6 November 2010

Walter Burley Griffin is Dead

| johnboy
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walter burley griffin

The Minister for Planning, Andrew Barr, is hosting a public panel discussion on planning and somehow I’ve ended up on the panel.

Here are the details:

Walter Burley Griffin is Dead Forum

The forum will be held on Tuesday 16 November at 7.30pm at the ACT Legislative Assembly Reception Room.

The format will be in the style of ABC TV’s Q&A. You get to ask the questions and hear from the next generation of community leaders in Canberra.

Panel members include:
Brooke Yates – ACT Young Planner of the Year
Emma Robertson – Youth Coalition of the ACT
John Griffiths – Founder of the RiotACT website
Greg Mews – Coordinator ACT Heart Foundation Active Living Project

We only have 120 seats available for this forum and they are going fast. Please RSVP to guarantee your seat.

If you’re interested in attending then you can call 6205 0011 or email barr@act.gov.au.

Minister Barr’s also penned an op-ed piece on this which I reproduce for you below:

Walter Burley Griffin is Dead

“I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world. I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city – a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future.” – Walter Burley Griffin, 1912

Walter Burley Griffin was born in 1876. He has had no involvement in the development of Canberra since 1920. His plans for the city were never really implemented. Yet his legacy and the deconstruction of his “ideal city ” vision continues to dominate debate about the future of Canberra.

In pop culture terms, Griffin is surely the “Jebediah Springfield” of Canberra. It is hard not to draw parallels between the town pride demonstrated in The Simpsons for Springfield’s founder and that shown in Canberra planning circles for Griffin.

Rather than attempt to re-invent Jebediah Springfield‘s legacy, Lisa Simpson decided to leave the past in the past. Perhaps it is time Canberrans did the same.

Walter Burley Griffin is dead. We should not try to re-interpret his ideal of the city of the future. We should not be casting back a century for answers to Canberra’s contemporary challenges. Griffin could never have foreseen the changes in lifestyles that technology has delivered and that climate change will require. It is time to move past the bickering over the “Griffin Legacy”.

Our second century as a city must be about responding to our emerging needs and taking new opportunities as they present themselves.

My vision for Canberra in 2030 is a progressive, inclusive and vibrant city with something to offer singles, couples and families. A city that offers services, entertainment, hospitality and amenities for a growing local and regional community. A place where people from many different backgrounds can live, work and play.

Over the next twenty years Canberra’s population will grow by around 80,000 people. We will need about 50,000 more homes in Canberra to keep up. This level of growth is fairly similar to what we have experienced in the past twenty years. In 1990 our population was 283,000. Today it is nearly 360,000.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that between 2006 and 2031 single people and couples without children will make up 80% of the increase in households. We must consider how and where we deliver housing that meets the needs of this type of household – both for the young and old.

Current ACT Government policy, articulated through the Canberra Spatial Plan, supports the development of a compact city and sets targets for 50% of future urban growth to occur within a 7.5km radius of Civic. It also proposes keeping future urban development within 15km of Civic. This means a significant change to the way we have traditionally done things.

We are starting to see that change now – in the past decade about half the new homes built in Canberra have been apartments or townhouses and they have been built in established areas.

Most Canberrans still choose to live in a separate house on its own land but apartments and townhouses in established areas are becoming much more popular. It is easy to see why – they are generally located close to employment and they are much more affordable and sustainable.

For many, these housing choices provide any number of opportunities and possibilities, allowing people to do what they want to do and live in suburbs they want to live in. Canberra is taking significant steps towards becoming more diverse and embracing different life styles and life choices. We now have a variety of neighbourhoods, public places and private places that a range of people can enjoy. I think this should continue.

The next twenty years will be all about making the right choices to become a more affordable and sustainable city. Making the right choices to ensure equitable access to housing, jobs and education. Making the right choices to overcome long commutes and provide better public transport options. Essentially it is about planning to improve livability, not planning for the sake of planning.

As the Grattan Institute identified in their 2010 Report The Cities We Need:
“Planning is indispensible to maintaining and improving cities as great places to live. But good planning also requires not planning; recognition that vibrant city life is partly spontaneous and that, in the long run, cities are likely to produce ways of living that we did not anticipate. That is no bad thing. We simply need to adapt and find ways to nurture what we value most.”

