Let's transform Canberra's city centre

“Creating a world-class city centre is much more than placing a skate rink into a wintery and unpopular Garema Place.”

So says Canberra CBD Limited’s Chief Executive Officer, Jane Easthope.

She’s right. While Canberra CBD Limited must be applauded for working hard to develop events like Christmas in the City, a vibrant CBD needs more than fairy lights in summer and an ice skating in winter.

Revitalising our city centre is essential for Canberra to remain competitive and attractive in the 21st century, which is why the Property Council of Australia together with Canberra CBD Limited have launched a new discussion paper, Transforming Canberra’s City Centre.

The discussion paper builds on a workshop we hosted late last year, which brought together planners, public servants, retailers, restaurateurs, building owners and designers to explore how to create new landmark addresses, attract more residents into the CBD and rejuvenate the city’s tired city centre. 

Many of our buildings certainly are tired – and they are lying vacant. The Property Council’s latest Office Market Report reveals a record high office vacancy rate of 14.7 per cent. Similarly, Canberra CBD Limited’s latest Street Level Activity Report registers a vacancy rate of 15.9 per cent.

This isn’t just an issue for building owners and retailers. This affects the vigour and vitality of the whole city centre.

Melbourne was in a similar situation to Canberra in the early 1990s – and look at it now.  A range of policies, including the spectacularly successful Postcode 3000 program which encouraged residential development in the CBD, has transformed the city from windswept to wonderful. 

People want to live in Melbourne’s CBD, with an 830 per cent increase in residents in just a decade.

More than 500 sidewalk cafes line the streets.  Laneways have been brought to life, three quarters of all street frontages must be ‘active’, and artworks and water features, flower stalls, bluestone paving, convenient seating and shade make ambling through the city a pleasant experience.

More than 65,000 pedestrians now traverse Swanston Street between ten and six each day. Night-time pedestrian traffic throughout the city has increased exponentially, reflecting the growth of bars and cafés and a safer, more welcoming environment. Melbourne’s heart beats 24/7.

We need Canberrans to care about the heart of our city – we know in fact that many already do – and for the ACT Government to partner with the private sector by investing in policies and programs that will breathe new life into Civic, attract new development, investment and residents, and improve its overall amenity and cleanliness.

We want Canberrans to engage in a deeper conversation about how we transform our city centre.  What do you love?  What do you loathe?  What should we cherish?  What needs to change?