Canberra Centre Masthead

Time to take action for Civic transformation

Catherine Carter

When acclaimed Danish urban designer Jan Gehl visited Canberra last year, he observed that we were “trying to have a party in too many rooms”.

And he’s right.

While we have a wonderful city full of potential, we are spreading our efforts too thin. In trying to create something for everyone, our efforts lose potency. We end up doing very little for all and, in some cases, we make existing problems worse.

Activing Canberra’s city centre demands critical mass, smart timing and clever curation. It’s time to narrow our focus.

Today, the Property Council of Australia, Canberra CBD Limited and the Canberra Business Chamber have launched the ‘Canberra City Centre Collective Agenda 2016’.

This action agenda follows a discussion paper and public forum over the last year that kick-started a loud conversations about Civic’s failings – and its future potential.

One of the actions is to challenge our current planning paradigms by embracing tactical urbanism.

Also called ‘do-it-yourself’, ‘guerrilla’ or ‘pop up’ urbanism, this approach uses short-term, low-cost interventions to change the way people view and use a space.

While it can sometimes be implemented by individuals – think the guerilla gardening or yarn bombing explosions in cities around the world – the best examples of tactical urbanism are found when community groups and progressive local municipal authorities work collaboratively with businesses and property owners.

The can result in whimsical, innovative projects that re-engage people with urban spaces.

The Build a Better Block project, for example, first transformed an urban street in Dallas – just for one day. Street trees and pots of plants were strategically placed along the street, as well as café seating and space for street vendors.

better block dallas

The ‘Build a Better Block’ project in Dallas

It gave the community a fleeting insight into what a people-friendly street would look like. The model has since spread to other cities around the world.

In Memphis, a long-abandoned historic brewery was transformed into a temporary beer garden, while in Toronto a band of volunteers have placed more than 400 brightly coloured ramps at business entrances to make them wheelchair accessible.

Many cities have embraced ‘pavement plazas’, where under-utilised or ugly open areas are converted into accessible and inviting urban spaces.

At their heart, these tactics are about taking a risk. We must be willing to have a go, to fail – and then to try again.

Because, after all, a city without a vibrant heart is a city without a heart.

To find out more visit

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia

Image of ‘background of blurred street with people‘ via Shutterstock


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author