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International Cities Town Centres & Communities Society

ICTC2011 Grand Chancellor Hotel, Hobart, Australia 25 – 28 October, 2011

Canberra strategic planning for the second hundred years Catherine Keirnan Registered Landscape Architect / Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate / Australia 0412 788 174 / catherine.keirnan@act.gov.au

ABSTRACT One hundred years ago, Australia celebrated Walter Burley Griffin‟s visionary plan for Canberra, a capital city anticipated to accommodate a population of 75,000 citizens. The city is now home to around 350,000 people, and population projections indicate an increase to 500,000 by mid century. How and where should people live, work and play in the national capital in the 21st century in response to local, national and global challenges? Canberra has to face up to sustainable development issues such as carbon neutrality, housing affordability, transport, health and economic viability. How can current planning respect the planning legacy from the last 100 years whilst adapting the city to meet future needs? And most importantly, what voice do the people have about the planning for the city they live in? The draft ACT Planning Strategy, a strategic plan for Canberra, is currently being developed by the ACT Government (Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate) seeks to address these questions. This ambitious and important plan is the product of extensive research, investigation and community engagement. By understanding the existing city and engaging Canberrans in an ongoing conversation about the city‟s future, the draft Strategy combines expert knowledge and community aspirations. This paper outlines where we have come from and the proposed direction for Canberra‟s future growth and development towards the next 100years. KEYWORDS: ACT Planning Strategy, strategic planning, Canberra

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1. THE FIRST 100 YEARS 1.1 The Griffins legacy

Many Australians know about Canberra‟s Lake Burley Griffin, the flooded Molonglo River held back by the Scrivener Dam – named to commemorate the extreme skill and endurance of Charles Scrivener the Chief Surveyor. And that this lake is a landmark feature of the international design competition for the national capital city for the newly federated states of Australia. Most children on school visits learn that in 1913 Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin, a husband and wife team from Chicago in the United States of America, won the competition and started work. What most people visiting comment on is how clean looking and well ordered the city is, what they may not realise is that the Griffin‟s brought with them the latest in thinking from Europe and North America to achieve an ideal city. One with clean air, clean water, plenty of room for children to play in communal spaces and houses with enough land for gardens, including to grow food. In “the city beautiful”, tree lined boulevards were to lead to the city centre, it would have good mass public transport for commuters to get to work. Canberra has not quite got there yet. The government„s Federal Capital Commission employed a Scottish forester, Charles Weston to work with the Griffin‟s to make sure the windswept plain became a garden city. Much of his work lives on today. From 1913 through the First World War, they build this nascent city, sufficient for Parliament to relocate from Melbourne in 1927. Some politicians were less than impressed with the results - King O‟Malley referred disparagingly to Canberra as the bush capital – an epithet turned around late last century as a badge of honour and an ACT tourism bonus. Another member, from an agricultural background referred to the newly formed roads built all over the Limestone Plains as “a good sheep paddock ruined”. After the initial spurt, development of the national capital dawdled along until post World War II Prime Minister Menzies injected nation building zeal. Australia turned to its new best friend the USA for planning advice. The age of the private motor car and cheap petrol changed the direction of city planning. Planners distanced themselves from the perceived old technology of Griffin‟s tramways, with the visual clutter of overhead wires and intrusive rattling noise. They forgot the origins of the Garden city ideals of the 1890‟s, thought them too quaint in the rocket era. But in Canberra the rising environmental consciousness movement of the 1970‟s was too „hippy herbal‟ to be taken seriously outside the universities.

