For as long as I can remember there has been talk about the need for a proper gateway to Canberra.
Coming up over the rise as you cross the border on the Federal Highway most Canberrans see Telstra Tower and the Brindabellas and feel a sense of coming home. For visitors however there is no real point of arrival to Canberra - a sign announcing the City Centre doesn’t count. Between the northern border of the ACT and Civic there is a fairly unimpressive visual canvas, consisting mostly of low or medium density housing, office buildings and traffic lights. As the nation’s capital we really need to do it better.
Other cities have handled it well with examples ranging from quasi-artworks to commemorative structures. Melbourne has invested in contemporary showpieces to mark its gateway. A series of impressive large-scale freeway artworks create colourful and exciting markers as the CBD appears on the horizon, reinforcing the city’s reputation for design and style.
Gateways to other cities have become icons in their own right. Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty welcome visitors from sea and air. All are immediately recognisable as destination markers. Great railway stations too can be symbols of cities with romantic connotations - Central Station in New York, Kings Cross in London and the futuristic Berlin Hauptbahnhof are cases in point. This is the stuff of movie sets and memories.
Canberra has all the right elements for an impressive gateway - the highway seamlessly becomes Northbourne Avenue - a boulevard opportunity that has never been realised. The first stage of light rail offers a new chance to create a real entry to Canberra. The proposed first leg of the track could be an impressive corridor through to the city, encouraging new development, wide footpaths and beautiful landscaping. A ‘marker’ structure, be it building, commemoration or artwork should be included at a scale right for its surroundings. It doesn’t need to be tall, but does need to be special.
It’s time that Canberra had its own landmark entry. If we have to keep relying on the GPS to announce that ‘you have arrived’ - then we’re not there yet!
Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia