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Walter Burley Griffin is Dead: Long Live Walter Burley Griffin's Planning Ideals!

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In 2010 the ACT Government commenced a major public consultation exercise called “Time to Talk—Canberra 2030” on Canberra's long-term future as part of developing a new strategy plan for Canberra. In this context, the then ACT Planning Minister, Andrew Barr MLA, published a short article on his personal website proclaiming that Walter Burley Griffin is dead. According to Barr, Griffin has not had any involvement in the planning and development of Canberra since 1920 and that his plans for the city were never really implemented. Barr stated Griffin's ideals should not be “re-interpreted” and we “should not be casting back a century for answers to Canberra's contemporary challenges” because “Griffin could never have foreseen the changes in lifestyles that technology has delivered and that climate change will require”. Barr bemoaned the fact that Griffin's legacy continues to dominate debate about the future of Canberra and that Griffin is still held in high regard in Canberra planning circles. Barr argued therefore, that it was time to move beyond Griffin's planning legacy. Despite the fact that no planner can ever clearly foresee the changes the future brings, there are several good reasons why Griffin's planning ideals continue to pervade Canberra's planning. This article explores two of Griffin's planning ideals for Canberra and how they have endured in the development of two of Canberra's strategic plans. The article argues that these planning ideals still have currency today and will continue to have currency well into the future.
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Walter Burley Griffin is Dead: Long Live
Walter Burley Griffin's Planning Ideals!
Ed Wensing a
a FPIA, Visiting Lecturer, Urban and Regional Planning, University
of Canberra , Australia
To cite this article: Ed Wensing (2013): Walter Burley Griffin is Dead: Long Live Walter Burley
Griffin's Planning Ideals!, Urban Policy and Research, 31:2, 226-240
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PRACTICE REVIEW
Walter Burley Griffin is Dead: Long Live
Walter Burley Griffin’s Planning Ideals!
ED WENSING
1
FPIA, Visiting Lecturer, Urban and Regional Planning, University of Canberra, Australia
(Received 3 September 2012; accepted 15 February 2013. Non-peer reviewed)
ABSTRACT In 2010 the ACT Government commenced a major public consultation exercise called
“Time to Talk—Canberra 2030” on Canberra’s long-term future as part of developing a new
strategy plan for Canberra. In this context, the then ACT Planning Minister, Andrew Barr MLA,
published a short article on his personal website proclaiming that Walter Burley Griffin is dead.
According to Barr, Griffin has not had any involvement in the planning and development of
Canberra since 1920 and that his plans for the city were never really implemented. Barr stated
Griffin’s ideals should not be “re-interpreted” and we “should not be casting back a century for
answers to Canberra’s contemporary challenges” because “Griffin could never have foreseen the
changes in lifestyles that technology has delivered and that climate change will require”. Barr
bemoaned the fact that Griffin’s legacy continues to dominate debate about the future of Canberra
and that Griffin is still held in high regard in Canberra planning circles. Barr argued therefore, that
it was time to move beyond Griffin’s planning legacy. Despite the fact that no planner can ever
clearly foresee the changes the future brings, there are several good reasons why Griffin’s planning
ideals continue to pervade Canberra’s planning. This article explores two of Griffin’s planning
ideals for Canberra and how they have endured in the development of two of Canberra’s strategic
plans. The article argues that these planning ideals still have currency today and will continue to
have currency well into the future.
2010ACT了一公共
—— 2030”讨论
未来ACT .Andrew Barr
了一..Walter Burley Griffin
1920 他为
也从们不100
未来讨论今仍
q2013 Editorial Board, Urban Policy and Research
Correspondence Address: Ed Wensing, FPIA, 6 Charlick Place, NICHOLLS ACT 2913, Canberra, Australia.
Email: ewensing@bigpond.net.au
Urban Policy and Research, 2013
Vol. 31, No. 2, 226–240, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08111146.2013.782799
Downloaded by [Ed Wensing] at 17:05 30 May 2013
超越产了未来变化
从两个
他们为什么
久不今仍也仍
KEY WORDS: Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin, Peter Harrison, National Capital Development
Commission
I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world.
I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world
would accept.
I have planned an ideal city—a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future.
