Overcoming the Growing Pains – Environment Exchange

Environment Exchange“We are one of the most spread-out cities in the world… that suggests there is an issue there so we need to start having a hard look at our addiction to developing new suburbs.” – Tony Trobe

We have the overall vision to create a world-class sustainable, equitable and liveable city. The challenge now is how to implement planning that will meet the needs of an increasing population without increasing our ecological footprint. To begin with, the Territory Plan requires review and assessment while individuals need to become champions of their vision and the ACT government must implement building Canberra as a compact city. This will result in a liveable city enjoyed by all, a city of choice with a dynamic heart, and a place where natural and cultural heritage are respected and protected.

In the lead-up to the 2016 election the Conservation Council’s policy Planning – the right things in the right places was in our 2016 ACT Election Agenda – Our future, our environment.

Our May 2017 Environment Exchange was Overcoming the Growing Pains: Building a Compact Sustainable city. Our speakers to look at these issues were:

  • Tony Trobe, Director of TT Architecture and a well-known architectural commentator on ABC radio and columnist with the Canberra Times.
  • Toni Hassan, recipient of a Human Rights Award and a Walkley Award for her coverage of refugee health issues, writer of an irregular column for the Canberra Times and research fellow at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, now a fine arts student at ANU.
  • Olivia Purba, student at ANU, who undertook a placement with the Conservation Council on Analysis of Urban Infill Implementation in Canberra through the ANU Internship Program.
  • Caroline Le Couteur MLA, Chair of the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Planning and Urban Renewal, spoke briefly on the Committee’s inquiries particularly the Inquiry into Housing in the ACT.

Tony Trobe advocated for high density housing and an end to the continuous spread of suburbs. He explained Canberra has a problem with urban density, and the idea that we can keep expanding greenfield urban development forever needs to radically change. It takes 45 minutes to get from one side of Canberra to the other, while in comparison Sydney has a population more than 10 times that of Canberra, but the footprint is not a lot bigger. This suggests there is an issue thus we need to start having a hard look at our addiction to car use and developing new suburbs. He suggested we need to consider how we should be building a city in the garden, not just the garden city. Trobe argued that the opportunity of creating a denser city will result in a more liveable and equal city. The reality is all Australian cities, including Canberra are reaching the limit to which they can sprawl ever outwards. It simply takes too long to get anywhere from these far flung suburbs. While these sterilised, homogeneous and far flung suburbs are becoming the slums of the future. Therefore making an eloquent case for implementing urban density as the city is humanity’s greatest creation and our best hope for the future. Trobe called for a solution: to fix the Territory Plan. He argued that zoning and the way the Territory Plan is written leads into creating the missing typologies. He advocates for the need of champions to take the city by stealth and intervention.

Toni Hassan advocated for an inclusive city rather than creating good city for a few. This is generally the 18-40 year old bracket which the Chief Minister focuses on. She stressed the importance of liveability when it comes to cities as we cannot look back with nostalgia and attempt to keep everything the same. Cities are not static but dynamic. This approach should allow for organic rather than imposed growth. Hassan encouraged the need for bipartisan support and a commitment to access, equality and planning when it comes to further developing the city of Canberra. She supports the need for buildings that will change with time such as schools that are also for whole of community use. She sees Canberra as becoming an unequal city due to not just gentrification but also eradication of local history. Hassan suggests we need to honour this local history. For example transforming and re-purposing the trees cut down on Northbourne Avenue into community artworks. She believes by not shrinking public spaces this will allow for spontaneous conversations and ways to experience the city without your wallet. This results in the importance of accessibility including planning over parking and wheelchairs and a truly democratic bush capital that everyone can enjoy and feel a part of. The challenge of this is for moving away from order and a fixed form and allowing for elements of the city that can evolve in an organic way. Hassan stresses that the ACT Government requires a vision and commitment to equality and access.

Olivia Purba addressed the concept of urban renewal. She stressed that Canberra, as the capital of Australia, is growing thus the rising need to balance increasing demand for residences with the need for natural and ‘green’ spaces.  In doing so it is critical for these concerns to be incorporated into planning ahead of time and for the government to implement urban renewal. In order to be successful the government needs to engage the community prior, during and after the implementation and support developers in building more dense areas of the city. Purba explained that urban renewal is discussed within the community and incorporated in planning. However there is  little implementation due to issues such as lack of communication between policymakers and population, lack of support from the community and a lack of collaboration between the ACT government and private developers. To counter the current concerns with the implementation of urban renewal Purba supplied a number of recommendations. This included adjusting land use policies to limit sprawl and restrict development in green areas, building more open space in high-density urban renewal areas, deep and proper community consultation and communicating with the community in an accessible easily understood manner. Purba argues urban renewal could be one of solutions to providing more housing options, reducing our carbon footprint and preserving the environment.

Participants and others with views on these issues are encouraged to consider making comments to the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Planning and Urban Renewal Inquiry into Housing in the ACT.

Available presentations and videos: Tony Trobe Summary video; Olivia Purba presentation Urban Infill Implementation in Canberra and Summary video.

Register for our next Environment Exchange on 27 June: Reducing Canberra’s Waste Mountain

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