Page 112 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 14 February 2018

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The Belconnen town centre sits between the other two in this age, and it shows. It has office buildings in seas of car parks, but it also has a design based on driving from one spot to another. In line with that approach, the restaurant area along the lake was designed for drive in, drive through or drive to fast-food restaurants rather than pedestrian access.

On top of these issues related to the age of the centres and the changing community needs, each town centre also suffers from specific local issues. For example, Woden town centre has had a long-term decline in community and recreation facilities. Most recently, the CIT closed down, with the result that there is very little tertiary education south of Red Hill, with a small outpost in Tuggeranong. Of course, with the changes from the commonwealth government there are not the office workers that used to be there. Another example in Woden is that the pool is very old and is now overlooked by apartments and some users feel uncomfortable about being watched all the time.

In short, all of our town centres are in need of urban renewal, and it is not just me saying this. The local communities feel it and advocate strongly for change. The government has also recognised this with the master plans it has done or, in Belconnen’s case, it has underway. But the ACT Greens believe that not only do these urban centres require urban renewal but we need to do urban renewal better. We need to move much faster on becoming a more compact, more sustainable city and we need less conflict between developers and residents.

There is a tendency to see urban renewal as just selling vacant sites or sites owned by the government and approving very tall buildings. As an example, just recently a very tall building was approved at Bowes Street in Woden, and when I say “very tall”, I am not exaggerating. It is 13 storeys taller than the master plan allowed for that site—that is, more than double.

Around all of this the government and the developer talk about how great this is for urban renewal. But it is not that great, actually. Woden already has tall buildings—the one previously known as the MLC Building and now Lovett Tower is tall, and Woden demonstrates that tall buildings are not the solution to all problems. Tall buildings can help, but on the other hand they can also lead to streets which seem isolated and unsafe and are dark.

Similarly, over the last few years Belconnen town centre got a number of new tall apartment buildings. This has contributed a bit to renewal, but not as much as I think the people of Belconnen hoped it would. The streets are still dead out of hours. I am told that local residents prefer to drive short distances around Belco rather than walk in the dark. The restaurant area is still mostly drive in or drive through fast food.

Urban renewal that is not done well can result in conflict between developers and the community, dormitory centres with low quality of life and missed opportunities on sustainability, affordable housing and active transport. Real urban renewal needs a comprehensive approach that covers community facilities, affordable housing, street life, parks, transport and planning rules. Canberra residents do not live with their lives neatly divided into boxes like land release, planning approvals and transport. They

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