(Walter Burley Griffin, 1912)
Introduction
In November 2010, Andrew Barr, Member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and
Minister for Planning in the ACT at that time, stated in a blog on his personal
website that Walter Burley Griffin is dead, that there have been more than enough
attempts to reinvent Griffin’s legacy and that it is “time to move beyond this tired old
debate” (Barr, 2010). Barr asserted that because Griffin has not had anything to do
with Canberra’s planning and development since 1920, that Griffin’s ideals for a city
of the future should not be re-interpreted and that we should not be casting back a
century for answers to Canberra’s contemporary challenges. Barr also asserted that
Griffin “could never have foreseen the changes in lifestyles that technology has
delivered and that climate change will require” arguing that “our second century as a
city must be about responding to our emerging needs and taking new opportunities as
they present themselves” (Barr, 2010).
Mr Barr’s comments have woken me from my slumber. I have not commented on local
planning matters in Canberra for over a decade after some considerable local exposure in
the Canberra Times and on ABC Radio from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s campaigning
for better administration of our unique leasehold land tenure system and the proper
enforcement of lease conditions with respect to land use and development. Mr Barr’s
comments should not be left unchallenged because they are disrespectful, not only of
Griffin’s contributions to planning generally, but also of the contributions made by those
that followed Griffin including the late Peter Harrison and the late John Gilchrist. I knew
both of these men personally and professionally.
Peter Harrison was the first Chief Planner at the National Capital Development
Commission (NCDC) from 1957 to 1972. I joined the NCDC in 1973 and quickly learnt
that Peter Harrison was a hallowed name around the corridors. He was a friend, critic,
adviser and mentor to many (Wensing, 1993). I got to know Peter very well because we
shared many long, late night telephone conversations practically every night of the week
for almost a decade before his death in 1990. John Gilchrist served as the Director of
Metropolitan Planning for a number of years from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, and in
that role was responsible for reviewing the Y Plan that Peter had developed in the late
1960s. John was one of my supervisors and a mentor during my time in the Planning
Walter Burley Griffin is Dead 227
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Division from 1979 to 1985 and we kept in regular contact until his death in 1998. Indeed,
apart from their respective wives, I was the last person to have long conversations with
each of them before their untimely deaths.
Griffin died after an operation of peritonitis in King George’s Hospital in Lucknow in
India on 11 February 1937 (Harrison, 1995, p. 90; McGregor, 2009, p. 479), but his
planning ideals for Canberra live on and still have currency today and will have into the
future. This article demonstrates why. It begins by exploring the nature of Griffin’s
visionary planning ideals of fitting a city into the landscape and dispersing the centres of
activity around the city rather than concentrating them all in one central business district
(CBD). This article briefly discusses these two ideals that Harrison embedded into the Y
Plan some 60 years after Griffin’s winning design and that Gilchrist affirmed in his review
of the Y Plan two decades later. The article concludes with some pertinent observations
about planning for Canberra’s future.
Griffin’s Enduring Planning Ideals
Countless books and journal articles have been written about Griffin and his work on
Canberra (e.g. Birrell, 1964; Harrison, 1995; Overall, 1995; Reps, 1997; Reid, 2002;
Pegrum, 2008; McGregor, 2009), and indeed Griffin himself wrote extensively about his
plan for Canberra (Griffin, 2008). Many people are generally not aware of how much
material is available and many also fail to appreciate the value of Griffin’s work. Pegrum
describes Griffin’s plan as “nobly conceived” (Griffin, 2008, p. 112). Harrison (1995,
p. 29) describes the Griffins’ drawings for Canberra as a “tour de force in presentation” and
believes they show with remarkable clarity Griffin’s understanding of the topography of
the site and his ideas for the future city. More importantly, Harrison (1995, p. 30) noted
that “it is the conscious use of space as a design element which has given Canberra a most
distinctive character, unlike, as Griffin said, any other city in the world”. In the Preface to
his book documenting what happened to Canberra following Griffin, Reid (2002, p. ix)
believes that anyone who invokes Griffin’s name in proposing changes to Canberra should
do so “in knowledge and not in ignorance”.
When Griffin submitted his design for the national capital it was accompanied by an
explanatory report which was reproduced as Appendix B in the 1955 Senate Select
Committee’s Report on the Development of Canberra (1955, pp. 93 102) and in Dustin
Griffin’s (2008, pp. 2 20) collection of Walter Burley Griffin’s writings. There are many
planning ideals in Griffin’s “Report Explanatory” that permeate his winning design for
Canberra. These ideals include, for example, respect for the topography of the site
describing the central area as a natural amphitheatre, the grouping of federal government
activities in a linear axis (the land axis), the need for space for recreation and public
gardens, a place for the ‘military group’ where the commanders of the country’s defence
forces would have their offices, an ‘education group’ for higher education, and a place for
the ‘municipal group’ away from the federal government group, the need for good
transport and communication links between the various ‘groups’ or activity nodes. These
ideas made sound building blocks for a modern city.
I will focus on two of Griffin’s planning ideals that have endured. They were applied by
Peter Harrison and his team in developing the Y Plan in the late 1960s (NCDC, 1970) and
were reaffirmed by John Gilchrist and his team when the NCDC reviewed the Y Plan in the
early 1980s (NCDC, 1984). They are often misunderstood.
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Setting the City into the Landscape
The first planning ideal in Griffin’s plan is that of setting the city into the landscape. In
creating his design, Griffin studied the topographic maps prepared by Charles Scrivener
that had been issued to each of the competitors. This is demonstrated by Griffin’s
description of the site selected for Canberra. In his “Report Explanatory”, Griffin describes
the five distinctive topographical features of the site:
.the mountain ranges and distinct snow-capped peaks to the south and south-west
as scenic background;
.the three local mountains (Ainslie, Black Mountain and Mugga Mugga) too lofty
and exposed for building purposes;
.the lesser hills and spurs (Kurrajong, Camp Hill, Vernon, Russell, Shale and
others) which Griffin utilised as termini of radial thoroughfares and as sites for the
most important structures;
.the waterway (Molonglo River) and flood basin for architectural effect, recreation
and the climate’s amelioration; and
.the flat valleys for the general purpose of industry and habitation (Griffin, 1913,
pp. 23).
In 1914, in discussing his plan before interested audiences, Griffin describes the site taken
as a whole, as an irregular amphitheatre:
.with Ainslie at the north-east in the rear, flanked either side by Black Mountain
and Pleasant Hill, all forming the top galleries;
.with the slopes to the water, the auditorium;
.with the waterway and flood basin, the terraced stage and setting of monumental
government structures sharply defined, rising tier on tier to the culminating
highest internal forested hill of the Capitol; and
.with Mugga Mugga, Red Hill and the blue distant mountain ranges, sun reflecting,
forming the back scene of the theatrical whole. (Griffin, 2008, p. 88).
According to Harrison (1995, p. 29), “Griffin’s design was presented in a most impressive
set of drawings” and “as well as being a tour de force in presentation, the drawings show
with remarkable clarity the designer’s understanding of the topography of the site and his
ideals for the future city”. Figure 1 is Griffin’s primary drawing “City and Environs”,
rendered in sepia tones in tontine fabric and mounted on stretchers. In addition to this
drawing, sections and elevations through the central areas were drawn in four parts. When
joined, these drawings along the main axes of the plan measure approximately 6.1 metres
(or 20 feet) in length, and the central area is illustrated by a perspective about 2.4 metres
(8 feet) wide (Harrison, 1995, p. 29). I have had the privilege of seeing these drawings first
hand on two separate occasions.
Griffin used the topography as the setting for the city by carefully placing the various
functions of the city into the landscape (Griffin, 2008, p. 89). As Harrison (1957)
explained, Griffin “designed a grand formal landscape using avenues, water features, and
the hills and mountains, taking advantage of every natural feature that the splendid site had
to offer” (p. 236). In his Master’s Thesis on Walter Burley Griffin, Harrison (1995) goes on
to note that “[t]he distinctive characteristics of Griffin’s conception derive from his
unerring grasp of the topography, a complete feeling for the landforms ...”, and notes that
Walter Burley Griffin is Dead 229
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Figure 1. Griffin’s plan—1912. Source: Collection: National Capital Authority Library &
Information Service.
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“It is the conscious use of space as a design element which has given Canberra a most
distinctive character unlike, as Griffin said, any other city in the world” (p. 30).
In contrast, many of Australia’s state capital cities simply outgrew their original shell
and “even in the chaos of suburban development, the rectangular grid of streets was
adopted with ... ‘monotonous fidelity’” (Freestone, 1989, p. 41), often ignoring the
topography and the natural landscape. In recent decades, there is much greater emphasis
on the interactions between the natural and built environments (Williams & Smart, 2012,
p. 127) and on sustainable development “that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland,
1987). In some respects therefore, Griffin’s ideals about designing the city to fit into the
natural landscape were well in advance of his time.
Dispersed Employment Centres
The second planning ideal in Griffin’s plan is the dispersal of employment centres. In his
“Report Explanatory”, Griffin explains the various functions of the city and their spatial
arrangement around the city based on a land axis and a water axis. In the Primary Division
of functions, Griffin located the government functions and recreation. In the Secondary
Division, Griffin located the university, the military, the municipal administration and
markets, industry and the residential sections. Griffin also expounded the need for efficient
internal circulation in the city, suggesting wide boulevards for the major connecting
avenues between the various centres of activity, including public transport. In the view
from the summit of Mount Ainslie prepared by Marion Mahony Griffin as part of
the competition drawings, the sketches clearly show three-to four-storey housing in the
residential areas on either side of what is now called Anzac Parade and elsewhere in the
city.
As Harrison (1995) notes, Griffin’s “principle of dispersal of employment centres rather
than the adoption of a conventional central business district in his plan and the generous
provision of circulation made it possible for Canberra to grow beyond 100,000 population
...” (p. 93). Harrison was undoubtedly the intellectual force behind the Y Plan
(a description he deplored) as the metropolitan strategy for the growth of Canberra, the
principle of which was to locate employment, residences and services in close proximity to
avoid suburban isolation, long journeys to work and central city congestion. Harrison used
to say that “Canberra is the first and last capital we are going to build, so let us make it first
class” (Harrison cited in Wensing, 1993, p. 3). Harrison’s goal in developing the Y Plan
was to give a hierarchical form to the structure of the city (NCDC, 1970, p. 173), not too
dissimilar to the multi-centred metropolitan strategic plans currently in existence for many
of the state capitals around Australia.
While Canberra as a city is much smaller in comparison to the other capital cities in
Australia, the most recent metropolitan strategies for Sydney, Melbourne, SE Queensland
and Perth all contain strategic directions and policies aimed at dispersing employment and
creating multi-centred cities.
2
For example, one of the strategic directions and key policy
settings in the current Metropolitan Plan for Sydney 2036 is to make Sydney a more
resilient, compact, connected, multi-centred and networked city (NSW Planning &
Infrastructure, n.d.). The ‘city of cities’ strategy within the Metropolitan Strategy supports
the development of the three regional cities and many ‘major centres’ to extend economic
activity, improve access to employment and relieve congestion associated with a single-centred
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city. The major centres are the building blocks of the public transport network and will be
the focus of population growth, concentrating major shopping destinations, local jobs and
services near homes within subregional catchments (NSW Department of Planning, 2005;
NSW Planning & Infrastructure, n.d.).
Griffin’s Enduring Planning Ideals beyond the Griffin Plan
Long before his appointment as the (NCDC’s) first Chief Planner, Harrison had developed
a personal and professional interest in Walter Burley Griffin and had become a specialist
on Griffin’s winning design for Canberra. As an advocate of Griffin’s design, Harrison
supported Griffin’s planning ideals in giving evidence to the Senate Select Committee of
Inquiry into the Development of Canberra in 1954 55 as a representative of the Royal
Australian Planning Institute (Reid, 2002, p. 355; Freestone in Harrison, 1995, p. ix). In
the Planning Institute’s submission to the Senate Select Committee, which is reproduced
as Appendix J in the Senate Select Committee’s 1955 Report, Harrison stated that Griffin’s
ideas for the capital were “derived from a close study of the site formation and a deep
sympathy with the national and aesthetic aspirations of the founders of the
Commonwealth” (Senate Select Committee, 1955, p. 117). Harrison noted that while
Griffin’s term as Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction from 1913 to 1920
had “resulted in many modifications to the domestic areas of the Plan”, the national
features of the plan were confirmed and that “nearly half a century of planning experience
since can add nothing to its quality” (Senate Select Committee, 1955, p. 117). Harrison
argued, as he did for the rest of his life, for the importance of adhering to Griffin’s planning
ideals (Norman, 1993; Wensing, 1993). Indeed, the Senate Select Committee concluded
that “The more one studies Griffin’s plan and his explanatory statements, the more obvious
it is that departures from his main principles should not be lightly countenanced.”
The design competition conditions in 1911 envisaged a population of 25 000 people for
Canberra, and by the mid-1960s Canberra had reached 130 000 people. Shortly after
joining the NCDC in 1957, Harrison discovered that the NCDC’s plans did not go beyond
the perimeters of old Canberra. One of his earliest fights, which he described as ‘soul
searching’, was to get the NCDC to plan for growth to a population of at least 250 000
people or half a million people, and then a million people (Wright, 1990). “I didn’t care
when it reached that target, the point was to see that when it did grow you knew what you
were doing, that planning was well ahead of growth” (Harrison cited in Wensing, 1993, p.
2). “The immediate challenge was to devise a structure in which the city could go on
growing efficiently and indefinitely” (NCDC, 1970, p. xviii).
Harrison pointed out the choices for expanding Canberra lay between:
the intensification of densities at existing population centres with the extension of
the urban fringe areas in the traditional growth pattern of Australian cities, or
preserving the open character of the City by limiting the existing population area and
forming new residential areas or residential districts on the surrounding rural areas.
(Gilchrist, 1985 cited in Norman, 1993, p. 4)
According to Harrison, only the latter course was capable of preserving the integrity of the
Griffin plan, with the topography the dominant element in the city structure (Gilchrist,
1985; Norman, 1993; Wensing, 1993).
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As part of the research for developing a strategy plan for Canberra, in 1966 the NCDC
commissioned Alan M. Vorhees and Associates, a firm of land use and transport
consultants, to examine a range of development and transport options. The Vorhees study
evaluated six options consisting of different arrangements of towns each with a population
of 50 000 150 000 people. The conclusions of the study provided the basis for the
development of a linear pattern to achieve a more efficient transport system. The strategic
plan published in Tomorrow’s Canberra in 1970 became known as the Y Plan because of
its shape (Figure 2).
In developing the Y Plan, the NCDC (1970, p. 169) set a number of planning goals,
including:
.the quality of the city as the national capital should remain paramount;
.the stability of land use and land tenure should not be impaired;
.future needs should be satisfied functionally, economically, socially and
aesthetically;
.the range of opportunity for choice should be widened;
.growth and change should be facilitated without loss in environmental qualities
and cost effectiveness;
.the structure of the city should be capable of accommodating growth and change
without losing its enduring qualities.
The NCDC (1970, p. 169) concluded that the traditional comprehensive master plan would
be too rigid and instead opted for a planning strategy. In the course of developing the
planning strategy, a number of different forms of urban structure were explored including
centralised, linear and dispersed development forms. The urban structure selected from
this exercise was the linear structure depicted in the Y Plan in Figure 2, which sought to
relate Canberra’s projected growth pattern to the surrounding topography (NCDC, 1970,
p. 225).
The Y Plan embodies several important planning principles, including:
.major national uses would be located in the Central National Area;
.the new transport system would channel private vehicles to parkways on the
periphery of urban districts and concentrate public transport travel between the
districts onto a central spine linking the town centres;
.the hills and ridges within Canberra would be retained in their natural state to act
as a backdrop and setting for the city and also as a means of separating and
defining the towns (this was later to become known as the National Capital Open
Space System); and
.the National Capital would be one in which environmental standards would be
high (NCDC, 1970).
In many respects, these principles embody many of Griffin’s planning ideals, especially
those relating to fitting the city into the existing landscape and providing a number of
dispersed employment and retail centres. The NCDC’s research showed that the Y Plan
would be as valid as any alternative urban structure until the population reached 400 000 to
450 000 people and had certain distinct advantages over other urban forms, especially on
environmental grounds (Joint Committee on the ACT, 1987, p. 26).
By the late 1970s several community and business groups in Canberra were increasingly
raising questions about the continued viability of the Y Plan. The most often expressed
Walter Burley Griffin is Dead 233
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Figure 2. Strategy Plan for Metropolitan Growth 1969—The Y Plan. Source: Collection: National
Capital Authority Library & Information Service. See also NCDC (1970, p. 226).
234 E. Wensing
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view was that for a city of 250 000 people, the distances are much greater than for
comparable cities elsewhere, that the densities are too low and should be increased, and
that there should be a single, large commercial centre.
In 1980 the NCDC commenced a review of the Y Plan and published a Discussion Paper
(NCDC, 1980) canvassing options for Canberra’s future urban structure. The Discussion
Paper canvassed two options: a concentrated plan and a dispersed plan. In the concentrated
option, a significant level of employment and retail floor space would be concentrated in
the central area and in the then established town centres of Woden and Belconnen. In the
dispersed option, employment and retail opportunities would be dispersed in all the town
centres of Tuggeranong, Woden, Civic, Belconnen and Gungahlin as envisaged in the
1970 Y Plan.
The final Metropolitan Canberra Policy Plan/Development Plan published in 1984
(Figure 3) selected the dispersed option on the grounds that it was the more efficient option
in terms of transport and equality of access to opportunities across the metropolitan area.
