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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?

What’s Your opinion?


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54 Responses to
Why is Civic such a dreary place?
tylersmayhem 12:39 pm 23 Oct 08

PLENTY of things to do for nix or not much, tylers.

I agree – never disputed that mate. But I’m simply comparing it to the way things were back about 10-15 years ago. Different demographics. Just my opinion.

Overheard 11:24 am 23 Oct 08

tylersmayhem said :

I personally think it’s got a lot to do with demographics. I think the majority of us 30 some things now either pay extreme prices for rent, or are mortgaged up to the eyeballs. That coupled with the never-ending issues brought up here about public transport, and our refusal to use it, prices of cabs etc, us being probably the biggest demographical punters just can’t afford to go and spend our limited funds hanging out in Civic. Any truth in this?

I was in Civic last night, I actually commented to my wife how years gone by, the cafes along near where Cafe Della Piazza used to be, were always buzzing. Last night it was like a ghost town. A shame really.

PLENTY of things to do for nix or not much, tylers.

Have to agree about the reduction in alfresco action. Dunno what that’s all about.

Again, this is NOT a big it up to myself, but I’m just reflecting on what a superbly engaging week this is (albeit that I’m on prescription drugs but also on doctors’ orders to de-stress) and while it’s been full and rich and fulfilling, there’s a 19 year old I know (no relation) whose week has been all about TV, DVDs, video games, and currently spending hours downloading apps and ringtones for a mobile phone.

Vive le diversite. Je pense…. je ne sais pas…..

tylersmayhem 11:18 am 23 Oct 08

I personally think it’s got a lot to do with demographics. I think the majority of us 30 some things now either pay extreme prices for rent, or are mortgaged up to the eyeballs. That coupled with the never-ending issues brought up here about public transport, and our refusal to use it, prices of cabs etc, us being probably the biggest demographical punters just can’t afford to go and spend our limited funds hanging out in Civic. Any truth in this?

I was in Civic last night, I actually commented to my wife how years gone by, the cafes along near where Cafe Della Piazza used to be, were always buzzing. Last night it was like a ghost town. A shame really.

johnboy 11:18 am 23 Oct 08

Skidbladnir said :

I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit.
Its the only way to be sure we clear enough land to follow Walter Burley Griffin’s original plan, with monumental ziggurats everywhere.

http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:135718/n15_1_002_Turnbull.pdf
“The Architecture of Walter Burley Griffin: archetypal patterns” has 27 instances of the word ‘ziggurat’ in 26 pages.

(In case any people were wondering, I’m a nightmare to play against in Scrabble)

Kingston has no shortage of residential Ziggurats. Gilgamesh would feel at home.

Overheard 11:17 am 23 Oct 08

Granny said :

Canberra has always been about who you know and making your own fun. We’ve tied people to poles in giant nappies and baby bonnets for hens’ nights, and even sent a bride to be snorkelling through the fountains outside the legislative assembly.

Exacarey, Granny.

I know I go on about, but there really is too much to do in this town, and it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg.

I’m actually sick as a dog this week — nearly coughed out a kidney this morning, but I’ll still have gone out every night and done something different.

Monday: trivia in Dickson (OK, I was running the show, but YOU could come along for free and possibly walk off with some cash, and Granny can tell you how much fun it is — the RiotACT contingent is slowly swelling — now watch it get canned in three weeks!);

Tuesday: ‘The Band Broke Up’ at The Front — sublime entertainment for $5 at the door and the price of a couple of beers.

Wednesday — Hashtoberfest at the Zierholz — just uploading pics now (say a little prayer for me, JB!).

Thursday — already went to a superb business breakfast thing with Jazz (managed not to cough and splutter all over everyone) and…. OK, so tonight’s entertainment is at Braidwood Folk Club, but still in the region sort of.

Then Friday night it’s one of Australia’s best live bands (Jigzag) at the Merry Muse for $15 for muggles. Hear them with me on Artsound FM from 5pm Friday. (I’ll be at a Pink Ribbon breakfast first on Friday and then in the Canberra Centre from 11am to 3pm selling pink ribbons — come and say g’day — I’ll have a bucket on my head if the amoxcillyn hasn’t kicked in properly.)

Saturday night I’ll be at Durras (at an event that you’re welcome to join if you’re interested: http://members.pcug.org.au/~terryg/chhh.html — contact ‘Sweeper’), but if you stay in town, YOU should seriously get along to the Folkus Room in Mawson. For $15 you will get a gilt-edged guaranteed superb night of entertainment. More on DIY Wotz on later. And I’ll be doing radio on Sunday night so I haven’t looked at what’s on yet.

