If we want to heal the Canberra pattern language we need to have a healthy balance between providing sufficient area for development within the existing footprint (commercial viability), efficient and convenient circulation and high quality social spaces.
The wound is deep!
The recent Hawke review of the ACT public service indicated that Canberra is 10 times less dense than Melbourne and Sydney, is one of the lowest density cities worldwide and less than one quarter of the ACT is suitable for development. The potential for significant urban redevelopment is apparent and key to enable efficient and convenient circulation systems.
What do I mean with that? Efficient movement allows all people to move from A to B in a fast way. However, convenient also includes what happens between A and B. So far Canberra has been successful in “perceived efficiency” to move people from A to B via cars. The implication on equal access and holistic safety to this form of movement by the population with a youth and aged perspective is concerning. Bus use is still far beyond being convenient for all members of the community and as the Ottawa example shows requires long- term support.
Car use just creates convenience for a small number of people per vehicle and degrades the space between A and B to a “desert quality” or when have you seen last time a good crowed of people having quality time on a medium stripe.
In other words people had for a very long time a very exclusive way of moving in space, which resulted in a 30 per cent increase in road infrastructure that needs to be maintained, not even to mention impacts on human health and their environment through air pollution, heat island affects, amount of sealed surfaces etc.
In search for a right medicine!
In the medium term future cars won’t disappear, but we need to tame the cars and change the pattern language in the city if we are serious live in a sustainable and healthy Canberra.
The street pattern and urban structure is important to determine the pattern of movement, setting the parameter for subsequent development and in contributing to an urban character.
Introducing a stronger movement hierarchy, plan under the banner of “city of short distances”, which allows people meet most of they needs in short walking/ cycling or public transport distances and maximise the opportunities of social spaces in between.
The Department for Transport in the UK adopted in 2007 a new movement hierarchy for their “Manual for streets”:
- Bike users;
- Public transport;
- Special service vehicle, car share and taxis;
- Private cars.
The shape and size of an urban block is important in conjunction with basic typologies/ codes/ rules about physical parameters. Innovative and creative precinct plans can address these issues and are able to address social spaces that benefit all members of a community.
Indicator for getting healthy!
The greatest indicator of a disappearing wound is when you start seeing a wide range of people using urban spaces up to 24/7- simply more people living, ageing and socialising locally in very safe, pleasant and child friendly environment.
Be part of the healing process!
The ACT Government has released two key strategies for public comments. The ACT Planning strategy will set the direction around Canberras future pattern language and other urban design challenges. The Transport for Canberra strategy aim is to tame the car and providing a real opportunity to create equity in transport. The strategies can be found under http://www.timetotalk.act.gov.au/time-to-talk/. Make a difference – be an urbanist!