The Park Axis



While Canberra today has been shaped by the isolating effects of the shopping mall and freeway, it contains the bones of an explicitly heterotopian and organic city. The Griffin’s underlying scheme, despite its somewhat rigid appearance, is designed around a fairly flexible and organic system of axial avenues. These utilise the natural landform to create a legible identity to each, a “view of their important and attractive objectives [terminating views]” defining a particular character. The backbone of the avenues embrace the heterotopian qualities of the street as the main venue for commercial business and public space, with Griffin stating “my idea is to make these avenues really parks”8. These public spaces would be penetrable to the populace, with suburban areas held within the framework of avenues “but a few steps from the industries and communication lines serving them”9, and adaptable to the flexible qualities of the organic and heterotopian city, with “Considerable elasticity […]necessarily[…] allowed for in the designation of outlying centres, because of the remoteness of the anticipated period of occupancy”10.

The current proposal by the ACT government to construct a light rail line between Canberra’s Civic center and Woden (just such an outlying centre) presents an opportunity to unlock the heterotopian qualities of this scheme and return the privatised and isolating spaces of the city to the public. Adelaide Avenue and Yarra Glen in particular have great potential to unlock the green and open space of the city previously given over to the private car as public and democratic spaces served by high quality public (rather than private) transport.

The Park Axis concept proposes a ‘rebalancing’ of public space along this alignment. Is Adelaide avenue necessary as a highway in Canberra’s transport future, considering journeys utilising Hindmarsh Drive and Parkes Way already approach the same times to major employment centers? More boldly, does the highway play as great a role at all, considering the minimal impact it seemingly has on congestion and the consequential demand it creates for urban sprawl? Under the proposal the existing Adelaide avenue road reserve would be repurposed as a linear parkland, with new development inserted along the edges creating the potential spaces for commercial and civic functions to cluster on the boundary of the ‘street’, and at nodes gathered around light rail stations. Existing interchange infrastructure would be repurposed as pockets of open public space and the barrier of Yarra Glen would be removed, knitting the ‘freed’ green space around the freeway into the Yarralumla creek valley as a kind of ‘central park’ and nature reserve.There would be some space for slow speed or emergency traffic within the park, as well as a right of way for the light rail, but overall the locked up green space would be given over as space for parkland, recreation, cafes and children’s playgrounds, returning the avenue to a role as a heterotopian and democratic public space above all.

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