One of the problems we face with consumption is that those who have tend to get more. One of the reasons is, is that it makes economic sense to “sell” things to those who have money so we concentrate our sales efforts on those areas where there are already buyers. This also means that we tend to concentrate economic activity in centres so we get the rise of city centres, shopping centres and the like. When it comes to planning a city like Canberra it makes economic sense to put things together and to build a city heart. However, there are some unfortunate consequences of this and we get the problem of concentration of abundance.
What is happening in Canberra is that most development of economic activity facilities (shops and offices) is being concentrated in the Civic area – except for the airport development which is outside the control of the Canberra authorities and planning processes.
What this leads to is the rise of dormitory districts. Gungahlin has virtually no economic activity except for retail store outlets. While this may be tolerated with a good transport system it is unacceptable because economic activity also leads to the provision of other social and community facilities and activities. It makes sense to build gyms, swimming pools, theatres, sports centres etc in areas where people congregate (in contrast to live). What has happened in Gunghalin is that the district is being built with the highest population density but with few community facilities where facilities include employment opportunities.
The worst part of this process is that relatively high density of population leaves little space for the future development of community facilities.
If we leave everything to economic forces then most new facilities will be built within the Central areas of Canberra. We will find that centralisation will become the driving force. This is already apparent with the closure of local schools and the start of the demise of local shopping precincts.
What will happen – and it is already apparent – is that the Central area will get an abundance of facilities and the outer areas will be starved. The Central area in the long term will get too many facilities and it will start to suffer the problems of over crowding.
What controls can we put in place to stop this happening?
Regulations and decisions to occasionally move part of a government department to a particular area is unlikely to make much difference. There has to be a committment to make town centres truly viable in their own right. Unfortunately this does not seem to be current policy of the ACT Government and bureaucracies.