Creating memorable neighbourhoods

In less than a decade, a forgotten corner of Canberra’s CBD has become one of Australia’s most memorable new neighbourhoods. The transformation of NewActon from windswept to wonderful serves as a reminder that change can happen – and it can happen relatively quickly.

Urban renewal is vital to the future of Canberra’s economic and social wellbeing, which is why the ACT Government has made it a priority for 2015.

The ambitions laid out in the ACT Government’s City Plan – to attract more residents to the city centre, to reduce through-traffic, improve connections across the city and to the lake, and create a modern built environment – are encouraging, but more work needs to be done. 

Unfortunately, urban decay is fast becoming a feature of our city centre – and it’s an issue that should concern us all. The Property Council of Australia’s latest Office Market Report reveals that the office market vacancy rate across the capital increased from 13.6 per cent to 15.4 per cent over the last six months. 

This is the second highest vacancy rate of any capital city, marginally behind Brisbane’s CBD, and the highest rate of office vacancy in Canberra on record.

Urban renewal is our only option to enhance the vibrancy and vitality of our city centre.  Lighthouse public sector projects such as a convention centre, football stadium and aquatic centre can act as incentives for further private sector investment. The business case for investing in a convention centre, for example, is strong, as it will create jobs, boost business confidence and deliver the infrastructure our nation’s capital needs for the next century. 

At the same time, many of our obsolete office buildings can be converted into new apartments, student accommodation or hotels – but we need the incentives and the policy settings to make this happen. 

We can create places that encourage both lingering and bustling, that embrace both physical and intellectual pursuits, and that balance the old and the new. Places like NewActon show us that we can create memorable neighbourhoods in our city – but we need more of them.

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