âThe ACT government was good enough to use designers. No more. Today’s results are generally very amateurish and quickly suppressed, âwritesâ Canberra Matters Columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.
THE south side of Franklin Street, Manuka, was closed in November for several groups of seats and tables on fake grass. This was apparently another of this government’s pop-up experiments.
Taking over parking lots and part of urban streets is an idea that dates back several decades. The successful version debuted in San Francisco in 2005 and has since spread around the world.
PARK (ing) Day takes place in mid-September with design studios and other collectives having fun. Places are claimed, sometimes as long as the meter is powered.
It can involve design innovations and some wonderful crazy ideas. Other groups use second-hand household furniture as well as objects specially built on site. Events work when people are drawn to sit down and have fun or even sit quietly and enjoy the newness of the space.
What happened in Manuka was a bit sad. Someone had obviously heard about the idea of ââtaking back part of the street for people to enjoy. But they missed the point. There was nothing fun about the scattered location of the standard ACT government retractable seats, tables, and mandatory planters.
This experiment failed because it did not involve the design or expertise of creating urban spaces that were aesthetically appealing to people.
To emphasize how poorly this was done, the street was surrounded by large barriers of orange construction. It was an ugly look. It looked like the street had been closed for construction. These dominant barriers ensured that all customers would feel locked in as if they were in danger of bad things beyond those orange walls.
The ACT government does not do well when it comes to designing our public spaces. The renovation of Tuggeranong along Anketell Street is exactly what Liberal MP Mark Parton said. It was the biggest speed bump in the world with a few pieces of street furniture and disappointing decorations. It’s an expensive and boring addition to Tuggeranong.
Meanwhile, in Weston, residents had campaigned for an improvement to the small park in Brierly Street and Trenerry Square. The community council gathered the ideas and submitted them to the ACT government.
What appeared in March 2018 was nothing like what had been requested. Lots of hard surfaces and very little shade as requested. This expensive and unpopular design work is about to be called off with further consultations underway to identify what locals want. Maybe someone in government should reread the early submissions from the community council and design according to that very clear brief.
The interior north was littered with expensive City Renewal Authority pop-up activities. After millions of dollars, little has survived. Faded paint here and there, a twisted version of a park outside the pool, and a scattering of chairs and potted plants throughout the mall. No design prize will be awarded for this unnecessary bulk.
And to come back to the concepts behind the claim of the streets. Good design can and has delivered fabulous new spaces. The investment in having experienced and talented designers to influence the results is well worth it.
The ACT government used to be pretty good at using designers. No more. Today’s results are generally very amateurish and quickly suppressed.
The closure and reuse of streets should be encouraged. Such initiatives will have a divided response – guaranteed. Some want more. Others will oppose it because it puts the motorist at a disadvantage. For things like this to happen, you need an experienced design manager. This is something this government lacks and it shows in what is being done around the city.
What happened in Manuka was a missed opportunity. A new concept should be explored with experienced landscape architects and professional placemakers. If the government planners could do their job and come to terms with the development of Liangis and have this building constructed, something very good could come of a redesign of Franklin Street. And maybe a few other streets in town.
Paul Costigan is a freelance commentator and consultant on visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday affairs.
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