Planning Bill feedback: taking responsibility for public space

We wish to focus on one issue, the very nature of the ACT Territory Plan to see everything as blocks as seen in ACTmapi. It is clear that a lease requires a geographical area of a block to be bounded. Each block will have zoning and otherwise a list of permitted and forbidden conditions. The building codes and general codes also apply. But a block is still just a block.

Think of a pack of Lego blocks. The pack contains blocks of different shapes, colours and sizes but each one is boring in itself. It is just a block after all. What makes Lego blocks interesting is the way you can combine them. With a little imagination, we can make all sorts of things. It is not just the blocks themselves that count but the space in between. Put a gap there and it becomes a window. Space counts, as does the relationship between the blocks. What you can make is endless.

Our city is like that, we can make different types of cities out of these blocks. The description of the blocks does not in any way help us describe the character of the city that we want. Concept plans help but at a very high level. ACTmapi shows you where each block is, however, not how they interact.

There is a troubled division between the public and private realms. In urban planning they talk about designs that distinguish between the two – people distinguish which is which. In a real urban environment, zones are not colour coded on the landscape or signs put up. The public and private realms have a certain fluidity.  Generally, the separation is not by a tall fence, and for reasons of safety – passive surveillance – you do not want it to be. We put gates, doors and locks where necessary and leave the rest of the space for people to roam.

The public realm makes up a large proportion of the city. There is of course a formal definition for the public realm in the Territory Plan. I will forfeit the formal definition for a simpler one for public space. The public space is made of streets, plazas, parks, reserves, and open spaces around private buildings that face streets, plazas, parks, and reserves. This is the way we experience public space and it does not divide neatly between directorates. The average person would not know where the boundaries between the directorates lie.

I am troubled that ACT Planning (EPSDD) and ACT Transport (TCCS) consider their domains as separate but for the average person in the public space they are intertwined. We walk across the boards between directorates all the time. The block divisions are invisible.

Our city is made of buildings around public spaces. The space between the buildings, I will call a street. A street can in part have a transport function but is much more than that. Some of that space may be permitted for use by cars but most of it is not. To define the purpose of a street by the characteristics of a car is to define ourselves by our feet. We are all much more than our feet.

A city is about community, the relationships between the people of that community. Canberra.bike has the slogan “cycling for health, wellbeing, and stronger communities”. A city should promote health, wellbeing, sustainability and stronger communities. This plays out in public space.

The ACT Draft Planning Bill 2022 should try to achieve these goals as far as the bill can do so. The power of having this written into law should not be underestimated. It is the reason why we write climate change into the Territory Act. We did not ignore it. Similarly, we should write into the ACT Draft Planning Bill 2022 the mandate to achieve health, wellbeing, sustainability and stronger communities.

We have Guidelines for Good Planning and Guidelines for Good Consultation. Perhaps we need to, from a planning perspective, guidelines for achieving good achieve health, wellbeing, sustainability and stronger communities. For a long time we thought we could not have a wellbeing budget but now we have one. How can we achieve guidelines for achieving good outcomes of each of the areas of health, wellbeing, sustainability and stronger communities?

It is vital to use public space more effectively to achieve these goals. The idea of Movement and Place represents the nature of our streets. Movement and Place accepts that they interact in seamless ways across all public spaces – and through implication across EPSDD and TCCS.

EPSDD cannot throw the discussion of Movement and Place in public space for the creation of health, wellbeing, sustainability and stronger communities over the fence for TCCS to solve. EPSDD and TCCS must engage to find ways for the new Territory ACT, Territory Plan and Territory Authority to create these outcomes.

Liveable cities are mostly PLACE with only a little bit of Movement. That is what we want in any case. The most likely way we will move around public spaces and interact with the community will be on our own two feet. Mobility devices are important for those who have trouble walking or cannot walk (wheelchair) or would simply like to use something with wheels. Movement, in general, is not about cars.

Much of public space is not streets, and much of the street space is not a “road related area”, and only a small part of that area is the road itself regulated by the Australia Road Rules and mostly for registered motor vehicles at that.

We roam most of our lives in public space which makes up most of Canberra. canberra.bike 9 April 2022

EPSDD has not really tried to consider the huge portion of our city that is public space as part of its mandate. The city is far more than just blocks. We want Canberra to be developed in a way that the public space creates health, wellbeing, sustainability and stronger communities. The new Territory ACT, Territory Plan and Territory Authority have a role in creating these outcomes for the benefit of the public, not just the blocks, but in the most valuable asset we have – public space.

Attached is our submission Chapter 7 Movement and Place for the Submission Standing Committee on Planning Transport and City Services from 15 July 2021.

canberra.bike

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