Allan Takes Aim Blog

A mix of political problems

Posted on: 17 November 2010

First published The Chronicle,Tuesday 16 November

I receive many e-mail messages from readers about what they think are major problems in Canberra. What are these problems? Unsurprisingly, planning tops the list, something that newcomers to, allegedly, the world’s best-planned city (is it?) might wonder about. As the world’s best planned city it was also designed to accommodate the future. But because politicians lacked vision, Canberra became an afterthought. The same applies to planners.

And so unfortunately when the future came, it came with a rush that found our visionless politicians unprepared. Panic became the order of the day as they hurried to get things built quickly. What they did not realise is, that great cities are not built overnight but grow slowly.

And so it continues. Today, Andrew Barr the ACT’s visionless Planning Minister and his army of equally visionless planning warriors, now think that rushing Canberra into the future, even if it means destroying some of the city’s human heritage is OK. It isn’t! Which is why citizens from Dickson in the North to Narrabundah in the South and in many other suburbs, are up in arms.    

Unfortunately the fifties building rush has also helped create today’s problem of homelessness in Canberra. In the rush to build, both politicians and planners forgot that even well planned cities needed a supply of ‘Affordable Housing.’ Imagine it! They managed to turn the world’s best-planned city into one with little or no affordable housing thus making it a city of haves and have nots. A the same they also made it a city where people are distant from each other unlike the city envisioned by its original planners, Walter Burley-Griffin and wife Marion Mahoney.

I venture to suggest that if either Burley-Griffin or Mahoney could come back to Canberra they would be outraged at the disappearance of the City Beautiful they planned together and also outraged that the once affordable housing that existed in their Canberra had gone and been replaced by housing built to satisfy the vanity of status seekers and greedy developers. Indeed I think they would cry immediately to be returned from whence they came.       

In an attempt to demonstrate that Walter and Marion’s dream city has not vanished, the National Planning Authority developed a spurious Griffin Legacy Plan to try and validate previous planning decisions, in which they have been ably helped by the ACT Planning Authority.  Speaking posthumously for the Griffins, it is fortunate for both planning authorities that the Griffins cannot sue them.

Griffin’s original plan also allowed for easy access to every part of the city so making it a city that would become familiar to residents. Little chance of that in Canberra today: the easy access has gone with Canberra becoming a city of discrete suburbs which, because of poor transport options, makes it difficult for people to travel between them except by car and so get to know their neighbours. Effectively: each suburb is a mini state.

For years now plan after plan has been rolled out to solve the easy access problem; it remains unsolved and will remain so until Canberra becomes a more compact city, not a city sprawled across the landscape. And while urban infill will make it a more compact city and also make an efficient public transport system economically sensible, it must not alienate one group of citizens by favouring another.     

Other e-mails received were about the health system, education, the arts and a subject that now seems to have as many experts as there are grains of sand in the Simpson Desert.  And so today I will give you a true story of something that happened a few weeks ago and comment on the other problems later.

A few weeks ago a scared elderly friend asked my advice about a domestic abuse situation occasioned by someone with mental problems. I contacted the appropriate agency and was most impressed with how it handled matters.

The agency called the police who attended quickly and took the offender to hospital. After waiting for hours the ‘alleged’ abuser was sent back to the abuse scene in a taxi because lack of staff meant no examination could take place.

I ask you: should lack of staff be a problem in this situation?

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