The choice of the dispersed option also confirmed the basic structure of the Y Plan as a
valid basis for continuing to guide Canberra’s metropolitan growth up to the year 2000 and
to a population of roughly 400 000 people (NCDC, 1984, p. iv).
Similar to the 1970 Y Plan, the 1984 Metropolitan Canberra Policy Plan is premised on
several important principles of urban structure, the four most significant of which relevant
to this discussion include:
.The metropolitan growth of Canberra is based on the development of separate
urban districts or towns, in a linear arrangement in the form of a ‘Y’. Each town is
intended to be relatively self-contained and provide for the needs of its residents,
including employment, retail, community facilities, leisure and recreation. Each
town is separated from adjacent towns by hills, ridges and major open spaces.
.The hierarchy of centres is maintained, with each town having a centre acting as a
focal point for higher order retail functions, commercial services, offices and
community facilities, with Civic as the highest order centre accommodating the
majority of specialised functions and continuing to develop as the CBD and as
Canberra’s administrative centre.
.Large volume vehicular traffic is carried on a peripheral parkway system, reducing
the amount of traffic on the internal road systems of the towns. A public transport
right-of-way will be developed linking the town centres on an internal spine.
.The hills and ridges within and around the urban areas of Canberra will be kept
largely free of urban development both to act as a backdrop and setting for the city
and also provide a means of separating and defining the towns (NCDC, 1984, p. 176).
One of the significant elements of urban structure embodied in the 1984 Metropolitan Policy
Plan is the National Capital Open Space System (NCOSS). The plan identifies several areas of
open space to be of national capital or regional significance and designated them as part of the
NCOSS, to be kept free of urban development (NCDC, 1984, pp. 173 and 194). While each
part of the NCOSS has its own use and character, they are all interrelated as a total landscape
open space system, and the NCDC believed that NCOSS should be planned, developed and
managed as an integrated system (p. 194), with preferred uses being confined to those
associated with recreation, conservation and open space (p. 173).
As a former Chief Architect of the NCDC once noted, “Fitting the city sensitively into
the landscape was something the NCDC believed it had inherited from Griffin” (Reid,
Walter Burley Griffin is Dead 235
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Figure 3. The Metropolitan Canberra Policy Plan (Urban Area)—1984. Source: Collection:
National Capital Authority Library & Information Service. See also NCDC (1984, p. 177).
236 E. Wensing
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2002, p. 254). In creating NCOSS, a very conscious decision was made to embed the
principle of fitting the city into the landscape into Canberra’s metropolitan plan. The
NCOSS confines urban development to the valleys, not only to preserve the hills as part of
the setting for the National Capital, but also to play a functional role in determining the
urban form and structure of the city as well as providing a place for recreation and
conservation activities (Wensing, 1992, p. 48).
Both Harrison and Gilchrist had a sound understanding of the principles that Griffin
applied to his winning design for the National Capital and the 1970 and 1984 metropolitan
plans they developed both sought to continue the application of those important principles,
albeit at a much larger metropolitan scale than that originally envisaged by Griffin.
Conclusions
Mr Barr (2010) raises many valid concerns about Canberra’s future. Barr’s vision for
Canberra is that by 2030 the city should be:
a progressive, inclusive and vibrant city with something to offer singles, couples and
families. A city that offers services, entertainment, hospitality and amenities for a
growing local and regional community. A place where people from many different
backgrounds can live, work and play.
I agree with Barr when he states that Canberra needs to respond to emerging needs and
take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
3
Adhering and continuing to apply the
principles of the Griffin plan does not and will not impede the attainment of Barr’s vision.
