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They’re ripping up parking lots

By Paul Costigan - 4 May 2016 39

Belco-P1170852

Canberra’s planners in the 1950s and beyond delivered an infrastructure made for cars. There were even major freeways planned (a story for another day).

The road infrastructure until lately has been fairly successful and, in turn, has encouraged locals to use cars rather than public transport. Cars are part of most people’s daily lives.

We might be killing the planet with this convenience but until another mode of powering the personal vehicle is totally introduced, the present carbon-polluting thingies will be with us for a few years yet.

In many western cities, much heritage, greenery and open spaces were lost to parking lots.

Luckily for Canberra it was a new city, so vast mounts of parking was provided without much cost to other needs. The bonus was that all this came with greenery in and around the parking lots.

Until about a decade or two ago, there were an abundance of these surface carparks, along with their trees, around the major centres, including the secondary group centres such as Curtin, Mawson, Jamieson, Weston and Dickson.

Admittedly in more recent years some of those trees have not been looking so healthy but at least the original intentions were sound. Sort of.

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Planners plan. Or at least that’s what they used to do. And Canberra, until the start of this century, is evidence that this system worked. Most of the time.

And then something happened. And to illustrate this change I find myself defending the parking lot. Amazing!

These pre-2000 parking lots are gradually losing their designation as surface carparks, with their generous amounts of greenery, and being classified as part of the government’s land banks, to be sold off to happy developers.

And developers want a bang for the buck, so the end result on these sites is that there are very few trees.

What used to be the role of the planners has largely been replaced by the government’s land development agency, the LDA/Directorate. Their dealings with residents have become a well-rehearsed process.

First comes the much-needed master plan for a shopping centre, along with some agreed words that are spread among the media, such as ‘tired’, ‘neglected’, ‘under-utilised’ and, of course, lacking ‘vibrant’ spaces.

Usually the arrival of the paid consultant to develop a master plan comes as a surprise to locals who did not know they needed a new planning document; over the years there have been a host of neighbourhood plans and related planning committees.

The next surprise is that this new, but lacking detail plan turns into a Trojan horse from which jump the bureaucrats with marvellous innovative schemes to sell the carparks – and other nearby community and parkland facilities. Why? So there can be an abundance of vibrant new developments. Wow! If only the residents had thought of that!

The more worrying is that the LDA/Directorate have encouraged a growth in very tall upright erect towers – being very vertical as well as vibrant.

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More seriously for anyone who appreciates the wonders of this city, is that slowly, slowly  – or should that be stealthily – as these carparks and nearby areas go under to be replaced with wall-to-wall vibrant edifices, the amount of greenery is being diminished. I suspect not many have noticed, but concurrently in many separate locations across significant areas of Canberra the urban forests are being thinned.

As I said earlier, planners plan. But unfortunately with the current rush on selling off the land banks (previously known as tree-lined car parks) planners and environmental advisers are not engaged in the processes to ensure that when any of the greenery is removed, more is planted to compensate for the loss.

The manner in which carparks are removed also varies depending on the neighbourhood.

In Dickson the lazy approach was taken to simply sell off the plot of land and then to be seen to scratch around (unsuccessfully) to see how the present shopkeepers may survive this major disruption. The only solution? Chop down some more trees. Of course.

I am sure the owners of the Woolies store are not too happy to see the nearby carpark go under before a multi-level parking structure was put in place to ensure minimal disruption over the next two to three years. This was indeed very possible given the size of the land sold and that a parking structure could have been built at one end before the new supermarket construction commenced.

Hang on – did I just write words in support of Woolworths? OMG!

Meanwhile, in Belconnen, when the carpark and an abundance of trees are to go under for a marvellous vibrant tall structure, for some reason the multi-storey carpark will go up first, well before the main building is commenced.

Why here and not in Dickson? Someone suggested it could be something to do with having the Labor Club next door and their reliance on the car park for patrons. Surely it cannot be just that?

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So would I prefer the carparks to stay? Well yes. At least while the only option offered has been for more tall towers that please the developers and result in the subsequent huge loss of trees across Canberra. I sense we will soon lose that garden city badge.

If anyone were to plan for far more appropriate developments and for the replacement of trees with even more, then there is a conversation that many people who embrace this city would just love to have.

Maybe the new Environmental Commissioner, just appointed, should be looking into the situation, whereby in the rush to erect more and more vibrant developments, the city is being subjected to a significant loss of greenery and associated biodiversity.

Maybe she could examine how all these losses can be justified when the ACT Government boasts about how it is addressing climate change. Really?

Joni Mitchell has a great song about parking lots –  Big Yellow Taxi (1970)

Tracy Chapman has a wonderful song about enjoying driving – Fast Car (1988)

Neil Young loves his cars – Long May You Run (1976) – This a later version.

 

What’s Your opinion?


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39 Responses to
They’re ripping up parking lots
martinrev21 3:24 pm 05 May 16

With this city increasingly being run, it seems, for the benefit of property developers where is the political choice for a ‘better’ not ‘bigger’ Canberra? While I’m at it, when will develop a more diverse resilient & sustainable economy, not so heavily reliant on short term cash grabs from asset sales?

tim_c 2:56 pm 05 May 16

They’re just responding to local demand – why waste space on carparks when Canberra drivers would prefer to park on the footpath or nature strip because it saves them walking an extra 20 metres? It’s especially ironic when it occurs at sporting events and gyms.

HenryBG 1:36 pm 05 May 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

Please. The purpose of surface car parking has always been land banking for future development, there is no significant loss of anything.

I disagree – often, car parks are in fact put on land that is unsuitable for other use.

