Building green bolt-holes in a busy city

As Canberrans shake off our winter blues, catching those first rejuvenating rays of spring sunshine reward us for our fortitude. And there’s no better place to be in spring than in one of Canberra’s many glorious parks or gardens.


And yet, while Canberra’s city centre is surrounded by parks – from Commonwealth Park in the south to Haig Park up north and from Glebe Park in the west to the many green spaces at ANU – most aren’t within easy walking distance during a workday lunchbreak.


Parks were once places for play, promenading and family picnics. But today they are multi-functional places that enhance not only our urban landscape, but our social and cultural landscapes too. 


While Glebe Park certainly has its charms, the jungle gym tucked in the back corner is fairly pedestrian when compared with the ‘destination’ playgrounds found at the Arboretum, The Cotter or Tidbinbilla. When the ABC flats are a memory and the new apartments in Reid complete, Glebe Park will become the backyard of many new families – and this presents new opportunities to invest in attractions that excite and delight. 


Imagine Glebe Park being home to water-play wonder like that in Sydney’s Darling Quarter or a pirate ship like that found in London’s Neverland-inspired Kensington Gardens. Or, better still, imagine our carousel, loved by Canberra families since 1974, gaining a new home and a new lease on life at the heart of this inner city sanctuary.


Similarly, picture Haig Park, that belt of trees at the top of Lonsdale Street, illuminated at night and teeming with life during the day. This valuable green space, once a windbreak, could be reimagined as a safer, more inviting place for people – and would surely encourage more residents to walk to work.


Perhaps we need to rethink some parts of Garema Place and City Walk, which could be transformed from a thoroughfare into a grassy grove and the perfect place to rest shop-weary feet or avoid that impending office deadline.


We need more pocket parks – those tiny handkerchief squares of green space with seating, shade and sculpture – to lure more people outdoors to eat lunch or lose themselves in a good book.


One of my favourite pocket parks is on my own doorstep in Barton. The undulating grass and carefully curated seating behind the Realm provides a perfect place to soak up the sun, catch up with colleagues and build community with neighbours.


Other cities are transforming concrete jungles into urban ones. In London, for example, Mayor Boris Johnson is driving the ‘London’s Great Outdoors’ program to improve streets and squares across the city. New pocket parks, from tiny wildlife havens to tropical oases down abandoned alleyways, are popping up all over the city.


Similarly, ‘Sovereign Square’ in Leeds has transformed an idle car park in to a green space with lawns, mature trees and a rain garden. A place its creators call a “green bolt-hole in the hustle and bustle of the busy city centre”, Sovereign Square is attracting new businesses and changing the way the city thinks about its public realm.


As Canberra becomes denser and more diverse, we need to invest in green spaces – and to think of our parks as outdoor community centres that enhance the liveliness and liveability of our city.


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