The Griffin design and the character it imparts is what makes Canberra, by any standard,
an exceptional city. Griffin’s brilliant design for the city has given the nation a capital city
that is in harmony with its environs and environment. It would be foolish if Canberrans
(and in fact Australians generally) didn’t protect that gift and build on it in a respectful and
compatible way. As Professor John Reps (1997, p. 267) states, “It deserves protection from
all but the most sensitive and carefully considered changes as one of the treasures not only
of Australia, but of the entire urban world”, which is why I and six of my professional
colleagues have nominated Canberra for entry on Australia’s National Heritage List as a
precursor for nomination for World Heritage Listing (DSEWPAC, undated). Canberra “is
all exceedingly grand, dignified, elegant, yet reposeful; it will soon rank with Washington
as one of the world’s great monumental capitals, an eloquent testimony to the wisdom of
making haste slowly” (Hall, 1988, p. 196).
In developing an urban form for Canberra beyond the Griffin plan, both Harrison
and Gilchrist respected Griffin’s planning ideals of fitting the city into the landscape and
dispersing employment and activity centres to create efficient movement and
communication between them. Canberra is a long, thin city—a linear city. An urban
form based on a linear structure containing a series of towns radiating from central Canberra
is a very efficient urban form. With employment centres located along a central public
transport spine, the travel demand is more evenly distributed rather than concentrated in one
or other direction at either end of a normal working day.
Imagine for a moment, a Canberra with one dominant CBD with most of the
employment and retail opportunities located in one centre, Civic. A Canberra with a
dominant CBD in Civic would have resulted in a much more congested and polluted city
Walter Burley Griffin is Dead 237
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and developing a decent public transport system would be even more difficult and
inefficient because all the travel demand would be in one direction during the morning
peak and in the opposite direction during the evening peak.
Many of Canberra’s current planning dilemmas stem from significant unplanned
departures from the linear plan. For example, the expansion of office development in
Barton
4
through cheap land give-aways to national associations in the late 1980s and early
1990s and the massive explosion of office and retail developments at Canberra Airport
over the last decade have had a negative impact on the ability of Tuggeranong and
Gungahlin Town Centres to act as employment centres. Canberra’s planning dilemmas
also arise from not developing a stronger central public transport spine linking the major
centres. These developments are significant departures from the urban form laid down in
the 1970 Y Plan and affirmed by the 1984 Metropolitan Policy Plan.
Other dilemmas arise from the oft unstated issue that the ACT Government needs growth
to occur within its boundaries so that it reaps enough land sales revenue to stay afloat and,
like all state/territory governments, is strapped for cash for essential infrastructure
investments (Sansom, 2009). These seem to be the real drivers of ‘planning’ policy.
Significant infrastructure investments in implementing the dispersed urban form for
Canberra have been made and it needs to be understood that making departures from that
urban form come at a significant cost both publicly and privately, as is evidenced by the
implications of overdevelopment at Canberra Airport. The ‘edge city’ that has developed
at the airport has to be accommodated and the time is coming to make a significant
investment in the public transport spine between the major centres. With the airport and
Queanbeyan to the east, investment in a fast and efficient east west link, as well as a
north south link, will also be necessary.
The challenge for Canberra is twofold:
.to come up with a new conceptual framework (‘big ideal’) that retains and
reinforces the idea of the city in a landscape given all that’s happened; and
.to articulate in some detail a workable urban structure.
This requires a rigorous analysis of the choices and their longer term implications. The
comments of Sir John Overall, the first Commissioner of the NCDC from 1957 to 1972, in
the preface to Tomorrow’s Canberra are worth echoing:
Good city plans emerge from dialogue between planners and people, and the quality
of the plan is largely determined by the quality of that dialogue. In order to contribute
effectively to the planning of their city, people must understand the basic data on
which planning is based; they must be aware of the options available; and they must
have the planning choices stated clearly and objectively. (NCDC, 1970, p. v)
Canberra’s urban form of dispersed town centres in a linear arrangement with open space
buffers between them offers the best possible option for the longer term sustainable
development of this city. In order to achieve those outcomes it will be necessary to
continue investing in and around all of our existing town centres and that does mean
increasing densities and encouraging mixed land use developments in those locations,
perhaps with an emphasis on Civic to begin with and then balancing the demand by
focusing on the other centres over time. The 1970 and 1984 plans made provision for a
more robust central public transport spine as an attractive alternative to the private motor
238 E. Wensing
Downloaded by [Ed Wensing] at 17:05 30 May 2013
vehicle and its development is long overdue. Recent commitments by the ACT
Government to develop Canberra’s first large-scale private sector partnership to plan,
finance and develop the first stage of a Light Rail Network for Canberra—the Capital
Metro—is a very welcome development (Gallagher, 2012). Let’s hope they turn into
reality sooner rather than later.
