NewActon - a memorable neighbourhood

In less than a decade, a forgotten corner of Canberra’s CBD has been transformed into one of Australia’s most memorable new neighbourhoods.

Earlier this month, the NewActon precinct won the national Australia Award for Urban Design for a completed large-scale project. The award, which was established by former Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1996, recognises and rewards only the highest quality urban design.

While developer Molonglo Group, architect Fender Katsalidis and landscape architect Oculus were presented with the prestigious award, this is truly a win for all Canberrans – and serves as a reminder that we can build spectacular new spaces in our city.

NewActon, which was created through private sector vision, investment and effort, is a lighthouse example of Canberra’s potential. A place that encourages both lingering and bustling, that embraces both physical and intellectual pursuits, and that balances the old and the new.

The Molonglo Group has created a memorable neighbourhood – but we need more of them, and they don’t all need to be in our CBD. Vacant sites, rundown local shops and abandoned school buildings can be found all over Canberra. These areas could be carefully adapted to provide vibrant new spaces and services for our neighbourhoods. 

For instance, the faded signs and empty shops along City Walk and in Garema Place are a reminder that we can do better – and we are doing better in other parts of the city. NewActon – and other inspiring places like Lonsdale Street or the Kingston Foreshore – demonstrates the possibilities when we work together to regenerate our spaces, repurpose older buildings and create better places for people.

When our fresh air, clear blue skies and close connection to nature are highly prized, it is understandable that many people are nervous about development that changes the shape of the city we love. But smart, sustainable development can ensure we not only retain, but enhance our quality of life.

Canberra began as an idea – a shared vision for a place that “should be laid out in the most perfect manner possible”.  While we may be an exemplar of twentieth century planning, we need to adapt to twenty first century needs. NewActon shows us that this is entirely within our grasp.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia