Working together to transform our city

All vibrant cities around the world have a thriving city centre. A hub where people live, work, play and invest on a daily basis.

A lively and reflective city centre is vital to the success and attractiveness of Canberra in the 21st century.

However, as you walk around the streets at present, it is clear that some of the buildings are old and dilapidated, streets are vacant and dull and the excitement and vibrancy of a usual city centre is clearly lacking.

Take a walk around the mid-city precinct in Canberra and you can see some buildings need to come down and others could be adapted with residential above the commercial and retail uses.

Why don’t these owners do this? It’s simple – the figures don’t stack up! It’s easier to buy a block of land from the Territory and develop it and worryingly it’s easier to invest in other cities.

Have you noticed that some retailers are in the shadows of colonnades even though there are vast amounts of pedestrianised spaces? Look at our iconic Melbourne and Sydney buildings – why are they are parts in such a bad state of repair yet they are the only two buildings that are like a city Town Hall?

In late 2014, the Property Council and Canberra CBD Limited brought together a gathering of people concerned with the potential of Canberra’s CBD  and discussed how to get cranes on the skyline and construction in the older parts of the city centre – City Walk, Garema Place, Sydney building and more.

Together we explored how to create new landmark addresses, attract more residents into the CBD and rejuvenate the city’s tired, existing buildings. Transforming Canberra’s City Centre is the result.

Transforming Canberra’s City Centre discusses and highlights the strengths, weaknesses, obstacles and opportunities for improvements within the City. The paper draws the conclusion that in order for change to occur the community needs to come together and unify over the same desire to restore, develop and grow Canberra’s city centre to once again be the thriving heart of the city.

Through partnerships and collaboration we can make the city one that we are proud to call ours.

It’s about having concentrations of people in well-designed and interesting places with a variety of things to do within walking distance – dining, shopping, working, learning, living, resting, playing and simply experiencing.

The Melbourne Postcode 3000 project enticed people into their ghostly quiet CBD after 5 PM and on weekends. From the early 1980s the transformation has been inspiring. Among many achievements CBD based Melbournians experienced a reduction in rates plus an increase in lifestyle benefits. More people means more rates for government to keep investing in our community and its future, yet the ability to reduce the amount paid per residence. Yes please!

Let’s get some life back into the old parts of the CBD by encouraging owners to redevelop and reuse so that there is a balance between old and new and life in City Walk and the Melbourne and Sydney Buildings. There needs to be activity all day rather than just the lunch hour.

This is a much bigger conversation than talking about City to the Lake and the urban design of the Northbourne spine and it’s connectivity to surrounding suburbs and shops.

Canberra’s city centre is the nucleus for all modes of transport – light rail, high speed rail, bus, cycling and of course cars. Consequently there will always be the need for parking to attend the theatre and galleries, courts and the headquarters of the Territory government, and hospitality, shopping and professional services that service the whole of the Canberra region.

We can’t wait until the Territory’s land is sold for apartments and community uses. Capital Metro can’t wait that long either! At a guess at least 15,000 people need to be living in this nucleus for the first appendage of light rail to be successful when it opens in four or so years’ time, with other appendages expected to roll out soon afterwards.

Imagine what our City centre could be like.

Visualise traffic that is slowed down because there are other ways for the 65% of traffic passing through the City to get to their destination.  A magnificent Piazza stretching between the Sydney and Melbourne buildings is shared by Capital Metro, a Cultural Square and beneath it is generous parking and Canberra’s high-speed rail station.

You’re able to drive into the City centre on the weekends and afterhours and park in any one of the empty carparks beneath commercial buildings because they have altered their security gateways to allow us to use their place as a base to go and enjoy the CBD’s offerings.

We need to be inspired by other cities, but this is Canberra and we can start building on the good bones that we already have. Let’s focus on the City centre because it’s the thermometre into the cultural and economic health of the whole of Canberra.

Visualise what a tourist must think as they walk down City Walk. Let’s pull together and concentrate on the premier development hub that is right and appropriate for Canberra. The privately owned buildings and our publicly owned spaces and places in between them are the best place to start.