1.2 NCDC and the Y Plan

Many recall the National Capital Development Authority, the NCDC era through the 1960‟s and 70‟s until self-government in 1988, as the golden age of Canberra‟s growth. Highly qualified professionals of all disciplines collocated in a statutory 2


authority under a Chief Planner. The strategic plan that still defines Canberra‟s urban structure as we experience it today is the “Y Plan”, or at least the part of it that has been built. The Y was the shape created by the proposed series of new towns that could accommodate future growth to a million people, big enough to compete with Melbourne and Sydney. This plan left Griffin‟s Canberra largely alone, the new city sprawled north, west and south and relied on travel by private car. From Gungahlin in the north to Tuggeranong in the south, Canberra is linked by roads through, and peripheral roads around, the suburbs. On the outside these roads are built as “parkways”, the journey to work through a landscape setting along high quality roads. Canberra epitomises the ideals and experiments of every planning movement. You can see this written on the land as the form and structure of the city. The new towns are deliberately visually and physically separated from each other by the hills, ridges and buffer spaces of a pastoral or bushland setting. This is honouring the Griffin legacy of a city in a landscape. The National Capital Open Space System is arguably the most formative of all planning controls that define Canberra. This concept of a low rise, uncluttered city with green spaces everywhere you look, is one that every Canberran, young and old, still today upholds as most important to retain. They appreciate the lived reality of belonging in a landscape, of the reality of the ideals built into a garden city combined with “the bush capital” sensibility. 1.3 ACT self government

After self government, the challenge in the 1990‟s was to explore the premise of the Y Plan, that was expansion of the city across the NSW border. The ACT Government collaborated with community experts and champions, and various NSW Government agencies to publish a set of issues based reports on planning for the region. It broke new ground for community / government collaboration and gave strategic direction for regional growth and development. But, surrounding the Australian Capital Territory in NSW, the local government areas hold the statutory powers and each operates independently in response to local pressures. Before the ink was dry, the content of these regional based plans that held so much promise, was largely ignored. The ACT retreated within its boundaries to deal with issues that were within its power. In 2001 the ACT Government commenced a new strategic plan for Canberra for the 21st century. The Canberra Spatial Plan was adopted in 2004 after a process documented in six booklets about the issues and discussions with the community. This award winning project was the first in Australia to undertake such extensive community engagement, to raise issues, to inspire involvement and to capture community views and values. The Spatial Plan‟s key strategic innovation was urban intensification around the city centre. It stepped away from the expansive Y Plan to embrace the concept of triple 3


bottom line sustainability and a more compact city. It drew on the 2003 work of the OECD for a Renaissance City. The strong focus was on the CBD to address economic and social vitality, to provide a city heart that did not empty at 5pm with its work force. Implementing this policy allowed Canberra to move beyond a city that is only low rise and low density.

1.4 The evolution of community engagement

Community consultation in the NCDC decades was very simple to do. The approach could be characterised as benevolent big brother. After very thorough public notification and information exchange the NCDC would receive and acknowledge submissions, but then do what they thought best. With ACT self-government, came locally accountable elected members and a Minister for Planning portfolio. Following on from the extensive consultation of the Spatial Plan was a program called Neighbourhood planning. Consultation with communities in the inner areas of the city that were likely to be most affected by change from the implementation of the Spatial Plan. This program was well resourced, involved multiple government agencies and executed over a long period of time. It was empowering to these communities, but did not necessarily stop change. The expectations of the public did not align with the purpose of the engagement. When people did not get what they asked for – stopping change „in their backyard‟ planning quickly became the poisoned chalice portfolio because you can‟t please everybody all of the time and change is difficult for people. In 2010 the ACT Government went back to the community, seeking current views and values on living, working and playing in Canberra for now and looking to the future. This extensive and intensive community engagement project used multiple modes – deliberative workshops, focus groups, social networks, web discussion and debate, phone surveys and events. Importantly the purpose of the consultation was made clear and detailed information was provided to facilitate learning and interaction. The response by the community to this voluntary „have your say‟ was positive. The Time to Talk Canberra 2030 Outcomes report, released in 2011 captures the aspirations of as wide a cross section of the population as is possible to capture within 3 months.

2. THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS 2.1 The basis for the ACT planning strategy

The ACT‟s overarching strategic plan is the 2008 The Canberra Plan: Towards Our Second Century. It embraces the concept of social inclusion and sustainability, with the statement that Canberra will be recognised as:

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    

a truly sustainable and creative city an inclusive community that supports its most vulnerable people, enabling all to reach their potential a centre of economic growth and innovation the proud capital of the nation and home of its pre-eminent cultural institutions a place of natural beauty

The global environmental, economic and social challenges that include population growth, climate change, energy and food security are complex and interrelated. There are no easy solutions to these issues and as a community we will have to make some difficult decisions. Communities across Australia, indeed the world, are already taking action to adapt and manage their cities, towns and regions to deal with the effects of these issues. The Spatial Plan together with its sister policy The Sustainable Transport Plan were adopted under legislation in 2007 by the ACT Government as the transitional ACT Planning Strategy, with a nominal review date of 2012. The review of the Spatial Plan in 2010, plus the research over three years under the Sustainable future program that included stakeholder consultation, and the broad public engagement of Time to Talk, suggested a revision to the strategic planning direction was needed. This preparatory work was important to understand what the implications of these issues are for Canberra and where change must happen. It has been pivotal to informing this draft Strategy and its revised direction. Canberra has been placed in the top 50 of liveable cities in the world, but it would be easy to lose this if we do not address our consumption of natural resources and ensure everyone has good access to services, jobs and a safe place to live. As we move toward 2030 and beyond to 2060, we must plan to address the challenges ahead. For Canberra the driving issues are: 

A growing population and changing demographics. Canberra‟s population and that of the region is both growing and ageing. This has implications for health budgets and demand for different housing options. By 2030 the Territory will have to provide approximately 61,000 more homes given our projected population. Compared to most other places, we could be using our land and urban infrastructure more efficiently. With our current growth rate and development pattern, we will consume the remaining land greenfield lands, in Gungahlin and Molonglo, by 2045.

The implications of climate change. Canberra‟s climate would be more like that of Mildura‟s, at the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers. In our region it is likely that there would be more heat waves, days of temperatures over 35, less useful more variable rain and more storms. With these changes it is predicted that the Canberra region will be more at risk from extreme bushfire weather, flash flooding and drought. Clearly there are implications for the well-being and safety of our community.

The „ease of getting around‟ is considered one of the Canberra‟s best and most desirable features for „liveability‟. This is due to very good road 5


infrastructure and high levels of car ownership. However, the use and ownership of the car is set to change as they become more costly to run and many more people, for age, health or lifestyle reasons, find themselves not driving. But being able to get to services, to shops and to work conveniently and safely is important. It is estimated the average travel distance for Canberrans to get to the City is around 15kms and to their town centre is around 6km. With over 50% of Canberra‟s work places located in central Canberra, many people are travelling a lot further than 15kms. 

Employment and economy in Canberra is already strongly based around knowledge and services. This means our educational institutions will need to emphasise these skills. It also means we must attract and retain young people, people with families, people with different cultural backgrounds, and keep older people in the workforce.

More affordable living. Like other cities the median price for a home in Canberra has more than doubled over the last ten years. Making housing more affordable is a complex issue and while it is an important factor, it is only part of the equation to make living in Canberra more affordable and attractive. Understanding the costs and windfalls that Canberra‟s planning has created for households in their decisions on where and how to live is important to addressing how best to make both housing and living more affordable.

A healthy city is one that meets our physical, emotional and social needs. It is a city where everyone can easily participate in all aspects of daily life, enjoy a sense of well-being and benefit from a clean, safe environment. There are many aspects to what makes a city healthy and an attractive place to live. Fundamental is the attention placed on meeting the needs of the more vulnerable groups in our community, such as children, the elderly, low income households, people with disabilities and cultural minorities.

