Northbourne oh Northbourne

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Local governments rarely get the opportunity to completely makeover and enhance the main entry to the city – and the city centre itself.

Such a time has come for the ACT Government.

So many factors have come together, some good–some not so good, to deliver what planners, urban designers, architects and landscape architects all dream about – the opportunity to not just influence the design of a site, a precinct or a city block, but several kilometres of housing, transport, architecture, green infrastructure and everything involved with a city urban corridor that is Northbourne Ave.

This could be the chance to do something really creatively exciting, to be a worlds’ best example of urban design and urban infrastructure design for the 21st Century.

Many people are now decrying the loss of the trees along Northbourne Avenue. I do as they have been absolutely magnificent. But I balance that with the knowledge that they were not the right trees to start with, that their time had come and the whole corridor required a serious re-think.

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Canberra was initially lauded as being a fabulous example for a city in the bush and a well designed garden city. Over the years this image has been seriously eroded with so much bad development in the new suburbs as well with inappropriate redevelopments plonked into the more settled areas.

Then along comes the announcement last week by the Chief Minister that his government is establishing a new authority to oversee the Northbourne and Civic redevelopments. It is so tempting simply to respond with a timely – Bah Humbug!

A cynical response to yet another Barr Government development media release is actually most appropriate given the amount of weasel words and spin that this government continues to use in such important urban development announcements

I have said it before and will say it again now – if this government ever wishes to be taken seriously – stop it! Stop using those same speechwriters and communications teams – their words are meaningless and only lead to the government not being taken seriously.

This whole project is so important to the future status of the city as a place that attracts people to live here, for businesses to invest here and the rest of Australia who are generally proud of their national capital–despite the best efforts of the current Feds to destroy it.

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I do not care too much about what sort of structure is established to oversee the Northbourne redevelopments. It will be more about who is writing the vision thing for it and how comprehensive its powers will be to ensure that whatever happens, the authority and its key people remain design and people focussed.

To say the obvious – if the developers rule the day – this will be more of the same! What a shame that will be.

If anyone in the near future says that any of this is being delivered in line with the Griffin Legacy – show them the door. The Griffin Legacy is a recent planning document written to please developers with only slight links back to what may have been the Griffins’ visions for the city. It is now the 21st Century – things have moved on, the challenges are different to the early 20th century–it is time for some new visions and new creative, people and climate focussed solutions.

Here’s an open request to the Chief Minister:

Step back and think this one through–get some good advice (not the usual suspects please!)–and put together well led design teams who know about community engagement, know about green infrastructure and good urban design. People with a real vision. They are out there and may even be local.

Please be aware that there are many professional consultants who are about to be your best friends and who will promise anything that they think you want to hear. Please ignore them–as so many have had a hand in so much of the rubbish we now have to put up with – in Canberra and in other cities interstate.

Look for creativity, originality–balanced with a sense of reality– and people with a vision that will deliver to this national capital a well designed and aesthetically attractive boulevard entrance to the city. It is possible.

I may be foolishly optimistic. But–for the moment at least–I hope for the best.

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