Section 6.2 Lessons of history

The Territory Plan is a scrap book of Canberra’s planning. By looking into the Territory Plan, we can see the DNA of Canberra’s evolution and the history of urban planning in Canberra.

The Territory Plan may appear daunting but contains a history of the thinking that made Canberra what it is today. It is easier to add to the Territory Plan than to rewrite it, so that it has evolved layer upon layer. It includes a collection of Structure Plans and Concept Plans for future urban areas that have now been built. Reviewing what was planned versus what was built, provides us with valuable insights into the urban development process in Canberra.

Historians are experts in temporal imagining. They spend their days reading the words and examining the objects of the men and women who walked the world before us.

In neglecting the National Archives, the Morrison government turns its back on the future, The Conversation, 16 June 2021.

As historians, the Territory Plan provides insight into the thinking that has made Canberra the city it is today. There are a few surprises, as the visions of the planners have often not been realised.

This section reviews the structure plans and concept plans found in the Territory Plan. Structure plans proceed the concept plans and are the vision as opposed to the application of that vision. Structure plans may contain sketches. Concept plans contained more detailed estate maps. Concept plans show how the vision will be turned into reality.

What is a structure plan?
A structure plan sets out principles and policies for development of the future urban areas.

Planning and Development Act 2007, page 71

What is a concept plan?
A concept plan—
(a) applies the principles and policies in the structure plan to future urban areas; and
(b) is a precinct code in the territory plan (see section 55 (3)) that guides the preparation and assessment of development in future urban areas to which the concept plan relates.

Planning and Development Act 2007, page 71

Finally, we can examine what is on the ground today. We gain useful insights considering suburbs, such as Harrison, where the population increased 5 to 10 years ago, and the building brigade has long moved on. These assets have been returned to the ACT Government long ago. The developer has moved on. Should it not have been built already, then nobody is left to build it. The project is completed or abandoned.

Looking back 12 years, from the planned to what is there today, provides insight into how the planning system works, and what has been forgotten.

We think like mayflies

We struggle with urban planning because it means we need to think long into the future. It is human nature to not do this well, as we are far too narrowly focused on the here and now. This review of the Territory Plan looks back to see how much we have forgotten.

Our preoccupation with a very narrow period of time, around today or this week, means that we forget planners’ intentions and importantly do not notice how much has been forgotten and/or never realised. There is no formal system in the ACT to review projects and determine gaps and inconsistencies in the development of future urban areas. The ACT Government does not have a report of what was not done – at least, we could not find one.

Here we review in the way of a historian. We will try to make sense of what has gone on, and, of course, with a cycling focus.

We all have ridden on a cycle path that stops suddenly. At that moment we doubt the sanity of the planners. The answer may be the simplest, if not the most obvious – the path was planned, just never built! We judge ourselves by our intent, and others by the outcome. Needless to say, the unfinished paths are disappointing.

Thinking about time is difficult, wrenching oneself out of the dramas and routines of the present to fully imagine worlds that were and will be different, confronting our transience and our mortality.

In neglecting the National Archives, the Morrison government turns its back on the future, The Conversation, 16 June 2021.

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