2.2 The draft ACT planning strategy

This draft ACT Planning Strategy introduces a revised direction that builds on the legacy of past planning and development, plus full recognition of current community views, values and aspirations. The draft Strategy diverges from the Spatial Plan, to focus more on the whole city and achieve a more sustainable city for the longer term, which necessarily means engaging with the region. There are 9 “strategies” proposed, each with its own “target” for the next 5 year period. Under each of the 9 strategies there are a series of important initiatives either new, or ongoing projects and programs. From these, 6 key actions are identified to be undertaken to make the change of direction happen. Future delivery of the outcomes and statutory planning is important. To guide decision making this Strategy proposes seven principles that are reflective of community values and good planning practises. 1. Create a diverse urban environment 2. Provide for accessible and pleasant places to live, work and play 6


3. Design for community resilience and the lowering of natural resource consumption 4. Provide choice in safe convenient modes of ravel 5. Promote connections, continuity and resilience in teh natural systems 6. Value land for its best, most sustainable use for now and the future 7. Enhance the capital in the bush. This strategy will have a profound effect on the structure of the city, its efficiency, the choice of lifestyles it can provide, business and job opportunities and it means much of Canberra‟s suburban character remains. The fundamental changes that this draft Strategy could bring to the look, feel and lived experience of Canberra is briefly outline below. Intensification of town centres and transport corridors that connect them: 

will emphasise our existing metropolitan structure to help make our city more accessible and retain most of our suburban character;

will create a precinct within an easy 10 to 15 minute walk along the streets and path system to services and the transitways;

will be characterised by buildings around 6 to 8 storeys along the avenues and 3 to 6 storeys in the blocks behind and taller buildings will be contained to the town centres.

The town, group and local centres as the focus of community life: 

offering a range of services, job opportunities and the chance to live close to work; businesses and community services encouraged to locate in centres;

more diverse urban environments that fulfil a range of lifestyle expectations and support a growing, changing population with different housing types and densities surrounding centres with increased affordability;

greater clarity about the quality, location and type of development possible, with land use zoning boundaries defined by landscape or topographical features;

urban intensification in and around group centres within an easy 10 minute walk along the streets; characterised by mixed use buildings around 4 to 6 storeys in the centres and residential development up to 4 storeys in the adjacent blocks plus with urban parks to provide good amenity; means easy access to services and to participate and socialise in the community through a safe network of pathways leading to public parks, squares and community facilities.

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Investigation of areas for potential future urban uses taking an integrated systems approach: 

that fully addresses the trade-offs between alternative competing land uses as well as the costs and benefits for the region;

to establish a „defensible„ and easily managed edge to urban areas, including mitigating the threat of bushfire entering these areas and avoiding conflicts between urban and rural land uses; including measures that retain the landscape setting of the rural villages, towns and the „capital in the bush‟;

so that the „bush capital‟ identity is retained and enhanced and current and future residents and visitors will be able to experience and appreciate our native animals and plants;

to ensure people can opt to „age in place‟, to have a choice of housing in each suburb and district to make it easier for people to move to a house that better accommodates their changing circumstances without having to move out of their neighbourhood.

A regional approach taken to land use decisions, to use the land responsibly and sustainably, recognising that land is a finite resource: 

biodiversity, the ecosystems of endemic plants and animals, is essential for our existence and intrinsically valuable, providing us with clean air and water; our resilience, and those of the plants and animals we share the region with, will be improved because the integrity of the natural systems will be conserved;

and that a land use mosaic that allows wildlife to move through the ACT and region is important;

and that cooperation with the Australian Government, state and local governments will enable identification and conservation of the region‟s biodiversity;

and that productive, agricultural land has to be retained to secure our capacity to produce food and fibre, with identification of these areas, ensuring they are valued and reserved for this use and not subsumed for urban development.

The document, the background papers and the online consultation are at: www.timetotalk.act.gov.au

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I take this opportunity to acknowledge the key people who are behind the draft ACT Planning Strategy. Gay Williamson the primary author, Kylie Carman Brown the lead researcher, Petra Oswald who with our consultation consultants Elton Consult, designed the engagement, and our graphics team led by Ben Riches. 8


Kiernan, Catherine