East Lake: On the Road to Urban Renewal

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Hitting the brakes on suburban sprawl means shifting developers' focus to urban renewal, but rethinking city spaces is far from trivial. A project in Canberra's East Lake area is testing a new science-based approach.

East Lake is a short bus ride from Canberra's central business district, Civic. Close to jobs and public transport--and home to the ecologically significant Jerrabomberra Wetlands--the area has been identified asa future home for up to 9000 people.

You can imagine it is a tantalising prospect for developers. The ACT Government, however, has big plans for East Lake to become a best-practice showcase of sustainable development, and is working with CSIRO to help realise this goal.

'Around 60 per cent of current development in the ACT is in greenfield areas, but the intent is to reduce this figure to 50 per cent" says Paul Lewis, General Manager of Metropolitan Development and Land Supply at the ACT Planning and Land Authority.

According to Mr Lewis, the ACT can more efficiently use urban infrastructure and effectively deliver services, as well as improve the efficiency of land use and transport systems, by redeveloping under-utilised precincts such as East Lake.

'We want to make sure the decisionmaking processes bring key stakeholders and the broader community with us,' he says.

Urban renewal

Until the mid-1990s Australians were moving away from our inner-city suburbs in search of the suburban block with a backyard. But since then, lifestyle and urban planning decisions have attracted increased inner-city residential development and population growth.

Nonetheless, the middle and outer suburbs have continued to grow at an increasing rate, and the nation's five major cities now house 60 per cent of the population.

Capital cities are merging with surrounding urban centres as they expand, forming mega-metropolitan regions in south-east Queensland, Sydney, Port Phillip and Perth. Walter Burley Griffin's planning legacy gave Canberra a different model, but the challenge of managing urban development is consistent across the country.

'The attractiveness of urban renewal is that it provides an opportunity to revitalise and rejuvenate a city rather than simply adding to its fringes" explains Guy Barnett, ah urban ecologist with CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.

'Sites within easy reach of the CBD are the target; particularly those often-overlooked areas of our cities that suffer from declining industrial use, neglect or poor planning.'

According to Mr Barnett, the primary drivers for urban renewal are convenience and lifestyle, but there is also a sustainability dimension based on reducing car dependency and resource consumption through higher density living.

Notable examples of urban renewal include Docklands (Melbourne), Pyrmont (Sydney) and Newstead (Brisbane). Now it's Canberra's turn to set the new national benchmark.

The ACT Government engaged environmental firm BioRegional to assess a range of Canberra sites (including greenfield, brownfield and redevelopment areas) as potential national showcases for sustainable development.

'The East Lake precinct was identified as the most appropriate of a range of sites" says Mr Lewis. 'It has many of the issues typically found in city environments: low scale built form, concerned local community, high land values, mixed land uses, ageing built form, under-utilised railway facilities, wetland interface and so on. …