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Civic: our broken heart Wednesday, 27 April 2005 Strangled and divided by freeways and car parks, defaced by vandals and riddled with empty shops and poorly maintained buildings and infrastructure, Civic has become Canberra's broken heart. The problems need urgent attention if Canberra is to arrest declining population and tourist numbers and restore pride in Civic, according to government and private enterprise commentators. Chief concerns are that Civic has no sense of being the city's centre, it is clogged with traffic barriers, suffers rubbish and graffiti problems, and has been allowed to fall into disrepair. Businessman Terry Snow, owner and developer of the Canberra airport, said the lack of pride and law enforcement on building codes were ruining Civic. "This is Third World stuff. The empty shops, papers and rubbish everywhere would break your heart," he said. He believes that for a city renowned as one of the best planned in the world, Civic's mishmash of poor planning and declining state of repair leave it as a sad reflection on the national capital. The ACT Government has conceded Civic has fallen into disrepair and has outlined several broad visions for refurbishing parts of the city centre. Treasurer Ted Quinlan has announced the Government is considering introducing a levy on businesses in Civic to help pay for the maintenance and improvement of the city's commercial areas. He said many parts of Civic looked dour and lifeless and that raising a levy from the businesses which would most benefit from improvements was not unreasonable. "We have a well planned city, but at the moment it is a bit colourless, there's too much grey concrete," he said. Planning Minister Simon Corbell has said the high-speed traffic on Vernon Circle and Northbourne Avenue, the city's busiest roads, effectively "divorced" the city's east from west. Architect and planner Rodney Moss said yesterday that Civic's main problem was people not knowing they had arrived in the city centre. "You don't know you are there, you have to know to turn down Bunda Street [one of the precinct's main access roads leading to Garema Place and City Walk, shops, cafes, hotels and car parking]," he said. Mr Moss said Civic needed redesigning and that Canberra's planning authorities needed to recognise that people were moving back into cities and out of the suburbs. The Canberra Centre, Civic's biggest and most modern shopping centre, has drawn retailers and customers away from older shops in Civic. Adding to the problem, residents in outer suburbs are served by town centres and do not have to come into the city to shop. Built in the 1920s, the iconic Sydney Building on the corner of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit has eight empty shops, broken light fittings and traffic fume stains. Part of it is covered in graffiti, posters and bird droppings. The building and others in the precinct are covered by unsightly air- conditioners, many of which empty water directly on to footpaths. The ACT Government has approved murals on walls at two sites off Bunda Street to counter the spread of graffiti, which is prolific on most buildings. Developer Tim Efkarpidis, who refurbished the West Row side of the Melbourne Building, said the sheer number of owners in the Sydney and Melbourne buildings prevented a uniform redevelopment of the shops. Several plans have been proposed to revitalise Civic. Mr Corbell's City Hill plan, launched a month ago, would see Vernon Circle traffic slowed and public and commercial spaces created where car parks are now, inside London Circuit. Under the plan's proposals, the ACT Government would build itself a new Supreme Court, Legislative Assembly and office building. The Planning Minister has also announced plans for the redevelopment of the north-western perimeter of Civic (known as Section 84) and City West.
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