Our Lesson from Lyon

Alan Robertson - September 17, 2015

This article was first published in the Canberra Times on the 13th of October, 2014.

The French city of Lyon is an almost-island formed where the Rhone and Saone rivers meet. At the southern tip where the rivers join is an area of 150 hectares known as the Confluence. This rundown area was occupied by a river port, a wholesale market and two massive prisons built in 1831 and 1865.

In 2003, the first phase of a total redevelopment of the site began as a public-private partnership. As the development now nears completion, the docks have been redeveloped as housing, the markets include primary and secondary schools, and other areas have been developed for offices and commercial spaces, a shopping centre, theatre and museum.

One of the prisons is being converted to offices and homes and the other to a university. The project has been run as a whole, aiming for high levels of sustainability and with design competitions resulting in imaginative and attractive outcomes. Despite achieving high densities the area is open, attractive and very liveable, providing facilities for the whole of the city.

Compare this to Canberra, where the Land Development Agency has now taken over the planning function for potential development sites. This is the LDA that wanted to demolish the Old Bus Depot Market and surrounding buildings for more dreary six-storey apartment blocks. The LDA now plans to overdevelop the Yarralumla Brickworks site with inappropriate residential buildings of up to eight storeys, but with no plans for the reuse of the brickworks heritage areas.

And it is the LDA which will put yet more six-storey unit blocks on the West Basin foreshore, starting on the futsal court site, with no plans to proceed with the lowering and covering of Parkes Way, which is the essential step to linking the lake to the city. Furthermore, the ad hoc development of the futsal court site will destroy the opportunity to develop the foreshore as a whole for the benefit of all the community and specifically destroy any chance of the Australia Forum proposal being given proper consideration.

Canberrans should, by now, see a pattern developing. A pattern where our prime community sites are sold off to developers for maximum profit with a complete lack of regard for community needs. The reversal of this trend requires planning powers to be returned to ACTPLA and the role of the LDA limited to the development of sites that considered overall planning designates for residential and commercial uses. It requires a government with imagination and the interests of the whole community at heart, not just the interests of big developers, big unions and big clubs.

Readers are urged to look at the website lyon-confluence.fr to see what can be achieved. If the French can do it, why can’t we?