Fixing Civic’s identity crisis

If Civic was a person, it would be suffering a serious identity crisis says Médy Hassan, Managing Director, Haus Holdings, Adjunct Professor at RMIT and long-time resident of Canberra.

“It’s like a person with no direction. It’s pushed and pulled into every direction, depending on the trend of the day.”

“As a result, much of the city centre is bland when it could be beautiful,” Médy says.

Médy will be moderating a discussion with some of the country’s foremost designers, economists, planners and policy makers – including RMIT's Professor of Architecture Leon Van Schaik and Kate Brennan, former CEO of Melbourne's Federation Square – on Thursday 10 September at a CBD Forum being jointly hosted by the Property Council, the Canberra Business Chamber and Canberra CBD Limited.

“It’s important that Canberrans engage in a conversation about the direction of our city centre. We need lots of different views to help us get it right,” Médy says.

Urban renewal is an incremental process, “but it creates far more engaging environments than when large blocks are just carved up for development. Lonsdale Street works because it’s grown incrementally.

“I don’t like the way Civic is pushed and pulled in many directions. We don’t need to compete for hierarchy. What we need is a vision and a framework that enables all these new places to sit in harmony.”

We all know what we don’t like about Civic – whether it’s the windswept plazas in winter, the lack of life on the weekends or the boring building façades. What we need is to agree on what we do like – and how we can implement it on our own “urban canvas”, as Médy calls it.

So, what are the three things Médy would paint into his Civic canvas?

Art that “brings the streets alive” comes in top of the list, and he points to how Melbourne has activated its streets through art as a perfect example. Active street frontages give buildings life, colour and three dimensions. “Each piece of street art is different and gives each place a personality,” he says. “In fact, much of the street art now serves as identifiable meeting points in the city.”

In Melbourne, streets have been brought to life with 75 per cent of all new developments required to feature active street frontage, and by developers investing in consistent blue stone paving – an idea that Médy says we should bring to Canberra.

The bluestone paving provides consistency throughout the city, a pleasant surface to walk on and a material that is durable and easily moved for maintenance. “Hard paving enlivens the city with extra colour,” Médy adds.

We need more people living in Civic. “Residents currently live on the periphery, when they should be helping to activate Garema Place and City Walk,” he says. In Melbourne, a focused campaign saw the number of residents in the CBD increase by 830 per cent in just a decade.

“Melbournians aren’t shy of trying new things. The architectural language is varied. There’s a framework for design but all the designs are different. Melbourne allows that,” Médy explains.

But this isn’t about being like Melbourne. This is about finding the essence of Canberra’s identity and shaping a city that showcases that identity. Canberrans are deeply proud of our unique city. Now is the time to start talking about an authentic vision for our city so that we too can allow Canberra to be the best that it can be.

Join us at the CBD Forum on Thursday 10 September from 3.30-6.00pm. Everyone who cares about our city should be there.