre, high-nutrient food produced on micro-farm belts break up the built environment and provide a living vibrancy, an extension to the already established community gardens concept.

Add renewable energy and regenerative agriculture and permaculture practices, integrating the horse paddocks so all that manure doesn’t go to waste, and you get the picture.

The city can be a diverse organism that can be not just a place to live but a livable place to be.

It doesn’t have to necessarily be a just a complex of buildings, roads, parks and trees but even more dynamic.

There are challenges, no doubt. Land may need to be remediated and rehabilitated. Water, especially in an environment like the ACT, impacted as it is by climate change is an issue but not beyond technology-based solutions.

But I think the biggest hurdle will be redefining the model we have accepted for the city and giving life to our imaginations about what it could be, beyond being a real estate project.

If anything, the coronavirus crisis has given us pause for thought, to reassess what is important and life-affirming, and what the ”economy” should really be about.

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38 Responses to The urban farm can be part of our growing, green city
Shirley Vee Shirley Vee 4:29 pm 28 Apr 20

Yeah just totally force people who have horses out... good onya not!!

Timothy O'Halloran Timothy O'Halloran 2:53 pm 28 Apr 20

All horses I suppose will be Barred from Canberra if Labor keep getting their way.

Caroline Fraser Caroline Fraser 12:28 pm 28 Apr 20

I believe the Yarralumla paddocks are going to be built over.

Some guy Some guy 11:24 am 28 Apr 20

Urban density doesn’t seem to explain the spread of COVID-19. Taipei & Hong Kong are incredibly dense and managed to contain the virus better than most other countries.

A sprawled out low density city will chew up land that could otherwise be bush land or farm land. It’ll also mean anywhere close to jobs/amenities will be so expensive most people won’t be able to afford to live there. Forrest is a good example of this. It’s funny how apartments are constantly decried as “elitist” and yet suburbs like Forrest filled with huge fenced off mansions are not.

Tracie Campbell Tracie Campbell 9:27 am 28 Apr 20

We're still in drought conditions, don't close off our horse paddocks, we REALLY need them!!!

Alan May Alan May 8:30 am 28 Apr 20

And the developers have nightmares every time they pass it!

Peter Shands Peter Shands 7:19 am 28 Apr 20

Couldn’t agree more with urban farming and its’ place in cities. Sensible story here.

David Ellis David Ellis 7:15 am 28 Apr 20

It Can be improved for farmland. No infill at Curtin

Barbara Boswell Barbara Boswell 11:04 pm 27 Apr 20

This is a Beautiful area between the City and South Canberra. Seeing the horses grazing gives a wonderful sense of tranquility to a City that is growing so quickly.

Leave them alone.

    Barbara Boswell Barbara Boswell 12:55 pm 28 Apr 20

    Adele Adriana and we need that peaceful area.

Caroline Parker Caroline Parker 10:17 pm 27 Apr 20

I loved the farms and paddocks in Canberra...let this one stay!

Junia James Junia James 9:30 pm 27 Apr 20

I agree. So much of our green spaces we are now losing to High Rise development.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:41 pm 27 Apr 20

    So you would rather lose the green space around our city to urban sprawl? Or is that a matter of out of sight, out of mind.

    Junia James Junia James 11:17 pm 27 Apr 20

    Julie Macklin no I want my green spaces. I detest high rise.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:27 pm 27 Apr 20

    Junia James But why do you like urban sprawl and the city spreading out over bushland and farmland, and the lose of wildlife in those areas? Personally I believe the population should be stabilised, but as the federal government won't do this, high rise, to save bushland and farmland is the best compromise.

    Junia James Junia James 1:16 am 28 Apr 20

    Julie Macklin well I have lived here 40 odd years. It was a much different city. Plenty of green space then and around 150, 000 people. I do not like urban sprawl. I remember going 5 minutes in most directions you had bush. I detest the lose of any wildlife. I do believe the population should be stabilised, but high rise creates wind tunnels lack of sunshine. The Gold Coast finished me of high rise. Yes there has to be compromise, but maybe limit the size of the rise.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:01 am 28 Apr 20

    Junia James I have lived here since the early 70s, so I too know what it was like. There was good and bad that I remember. You can't have both no apartments and green space unfortunately. No apartments means those green spaces will be filled up even quicker with urban sprawl. Yes, there's something in the idea of limiting the height. Paris for instant is very compact, but mostly it limits the height, to about five stories I think. The more compact the city, the less green land around it that is built on.