We will never know Griffin’s view on these contemporary planning challenges. He is not around to debate them with us. We have had more than enough attempts to re-invent his legacy though. It is time to move beyond this tired old debate. Walter Burley Griffin is dead.

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Walter Burley Griffin & Marion Mahoney had a vision for creating for Australia a capital city like no other. WBG was a landscape architect who thought flora was important in designing a city. Thus we have the bush capital, a legacy that is now threatened.
The current temporary planning elite have no time for landscaping only seeing it as a maintenance expense that minimizes dwelling yields on a block. Arborists have been redeployed from suburbia to the arboretum. Residents are losing their streets & community by the imposition of in-appropriate multi-unit developments that are not sympathetic or compatible. Open space & community facilities are forever lost to the goal of providing battery hen low quality flats that have a very limited lifespan.
There is no definition in the Territory Plan or the Planning & Development Act of density!
The sad fact is the ACT budget is dependent on land sales & revenue from development. Builders are a sizeable component of the workforce and are aware of the inevitable downturn in the industry.

I’ve got the whole NIMBY thing happening in my head – Curtin is bordered to the north by pretty pretty green wedge that I’d like to see still there in 40 years. It’s in Barr’s circle, so I have to wonder if he has eyes on that.

The thing is that many of the new developments in the inner areas are not being bought by owner-occupiers, who have a stake in the long term future of the area they are buying into, but being snapped up by investors. Hence the popularity of one bedroom apartments, as they are marketed primarily to investors looking for rental returns. The one bedders are terrific because the marginal value of the rental return decreases as the size of the property increases. And great for developers because they can make more money cramming in lots more one bedroom apartments which sell at around 2/3 of the price of a 2 bedroom apartment.

From the 2006 census, 77% of dwellings in Australia were freestanding houses, yet in the inner north suburb of Turner, for instance, where there was a 200% increase in residents living in apartments between 2001-06, only 53% of dwellings are now freestanding houses. In Turner in 2006 , around 60% of residents were renting, compared to around 30% in Australia as a whole (2007-08 Survey of Income and Housing). Added to that, around 40% of residents had changed address in the previous year. Now, having a transient population can make an area more dynamic – but when they make up the majority of an area’s inhabitants, who is going to care about the future of the school and the parks?

Bill Randolph from UNSW noted back in 2005:
“Two key characteristics underpin my view of the higher density housing market and its likely future. The first is the high proportion of this form of housing that has been sold into the investment market. This in itself marks the higher density market as being qualitatively different from the mainstream housing market. The outcome of this form of investment-led housing is that it has very different outcomes for those who live in it. If this characteristic continues, then there are substantial implications for the future of the sector as well as for the roll out of planning strategies in our cities. The implication is that the proportion of renters will rise as higher density housing becomes a mainstream housing form in our cities. Renters have very different attitudes and expectations of their housing than owners. Moreover, the demand for such housing will primarily come from investors, reflecting their needs and perceptions, not those of the households who end up in it. What are the implication of this? This is an issue that planners have yet to fully comprehend in their desperation to find sustainable alternatives to urban sprawl” (Paper presented at the Strata and Community Title in Australia for the 21st Century Conference)

And while the median price of apartments across all of Canberra may be less than of free standing houses ($400,000 vs $510,000, according to Allhomes data), it isn’t in the inner areas, where most of the development is happening. The median unit prices in the inner south and inner north are consistently above the median unit price elsewhere in the territory. So much for affordability. The only affordable housing is in areas where Andrew Barr doesn’t think housing is sustainable. Quite a quandry.

And why is it that that Andrew Barr wants to tear down perfectly good houses in the inner areas to increase density, when we have many, many acres of paddocks, of little agricultural or environmental value, less than 5 kms from Civic? And even less for the other town centres. We are not like Sydney, where you have to drive 30 or 40km from the centre to hit a rural area. If Andrew Barr wants to bury WBG, he would be better off making better use of the abundant vacant land close to the centre rather than destroying still serviceable housing infrastructure.

