The City Square

The City Square – what are they there for?

Many years ago there used to be lots of protest gatherings in Canberra. I am referring to both local and national protests. The local ones used to be regularly held in the place called Civic Square. The national ones were in front of the original Parliament House – now known as the Old Parliament House.

civic-square1above – the original Civic Square

Such protests are now a rare event. Times have changed even though the political situation is much worse now than then.

In Canberra, Civic Square was constructed to be a ceremonial place but instead was used frequently by people for protests. The place used to be packed out. The gatherings were frequent and the issues numerous.


A couple of decades I wrote a review in the local paper whereby I congratulated the then government on spending a million dollars to change what was a dull grey Stalinist square into yet another dull grey Stalinist square.

Today Civic Square is far more cluttered. It is no longer the natural place for protests. The place has been attacked by several generations of designers and architects; the fountain has been enlarged, and enlarged again.


The area in front of Parliament House (now old Parliament House) is largely a large tarmac with a huge stretch of grass beyond. The grassed area over the road was a natural for gatherings and the more bold then advanced onto the roadway and then up to Parliament. The whole place became a traditional place for protests. Then they moved the Parliament up the hill to the new building. It was never the same.


City squares had become symbols of government, that pretended to be places for the people. The truth has been that they were meant to be monument to the state power. The trouble being that people came to occupy these places and to express all forms of democratic wishes.

In the last few years across the middle east and now into places such as the Ukraine, the city square have been the centre of world attention as people have sort freedom from their various dictators.

An article appeared The Atlantic with the wonderful title: A Dictator’s Guide to Urban Design.

Such a title had to catch my attention. Obviously the article was about the obvious, being based recent events. That is how these public places functioned during the more recent protest movements against the various dictators.

In any healthy settlements, there will always be room for voices of opposition and difference. Such a settlement then has far more chance of being sustainable.

the article is worth a read – click here


Paul Costigan, 2 March 2014


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