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The ACT’s centre of population has been moving northward from Yarralumla since 2001, having crossed the lake for the first time earlier this year. Recent population projections released by the ACT Government forecast the territory’s population to reach 784,000 in 2060, with the majority of growth seen in the city’s north. Roughly 57% of Canberrans currently live north of Lake Burley Griffin. With close to zero growth projected for Tuggeranong and Weston Creek, that proportion is expected to increase to 65% by 2060. 

With this concentration of population growth in the city’s north, and the increased centrality of the CBD implied by Canberra’s light rail network, we have every reason to invest heavily in the redevelopment of our City Centre. 

The initial City to the Lake vision, which formed part of the ACT Government’s City Plan, was unveiled by then-Chief Minister Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher in March 2013. At the heart of the vision was the goal of linking the city to the lakefront for pedestrians, which would be achieved by sending Parkes Way partially underground. Doing so would free up land for urban infill, bringing an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 new residents into the CBD, while creating space for a city stadium, a new convention centre and a relocated aquatic centre. The Canberra light rail network would play a vital role in providing access to these world-class amenities.

According to the original proposal, the reimagined and redeveloped City Centre would dramatically boost economic activity for local businesses as well as transforming the social and cultural value of the area for residents and visitors alike. The lakefront would become smoothly integrated into the life of the city, offering an abundance of new retail, hospitality and entertainment opportunities. The additional dwellings in the city would help address acute housing supply challenges, while satisfying the desire shared by many essential workers, professionals and students to live in the city. The new convention centre would be capable of attracting the major conferences and exhibitions that have every reason to take place in the National Capital but are hosted interstate due to the inadequacy of our existing infrastructure. Finally, the city stadium could support not only our proud local sporting teams but also major touring music acts and international teams eager to visit the National Capital, including by providing a wide array of world-class hospitality, entertainment and retail offerings before and after events. 

It has never made sense for our City Centre to have its back turned on Lake Burley Griffin. The lake is the stunning centrepiece around which Canberra was designed. It should not be separated from the city by a four-lane dual carriageway, which is why Parkes Way was not part of Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin’s plan for Canberra. The lake should be easily accessible on foot from the War Memorial in the west to 1 Moore Street in the east. Lowering Parkes Way would also open up land in the city for dozens of new mixed-use urban developments containing cafés, restaurants, bars, hotels and residences sloping down toward the grass-lined lakefront. 

Now is the time to send Parkes Way underground and reconnect the city to the lake, creating an open corridor sprawling from ANU in Acton through the heart of the city across to UNSW Canberra’s new campus in Reid and beyond. Vast expanses of under-utilised land could be reactivated either side of Parkes Way, including southeast of ASIO Headquarters. Beautiful nearby structures including the National Museum, the National Library, Questacon, the National Gallery and Parliament House were always intended to be better connected with the City Centre for pedestrians. Tunnelling the length of Parkes Way that divides the city and lake – starting at Edinburgh Avenue, continuing past Anzac Parade and reemerging to the surface before Kings Avenue – will help realise the internal logic of Griffins’ original vision for Canberra while creating space for modern infrastructure befitting its status as the National Capital.

While the cost of sending Parkes Way underground has been cited as a potential barrier, studies have suggested that this could be entirely offset through the sale of land the project would unlock for housing.

Hill Thalis / Ross Caddaye