Hopefully someone at the forum will ask Mr Barr about the ACT Government’s take on heritage values. Hey! Whoever did that rock art at Yankee’s Hat – OLD! DEAD! Mr Barr can’t object now if I go and paint over it. Unless he’s happy to be called a hypocrite.

So now our esteemed minister for planning is taking inspiration for the development of Canberra from the Simpsons. I almost stopped reading there. How can anyone take that guy seriously?

But what a choice – ditch all respect for an eminent planner and any legacy he might have (even if you don’t like all of it), and accept Barr’s corrupt vision for Canberra as the new sacred legacy. Sounds to me more like he’s pandering to developers and trying to justify a childless, inner-city liefstyle.

gospeedygo said :

A time will come when

..when WBG will say no more and rise again a terrorise the city! Also he will be 10ft tall for some reason and really angry.

luther_bendross10:10 am 07 Nov 10

Hmmm. I’ve got mixed views on this. It’s clear that there’s a developers’ hand up his ass moving his mouth, especially when he promotes apartment/townhouse living so strongly. He says “but apartments and townhouses in established areas are becoming much more popular.”. Mr Barr, please define ‘popular’. With the way the ACT government releases land, we’re forced to live where they decide to release land, so we have SFA choice in the matter. Just because you allow places like Crace to be built does not make it popular.

However, I strongly agree with him when he says he embraces spontaneous growth, and that’s something WBG could not have anticipated. There’s no sense in maintaining 1890’s planning when it’s simply not relevant. Personally I think Canberra needs to lighten up and stop planning so hard.

+1 for both Skid and I-filed.

Andy Pandy’s really going out on a limb here, and although I agree with the underlying sentiment of his statement, both the Jebediah Springfield reference and the heavy-handed dismissal of Griffin are in poor taste.

I would be far more amenable to Barr’s verbosity if I thought there was actually a possibility that they could implement something simple like light rail or a system utilising small buses. In the absence of any evidence of this kind of competence, this is nothing more than patronising bombast with no purpose other than to make the government look busy for the last two years before the election.

Well a poorly educated minister with his hand in the back pocket of bad developers, happy to see bad building design wreck the Bush Capital, would say all that, wouldn’t he! I think dignifying his “op ed” with a forum is a mistake.

Does the Heart Foundation rep bring knowledge to the conversation, or just enthusiasm?

Barr’s Jebediah Springfield analogy is pretty much in the vein of the old Kate Carnell “emotional baggage” insult to Canberrans before the death of Katie Bender in the Canberra Hospital explosion. High-handed, rude, patronising and unpleasant.

Barr’s colleagues should not be thanking him for this: it is further signifying that the ACT Government is arrogant and out of touch.

A justification for constructing monstrosities everywhere. A time will come when

Without doubt, Walter Burley Griffin is dead. He’s buried in India.
But that cow was dead long before we thought of making it sacred.

His plan was corrupted by ‘re-interpretations’ from the bureaucracy even while he was alive (which is how the first predecessor to the current NCA came into being, after winning an argument with Griffin over interpreting his own Plan).
After his death his legacy continued to falter, in that we never built a single one of the buildings he designed for Canberra as he designed it, and there’s an appreciable absence of his favoured ‘hanging gardens of Babylon’ style stepped-ziggurats.

We never completed the main focus of his plan (the Lake which would eventually bear two-thirds of his name) until 30 years after he died, and even then we didn’t follow his design properly.

But, won’t Barr also die?
Won’t the ACT Public Service undergo the usual growth, cutbacks, and policy redirection/threats under every change of government?

I don’t mind if, say, we scrap reference to a plan from before World War 2 in favour of hosting a National Capital Planning Conference every 20 years to come up with an informed and practical policy direction that meets international best-practice with a planning horizon of 50 years, but permitting a major infrastructure policy shift every decade or less once the Government of the day doesn’t like the contemporary bureaucracy (no matter what florid prose the Minister wants to wrap the justification in )seems to sacrifice the potential gains from good long-term planning for the short-term gain of maximising the budget bottom line.
Isn’t this plan just “don’t worry about the suburban sprawl and further develop the inner city, things will sort themselves out”?

I guess that makes Johnboy one of the “next generation of community leaders in Canberra” – congratulations!

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