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Why is Civic such a dreary place?

By Aubergine 23 October 2008 54

Walking around the city in mid-afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I started wondering why exactly Civic is so lifeless at ground level in so many places.  Especially west of Northbourne, whole block frontages are blank walls, fire door exits, or frosted glass.  The footpaths are a shabby collection of pavers and cracked concrete joined together by bits of bitumen to fill in gaps.  Some streets like Moore St are almost bereft of trees.  No shopfronts.  No life.  Lots of dark corners for rubbish to collect and smokers to hang out.

Could it be something to do with the fact that buildings in Civic are limited to maybe ten or 12 floors?  All this seems to do is to create an ever-increasing spread of monotonous low rise buildings taking over blocks and former carparks – not that I’m a fan of surface carparks either.  But look at what’s happened in the block where the NICTA building is, on Marcus Clarke St.  Nice building, but now the block’s full of low rise structures, a set of new dark sterile alleyways, and more blank walls.  And soon the huge carpark between London Circuit and City Hill will get its own set of interlocking building-shaped lumps.

With fewer, taller, buildings there would be much less street frontage that had to be occupied, so it could be filled with just a few shops, a cafe and a nice foyer.  No need for three sides to be blank walls everyone scurries past.  Then the rest of the block could be kept as open space – a park, some trees, maybe something like a child care centre or an adult education facility, and so on.

Or is the problem that there aren’t enough people living in the city?  The centre of Barcelona is full of eight storey block-filling buildings in a regular grid pattern, but each block manages to be its own little village – the shops you need are all at ground level, even service stations are buried within the block, and all the upper floors are apartments.  Each street intersection is a small tree-filled square.  Not much open space, but a whole sense of life and activity that is almost entirely absent from Civic.

I know Canberra is different, but Mr Griffin’s ideas weren’t perfect and they’ve been tinkered with and neglected over the decades.  Imagine something like the classic old Sydney and Melbourne buildings (now rotting away), redeveloped to retain the colonnades, restaurants and shops, as well as the hidden treasures of the back alleys with the huge plane trees, but with a few more levels of apartments above?  Or why not eliminate the four cloddish blocks filling section whatever it is at City Hill, replace them with a 40-story mixed use tower and join City Hill to the parkland that’s left surrounding the new tower.  Fewer, taller buildings – would it work?

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54 Responses to
Why is Civic such a dreary place?
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sepi 11:08 am 01 Nov 08

The lack of a Centre for civic is a problem = each distinct area can’t attract enough people to seem busy. City West is across northbourne = too far and too slow to cross the road.

The lack of parking anywhere near civic (except for the mega mall) is a problem. And the busses only go to the interchange – grotty and scary at night, and the mega mall.

IF only the mall had included a huge open courtyard space that could have seen a bit of ‘life’ in there.

farnarkler 8:03 am 01 Nov 08

Hehehe I remember arriving at the Jolimont from the airport having flown in from London via Sydney. It was midday on a Thursday (wasn’t a public holiday) and Civic seemed like a ghost town in the middle of the day. Firstly, be happy that Civic isn’t high density. You’d hate the place if it was!!

Civic’s going to be quiet because no-one lives there apart from those in the flats near the merry go round.

If Canberra had a nice climate year round then night markets might be a go but you try them in June/July. No one would go because it gets too cold.

dexi 9:28 am 31 Oct 08

Has anyone else noticed how quite civic can be. Actual noise level, apart from the odd isolated yelling of trouble. With that many people around its almost seems hushed. Maybe it lacks the trams of Melbourne or the traffic of Sydney, but it seems restrained some how.

Mr_Shab 9:25 am 31 Oct 08

Back in the day (c. 10 years ago), All Bar Nun used to be a great place. Nice beers, cheap salty/fried barsnacks, an eclectic mix of clientelle (students, suburban mums & dads, the odd bikie and a few suits) and James Brown on the stereo.

It all went very rapidly downhill when they built the yuppie flats next door and the gentrification of O’connor really kicked off. I can’t face the place no more.

The crack-house ambience of the Phoenix is where it’s at these days.

aronde 9:22 am 31 Oct 08

I recently attended a focus group where it was all about Civic and what we thought about it, what we would like to see there, what are the problems with it etc. It was an interesting discussion and some of the points that were mentioned that I can remember include –

– don’t need to go to civic that often as town centres have everything I need (shopping, entertainment etc)
– lots of empty buildings, lifeless, baron, wind blowing around rubbish like a ghost town at night, lack of lighting in places at night, parking issues, public transport issues
– just another shopping center, not much for kids there except for the carousel
– maybe needs some night time markets, day time markets or a big ferris wheel like in London! Some other ideas were put forward that sounded good at the time also. If I remember them will post them up.

poptop 9:07 am 31 Oct 08

I ascribe to the view that only boring people get bored.

Canberra doesn’t have the population density of Barcelona or Brussels and so is unlikely to sustain the same sort of city life. For the size of Canberra, I am constantly amazed at the amount of entertainment and the quality of the venues we DO have.

farnarkler 8:59 am 31 Oct 08

I don’t know what All Bar Nun used to be like but it’s a rubbish place now. Footy heads and their airheaded girlfriends galore, all with double, or single if they’re front row forwards, digit IQs.

All it really takes is a nice bar with a DJ who’ll play chart music plus a few good oldies, it works an absolute treat in Belgium (believe me, they know how to make really great bars!!) One problem is (and this may piss a few off) is that the average Aussie male has pretty plain dress sense. Not much use creating a really nice venue if the clientele are wearing king gees and a Canberra Raiders tshirt. Perhaps I’ve been living in Europe too long.

tylersmayhem 9:12 am 27 Oct 08

The only problem would be to keep the riff-raff out so it wouldn’t become another Charnwoood/Giralang tavern.

That should be easy enough if pitched correctly at the desired market I’d think.

farnarkler 5:47 am 27 Oct 08

Perhaps Lachie from the Wig & Pen could open a couple of microbreweries out in the suburbs. I’m sure Richard could brew up the same quality as he does now. The only problem would be to keep the riff-raff out so it wouldn’t become another Charnwoood/Giralang tavern.

Ari 12:57 pm 24 Oct 08

… my Labrador finds Haig Park quite a lively joint. But then again, I suppose he IS a dog.

tylersmayhem 12:55 pm 24 Oct 08

I still harp “bring some decent bars and pubs out in to the outer suburbs”. All Bar Nun the way it used to be would be tops somewhere out in Belco.

Granny 12:45 pm 24 Oct 08

Well, it would certainly liven the place up ….

Ari 12:43 pm 24 Oct 08

sepi said :

It would be nice to do something with Hague Park.

It is a waste of space at the moment – you never see a soul in there.

Hmmm, pondering …. open space that’s long and straight …. I’ve got it! … Dragway!

sepi 12:40 pm 24 Oct 08

It would be nice to do something with Hague Park.

It is a waste of space at the moment – you never see a soul in there.

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