So all of that is not a ‘Hasn’t Overheard got a wind-swept and interesting life (thank you, Billy Connolly)’ — it’s just that if anyone needs to wring their hands about being boring and having nothing to do, they should shove a BMA up themselves sideways!!! (In a nice way, and watch out for the paper cuts…)

Skidbladnir 11:15 am 23 Oct 08

I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit.
Its the only way to be sure we clear enough land to follow Walter Burley Griffin’s original plan, with monumental ziggurats everywhere.

http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:135718/n15_1_002_Turnbull.pdf
“The Architecture of Walter Burley Griffin: archetypal patterns” has 27 instances of the word ‘ziggurat’ in 26 pages.

(In case any people were wondering, I’m a nightmare to play against in Scrabble)

Granny 11:10 am 23 Oct 08

Like totally ….

tom-tom 11:01 am 23 Oct 08

the solution is clearly to build more public artwork

New Yeah 10:59 am 23 Oct 08

I’m not too keen with 40 storey buildings. They create too much shade and the wind gets too gusty.

No matter what is done now and in the future, I’m sure people will still be trying to add some ‘life’ into Civic in 100 years time. Whilst trying to make it better, it can be easy to forget what is already good about it.

Still, you have some good ideas, especially when it comes to mimicing European cities.

Granny 10:52 am 23 Oct 08

They’ll have to catch me first ….

; )

jakez 10:50 am 23 Oct 08

Granny said :

Civic has always been the coolest place in Canberra. Maybe I just still associate it with the buzz of a Friday night and hanging out with your school friends and youths hooning round and round East Row while you were waiting to catch buses. There was always a feeling that anything could happen.

I think Overheard is right. When you go there now it’s hard to get a coffee after 10pm, sometimes even earlier. We used to go to Gus’ at 11:30 at night for dinner and think nothing of it once. So, I think if the people don’t go there, the business shut up early, then there’s nothing to do so the people don’t go there.

Canberra has always been about who you know and making your own fun. We’ve tied people to poles in giant nappies and baby bonnets for hens’ nights, and even sent a bride to be snorkelling through the fountains outside the legislative assembly.

I’ve sat out in Garema Place with my best buddy and talked till three in the morning while the soup kitchen was serving.

You make your own fun. One spark can set a whole city alight.

: )

I’m sorry Granny, but any non-Government approved/funded activities such as those simply cannot be tolerated in this city.

Granny 10:47 am 23 Oct 08

Civic has always been the coolest place in Canberra. Maybe I just still associate it with the buzz of a Friday night and hanging out with your school friends and youths hooning round and round East Row while you were waiting to catch buses. There was always a feeling that anything could happen.

I think Overheard is right. When you go there now it’s hard to get a coffee after 10pm, sometimes even earlier. We used to go to Gus’ at 11:30 at night for dinner and think nothing of it once. So, I think if the people don’t go there, the business shut up early, then there’s nothing to do so the people don’t go there.

Canberra has always been about who you know and making your own fun. We’ve tied people to poles in giant nappies and baby bonnets for hens’ nights, and even sent a bride to be snorkelling through the fountains outside the legislative assembly.

I’ve sat out in Garema Place with my best buddy and talked till three in the morning while the soup kitchen was serving.

You make your own fun. One spark can set a whole city alight.

: )

Overheard 10:30 am 23 Oct 08

Here’s a phrase I don’t ever use. Until now.

Oh, yawn.

A city’s what you make of it. “Here I am now: entertain/amaze/amuse/enhrall me.”??

You can only do so much with a concrete jungle, but whenever the administration tries to spark the place up they get caned for spending taxpayers money on refurbs or public art.

They try to enliven the city with ‘Groovin’ in the City’ and get caned in some quarters for being lame or cheesy.

I don’t have any ideas and would be interested if anyone has some viable options. I personally would like to register minus one vote for the 40 storey monstrosity. I love the energy of Sydney, and to a lesser degree, Melbourne, but dizzily high buildings are only good when you’re presenting a course in the 36th floor corner training room overlooking the city and Port Phillip Bay. They lose their attraction from the ground when you’re trying to catch the sun (metaphorically, of course — slip, slop, slap, wrap).

Cameron 9:59 am 23 Oct 08

seekay said :

Because this is a entirely manufactured town that has been to designed according bureaucratic specifications and political whim.

Its people are so in awe of pencil pushers that they do not dare to assert their right to the privacy and security afforded by front fences. Pathetic.

Yes, that must be it….

Not.

seekay 9:43 am 23 Oct 08

Because this is a entirely manufactured town that has been to designed according bureaucratic specifications and political whim.

Its people are so in awe of pencil pushers that they do not dare to assert their right to the privacy and security afforded by front fences. Pathetic.

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