Susan Nicholls Susan Nicholls 9:14 pm 27 Apr 20

Well. There’ll be plenty of horse manure to start with.

William Parker William Parker 8:21 pm 27 Apr 20


Canberra was always the green capital, now it is fast becoming a sprawling urban mess

“Where you can buy your one large block 640 metres square block, and build your dream home” 😳🙄

And that’s why place like Googong and Bungendore take off.

Sorry but I am yet to see any relief in rental or home purchase pricing....

Although with all of the extra housing being built I am yet to see a significant increase in residents...

    Caroline Fraser Caroline Fraser 12:32 pm 28 Apr 20

    William Parker YESSS! The only jobs are in construction and roads so when that stops, what will happen? We have to drive by these new suburbs to get to our horse and there are a LOT of empty dwellings and yet more are being built. If you build industries and create jobs, people will move here. That’s not happening.

Kerry Graf Kerry Graf 8:07 pm 27 Apr 20

I'd rather more open spaces were available for community gardens and orchards.

Peter McDonald Peter McDonald 1:48 pm 27 Apr 20

Most of the horse paddocks are on poor land. I think Gungahlin has been built on the better farm land.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 2:15 pm 27 Apr 20

    Peter McDonald true most of the land around here is not suited to the type of “farm” the author was talking about. There is a reason Pialligo is about the only place you will find market garden type farms. And that reason isn’t related to housing. It is related to soil and water.

    Peter McDonald Peter McDonald 2:52 pm 27 Apr 20

    Ashley Wright where the csiro gardens where/are? Near gold creek is another great spot for market type gardens.

Dorinda Lillington Dorinda Lillington 12:15 pm 27 Apr 20

Yes fantastic idea

Justin Watson Justin Watson 11:35 am 27 Apr 20

Can someone offer a rational solution then. People don't want apartments, which means we need more space to build more houses, which means more places like the horse paddocks and rural blocks have to be built on. Or we can create high density apartments in the city and town centres allowing us to keep rural land free. Also note more of the green spaces in canberra are designated nature reserves and are not able to be developed at all. Also note, Tuggeranong, Gungahlin, Woden etc were all built on rural land. So all the people upset about this should be in favor of apartments blocks, But it is pretty obvious lots of people want to have their own pet unicorn and lice in some impossible Utopia. I personally have come to terms, that we are going to need lots or apartments to preserve the green space in the city that is designated as green space. The rural land was never intended to be kept as rural land long term. Every single person in Canberra is living on what used to be rural land, so getting upset about a few paddocks going to developers and not being realistic, isn't constructive or rational.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 2:13 pm 27 Apr 20

    Justin Watson spot on. The alternative to appartments and no urban infill is urban sprawl which takes up even more Bush and farm land but just not in “my” backyard.

    I also don’t believe that people don’t want apartments either. I will accept for some that is all the can afford and they would prefer a house, but for many people these days including families apartments and higher density living better suits their lifestyle.

Acton Acton 11:17 am 27 Apr 20

High urban density and the apartmentalisation of Canberra is immutable ACT Labor/Greens Government urban infill policy. As the majority of ACT residents robotically vote Labor/Greens the densification and Geoconing of our green spaces will continue. The only hope is the emergence of a new party representing community interests with a respected and liked leader.

Monica Tiffen Monica Tiffen 10:35 am 27 Apr 20

Please let us have lots of these green areas! Do not have human beings locked up in fields of high standing Apartment blocks!!!!

Noel Benjamin Noel Benjamin 10:33 am 27 Apr 20

Use the upcoming election to force Barr's hand to use this space for an urban community farm. This land is a community asset and to be used for wider benefit, and certainly not political coin to trade with.

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