Acknowledgements
The generosity of the National Capital Authority in providing the images and permission to reproduce them is
greatly appreciated.
Notes
1. Ed Wensing is an experienced urban planner, strategic thinker and public policy analyst and he has lived and
worked in Canberra for sixty years. These are his personal views.
2. See also Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development (2008), Queensland Department of
State Development, Infrastructure and Planning (2009), and the Western Australian Planning Commission
(2010).
3. Since Andrew Barr made his comments in 2010, the ACT Government has released a new Planning Strategy
for the ACT (ACT Government Environment & Sustainable Development Directorate, 2012) but space
limitations preclude an analysis of that plan here.
4. Barton is one of the suburbs in inner south Canberra adjacent to the Parliamentary Triangle.
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... He highlights the growth of Canberra Airport as an employment node outside of official metropolitan planning strategies and critiques the airport's poor accessibility, pressures placed by commercial development on existing road infrastructure and the negative impact on competing town centres in the Canberra region. Wensing (2013) is similarly critical of the airport's development as an unplanned departure from the hitherto dominant linear strategy with its roots in the 1970 'Y Plan'. He emphasises the costs of both departing from a plan into which substantial investment had been made and the cost of providing new infrastructure to support a divergent metropolitan structure. ...
... A 2003 report commissioned by CAG argued that the linear 'Y Plan' morphology of the city which had been the lynchpin of metropolitan policy since the early 1970s (and showing the airport in a peripheral location) was breaking down as government retreated from an instrumentalist role in urban development processes and more random market forces became determining (Powell 2003). Critics of this thinking emphasise the significant infrastructure investment made in implementing the Y plan and its successors, and the costs of investment in new public transport infrastructure to support the emerging 48 R. Freestone and I. Wiesel east-west and north-south corridors (Troy 2008;Wensing 2013); 'how do you recover the essential elements … when you've got that kind of distortion on the ground?' (Independent commentator 1). ...
Article
This article examines the story of Canberra Airport's transformation from a dilapidated aviation facility to a world-class small ‘airport city’ juxtaposing aeronautical and non-aeronautical land uses with a critical focus on the tensions with established planning and corporate institutions. The analysis is framed within five main discourses: the global entrepreneurial turn in airport development towards mixed use precincts; neoliberal government policies welcoming private investment and management within the public sphere and notably airport privatisation from the mid-1990s; the rise of airport real estate markets and the singular role of a local development company in the case of Canberra; a new governance regime privileging the commonality of federal privatised airports, but excluding state, territory and local determinations; and the specificity of the setting of Canberra as a national capital and city having to adapt to the dynamic impacts of a new development typology. The comprehensive redevelopment of Canberra Airport since the late 1990s highlights both strengths and shortcomings in public policy.
Capital Metro Light Rail Project to be delivered through Canberra's first large-scale private partnership
  • K Gallagher
Gallagher, K. (2012) Capital Metro Light Rail Project to be delivered through Canberra's first large-scale private partnership. Available at http://www.katygallagher.net/?p¼2285 (accessed 5 September 2012).
Woden-Weston Creek New Town, Thesis submitted for Master of Science Architecture (Town Planning)
  • J Gilchrist
Gilchrist, J. (1985) Woden-Weston Creek New Town, Thesis submitted for Master of Science Architecture (Town Planning). University of Sydney.
Interview in the New York Times
  • W B Griffin
Griffin, W.B. (1912) Interview in the New York Times, 2 June p. SM3, cited in Griffin, 2008, pp. 21-23.
The Federal Capital: report explanatory of the general plan
  • W B Griffin
Griffin, W.B. (1913) The Federal Capital: report explanatory of the general plan. Albert J. Mullett, Government Printer, Melbourne.,http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn1775712. Npf 919.471 AUS (accessed 4 April 2013).
Aft Agley: The Development of Canberra
  • P Harrison
Harrison, P. (1957)... Aft Agley: The Development of Canberra, Journal of the Town Planning Institute, 43(9), pp. 235 -238.
Grand Obsessions. The Life and Work of
  • A Mcgregor
McGregor, A. (2009) Grand Obsessions. The Life and Work of Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin (Australia: Penguin Group).
Metropolitan Policy Plan Development Plan (Canberra: NCDC)
National Capital Development Commission (1984) Metropolitan Policy Plan Development Plan (Canberra: NCDC).