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
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
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
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.