Take the car park in Manuka – that was a floodway. Now it has a great big shopping centre on it with apartments and underground parking. Where is the floodwater supposed to go? I guess the taxpayer has to worry about that now, not the developers who have choked off the floodway.
They did this a lot in Wollongong, with absolutely disastrous results in 1998.

I remember the hoo-hah when they replaced a whole bunch of grassy spaces inside London Circuit in Civic with car parks.
So that is another trajectory for land use
grassy-space amenity –> car parks –> high-rise.

Mysteryman 12:51 pm 05 May 16

And now this:

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/act-government-to-expand-pay-parking-rules-in-phillip-from-july-20160505-gomsbp.html

Thanks, Labor/Green government. You lot really have your fingers on the pulse when it comes to what Canberra needs and wants.

Sorry, I mean hands in our pockets. You lot have you hands firmly in our pockets.

Holden Caulfield 12:20 pm 05 May 16

Russ said :

…Big Yellow Taxi is not really “about” parking lots. Nor is Fast Car about “enjoying driving”. I’m all for shoe-horning your musical tastes into your articles, but seriously, man! 🙂

Yes, a little bit odd. Although the failed relationship and hopelessness themes from Fast car perhaps do apply to the OP and his feelings towards development in this city.

As a general comment, I think Paul needs to stop bemoaning the planning decisions of GovCo, at least for a little while. It’s clear that he’s more than likely going to be critical of whatever it is they do (and often with good reason). However, unless the currently reliable revenue created by land sales can be replaced, we’re going to have to get used to this bipartisan approach of developer-friendly approvals from our elected officials.

At the moment the biggest takeaway from this piece, and recurring themes from other articles, is that trees are king. Trees are pretty cool, I do admit. Is there more, have I missed anything?

It seems as though we’re stuck with the continual development of “empty” land for now, so let’s hear some ideas about how we can incorporate greenery in new development. Rooftop gardens offering new publicly accessible views over Canberra could be great.

I want to see Paul get creative in offering his thoughts on how he thinks we can improve the current development directions signed off by GovCo.

I quite liked the sculpture walk he suggested a while back. Perhaps that could be adapted to include elevated placements on the constantly emerging buildings in the CBD? Should GovCo mandate that a percentage of any development budget includes some sort of greenery or other great idea that I can’t come up with in this five minute response?

Over to you Paul.

dungfungus 10:07 am 05 May 16
rommeldog56 10:28 pm 04 May 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

Please. The purpose of surface car parking has always been land banking for future development, there is no significant loss of anything.

There u go. What rubbish. Do all car parks have a sign saying “Reserved for future Development” out front. The reality is in this new, hipster growing up Canberra, that all undeveloped or unutilised land is in effect a “land bank” – not just car parks. The “land bank” concept applies equally to ovals, green spaces, cycle ways and cycle paths, or any land or building what so ever that the ACT Labor Govt’s developer mates can get their hands on to make a quick $ out of.

However, it no doubt suits your anti car, pro cyclist views to single out car parks as “land banks”

The only “significant loss” as car parks at shopping centres and other commercial places are reduced, will be the business (who are also employers), whose turnover will certainly be adversely affected because of the drop off in customers who have to drive in.

rommeldog56 10:17 pm 04 May 16

switch said :

Surface parking is an extremely poor, inefficient, unsightly use of land in town centres.

Then it should be multi story or underground parking. In its initial proposal to ease car parking problems on Gartside Street, Wanniassa (where there are may eateries), the ACT Govt initially proposed an underground or a multi story car park. It was apparently shelved due to cost. So, I would expect that surface parking will still be the go in most places.

Without car parking, the town centres will die economically.

HenryBG 5:13 pm 04 May 16

tooltime said :

By all means, we should be more creative with our spaces; for example, why not turn a single level car park that is on a gradient into a multi-storey car park? (The official answer is probably “cost”, but there is also a cost to having insufficient car parking.)

A former workplace of mine put a steel deck over the carpark outside our building which almost doubled its parking capacity.
I don’t know how much it cost, but I do know that when they implemented boom-gate parking they found they had massively underestimated the income it would produce and were embarrassed at the size of the income stream it delivered.

Evilomlap 2:39 pm 04 May 16

Much as I can’t fault your taste in music, Big Yellow Taxi is not really “about” parking lots. Nor is Fast Car about “enjoying driving”. I’m all for shoe-horning your musical tastes into your articles, but seriously, man! 🙂

dungfungus 1:43 pm 04 May 16
reddy84 12:38 pm 04 May 16

Please. The purpose of surface car parking has always been land banking for future development, there is no significant loss of anything.

GCS14 11:05 am 04 May 16

Surface parking is an extremely poor, inefficient, unsightly use of land in town centres.

madelini 9:56 am 04 May 16

I recognise that I am being pernickety, but I hate the term “parking lot”. In this country, are they not most commonly referred to as “car parks”? Parking lot is more suited to a nasal California accent than our own.

Matt Watts 9:14 am 04 May 16

Thanks for the article. Not a new issue, though… I campaigned on the issue of car parks being overtaken by development in the 2008 election.

By all means, we should be more creative with our spaces; for example, why not turn a single level car park that is on a gradient into a multi-storey car park? (The official answer is probably “cost”, but there is also a cost to having insufficient car parking.)

A large issue for businesses and commercial property owners, especially outside Civic, is that many shops/ commercial properties were built with the expectation that the car parks across the road or otherwise nearby would continue indefinitely. New developments take over the pre-existing car park, and older businesses are left with insufficient opportunities for their patrons to visit, all the while commercial rates continue to increase.

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