Let’s say Yes in My Back Yard
Canberra’s population will double over the next 45 years. Whether we like it or not, this makes urban renewal an essential part of our future.
That’s the message from Dan Stewart, the ACT Government’s outgoing Coordinator General of Urban Renewal and Deputy CEO of the Land Development Agency.
Speaking at a Property Council luncheon recently, Stewart told the audience that, with fixed borders in the ACT, there will come a time when ‘greenfield’ is no longer a future development opportunity.
While we’ll see new developments springing up across the border – with West Belconnen, Queanbeyan and Murrumbateman just the start – many people will wish to live in the ACT. This means we’ll have to look to ‘brownfield’ development – and to rejuvenating parts of our city to accommodate a growing population.
“We need to start building our city from the inside,” is how Stewart puts it.
Some people see urban renewal as an attack on suburban living. Despite what NIMBYs will tell you, ‘greedy developers’ aren’t driving the urban renewal agenda.
Changing lifestyle preferences and an ageing population are responsible for that. More and more Canberrans are attracted to apartment living – from students to downsizers wanting a ‘lock it and leave lifestyle’ to hard-working corporates and families wanting the city’s delights at their doorstep.
For a start, the proportion of Canberra citizens aged over 65 will grow from 11 per cent in 2012 to a whopping 22.5 per cent by 2060.
“These older Canberrans will almost certainly want to remain in communities in which they grew up and raised their families,” Stewart says.
“We’re going to need to work hard to provide retirement living solutions – and that won’t come from pushing retirement living developments further and further into greenfield suburbs.”
Instead, Stewart predicts we’ll see multi-storey retirement living options emerge as downsizers become inner-city urbanites.
Of course, urban renewal is not just for the over 65s. As Stewart says, it’s an “investment in Canberra’s soul”. Now is the time for us to build public places and spaces for people, “to enliven our streets and create destinations”.
“There so much more to Canberra than the handful of national institutions around Lake Burley Griffin,” Stewart says. But while we’re amping up the ‘cool factor’ around Canberra with cafés serving exploding milkshakes, hipster havens in Braddon and über-chic hotels in NewActon, our city centre remains in serious need of a facelift.
Earlier this year, the Property Council and Canberra CBD Limited released a discussion paper, Transforming our City Centre, and is driving a dialogue on how we revive our city’s heart.
Dan says we can expect a number of “city changing projects” – from the City to the Lake to Capital City Metro – that will breathe life back into the city and kick-start a thriving night-time culture. “The best way to do that is to have more people living in and around the CBD,” he says.
“We need a new vision for Canberra. One that embraces urban renewal rather than fearing it,” Stewart says.
And that means saying ‘goodbye’ to the NIMBY mentality to become a city of YIMBYs who say “yes in my backyard”.
On Thursday 10 September, the Property Council, Canberra CBD Limited and Canberra Business Chamber will host a forum to present some of the country’s foremost economic, planning and design experts.
The forum will unpack the challenges facing our city – and how collective urban leadership can break down barriers to build a first-class capital CBD. Everyone in the Canberra community is welcome. Find out more and register today.
Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia