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The untapped potential of Haig Park

Philippa Moss

Overflowing with the reckless confidence of urban development Braddon is a ‘little bit of Melbourne’ right here in Canberra.

We all love Braddon but I need to ask – when was the last time you visited Haig Park?

That generous stretch of green to the north of Canberra’s ‘little bit of Melbourne’? I have the pleasure of walking through it daily on my commute to work at the AIDS Action Council – a 15 minute stroll through 1km of healthy green, so called heritage parkland, as I head to either work or home.

Originally developed in 1921, Haig Park was established as a weather break to protect the suburbs of Braddon and Turner from Canberra’s north-westerly dust and wind storms. Carefully planned as a 63-acre public area and officially designated as a park in 1987, it is now the third largest district park in Inner Canberra.

Over time, a range of modest developments improved the park for open public use, including an informal fitness track, public toilets, barbeques, tennis courts, a bowling club and off-leash dog exercise area.

In terms of size, Haig Park is almost double the standard parkland allocation of modern suburban town planning (which is generally 10 per cent). For more than three decades this protected area (predominantly evergreens) has been conserved through an ongoing program of tree replacement, in accordance with its heritage status.

Recognised as unique in Australian park design, this shelter belt of densely planted forest is listed in both the National Trust and the ACT Heritage Register for featuring a garden city approach to landscape design and town planning that was popular in the early 20th century.

Haig Park in 1948. Image via flickr.com

Haig Park in 1948. Image via flickr.com

Like many a local resident, I find myself concerned about the untapped potential of Haig Park. It is regrettable that this enormous public space has, over time, become used less as open parkland and more as a short-cut to the city or hangout for some of Canberra’s more shady characters. In terms of personal safety, it is perceived as unsafe and somewhat sinister. Rather than being utilised as an ideally-situated recreation area close to a number of popular residential areas, it has become a bizarre stretch of deserted, vacant land.

As a result, despite its beauty and significance, Haig Park is widely considered as a place to be avoided rather than a place to be visited. I suppose that aspect of its poor reputation is particularly irksome to me as I am passionate about the concept of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED).

I believe that, with the support of our government, the people of Canberra can successfully turn this negative image of Haig Park around. Why would we continue to ignore the potential that this enormous area – 18% of the suburb of Braddon – presents to a city that adores its outdoor lifestyle?

Town planners and landscape architects throughout the world have effectively implemented CPTED strategies that address how a physical environment affects the behaviour of those who use it – particularly changes to street lighting and landscaping. Land use and design techniques can actually reduce opportunities for crime, by removing environmental conditions which encourage and facilitate criminal behaviour.

There are a number of simple ways that could be achieved in Haig Park, such as encouraging:

  • More pedestrian traffic through the park (both north to south, plus east to west directions) via maintained bike and walking paths
  • Greater use of the park as a recreation and gathering place (rather than a short cut) via the provision of seating, resting areas and picnic facilties
  • A greater sense of curiosity and exploration via increased signage (supporting general navigation, connected walking trails and the location of facilities)
  • Dawn and twilight use via greater lighting and path visibility
  • Increased visibility of the park by those on its outskirts via maintenance (such as pruning of overhanging tree branches and mowing of long grasses)
  • A greater sense of community ownership and shared social capital via regular informal events (such as farmer’s markets, community activities, sport gatherings)
  • Greater involvement of local business and residents in planned neighbourhood events (particularly opportunities for local business owners in Lonsdale Street and Mort Street)

These objectives have been successfully achieved in other large public spaces by developing features such as:

  • Large open areas that can accommodate a variety of uses
  • Open grassed areas surrounded by suitable picnic facilities
  • A sensory garden
  • A half basketball court
  • A cricket pitch
  • Public artwork
  • Exercise equipment
  • Designated areas for special event use that accommodate licensed food/beverage vans
  • Play equipment
  • Greater space and facilities for dog walkers
  • Small amphitheater
  • Greater use of native flora (creating a stronger link to Mount Ainslie).

Despite plans being proposed as far back as the early 1970s to develop lighting, bridges, irrigation, grassing and even a tourist information centre, Haig Park remains woefully undeveloped. In my opinion, it’s a wasted opportunity for recreation and an ideal counter-balance to the overly-confident urban development of Braddon (now Canberra’s most densely populated suburb).

Author Philippa Moss in Haig Park

Author Philippa Moss in Haig Park

So who is responsible for the management, maintenance and future development of this inner-city respite which features more than 7,000 trees? What is the role of government intervention and support? Well, it seems this is part of the problem.

In 1990, soon after the ACT established its own government, the National Capital Plan acknowledged that strategic planning sits with the Commonwealth. While the plan itself was designed to ‘empower the ACT government to manage the future growth of Canberra’, it is the National Capital Authority that controls the maintenance and management of Haig Park.

The plan identified Haig Park as a ‘significant open space’ featuring ‘special land use requirements’ that prevent any development which threatens its heritage status. In recent years, the ACT government has lobbied for the responsibility of Haig Park with the development of the:

In September 2015 it was announced that changes proposed to the National Capital Plan, including the removal of ‘special requirements for land use in Haig Park’, were unsuccessful. As a result, the park remains a protected area which requires development approval by the Territory planning authority. The debate over its future use continues, including rumours about Floriade’s relocation in 2016.

However there appears to be more clarity over who is responsible for funding the maintenance and potential upgrade of Haig Park. A number of months ago Canberra CBD Limited (CCBD), a business improvement organisation founded in 2007 by property and business owners, announced plans for a range of improvements in Braddon in conjunction with the ACT Government.

At the time, CCBD CEO Jane Easthope referred to the government’s specially allocated fund of $1.5 million to improve safety, security and amenities in Haig Park that include major lighting and path upgrades. She also mentioned plans to work with the government on improving the streetscape in Mort Street and the development of a Braddon festival.

So it appears that funding is not the issue. Will political inertia continue to thwart the potential of Haig Park into the future? Only time will tell.

Feature image via Wikimedia Commons


Philippa Moss

Philippa Moss is a HIV activist, professional feminist and best known for her outspoken voice promoting healthy public policy and healthy urban development. Philippa has been a happy resident of Canberra for the past 17 years. Originally from Sydney, she came to Canberra at a pivotal stage in her life. She is a proud mother of two children, a son and daughter in their teens/twenties, who as a Queer parent has always felt a part of Canberra’s greater Lesbian, Gay and Queer community. She was recently appointed the Executive Director of the AIDS Action Council (ACT), after acting in the role for the past two years. In 2015 she was awarded the ACT Telstra Business Women’s Award for Purpose and Social Enterprise, along with the Australian Institute of Management’s Not for Profit Manager of the Year (ACT) award. More about the Author

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