I know Woden well because as a local I’ve been visiting the old Woden Plaza since the 1980s, including the stepped fountain that used to occupy the town square. As a student, I was a regular at the bus interchange from an early age. And following the upgrade to Woden Plaza by previous owner Lend Lease, I worked in retail and spent a lot of time in the town centre observing people using its spaces.
For decades, the over-reliance on purely commercial use as a home to the public service (and not much else) has left the town centre dead on the weekend and after 5pm on weekdays. While this has been the case for a long time, the Federal Liberal Government’s recent cuts and relocations to the public service in Woden has sent a clear signal: half-empty Soviet-era public service buildings sitting in a sea of surface car parks does not create a thriving town centre.
Thankfully just since the last election, it only takes a brief walk through the town centre to see that change is coming, and lots of it.
The once derelict and unsafe ex-Federal public service Alexander & Albemarle buildings are covered in scaffolding, being transformed into residential apartments ready for the first residents to live in Woden’s core. The old Medibank building has been demolished to make way for the first transit-oriented development next to the interchange. The Bradley Street dining precinct is under construction.
Woden’s future residents will live close to high-quality public transport, services and employment, helping to bring life to old buildings and disused spaces and will support local businesses that benefit the broader community.
The government has been deliberate supporting public projects which will generate change in the Town Centre and support private investment as well.
As more people come to actually live in Woden’s core, creating higher quality public spaces is a key focus for the ACT Government. New footpath and cycle infrastructure will soon be installed throughout the town centre providing better connections. Eddison Park will become a critical piece of living infrastructure for Woden’s new population and will be home of a new nature play and fenced playground to be constructed by the government.
The ACT Government has invested $1 million to transform the unfriendly, wind-swept square as part of the ‘Woden Experiment’ which begins next week. The experiment includes five hubs of activity, a stage for community performances, outdoor offices, flexible table settings next to areas set aside for pop-up food and drink vendors, turf areas with sun lounges and an outdoor table tennis facility for a bit of fun.
We hope that these spaces cater to diverse groups and will encourage people to pause and spend time in the square, rather than just pass through. We want people from across Canberra to meet in the square, to eat and enjoy the space with shelter from the elements.
If these installations are successful, then we will make the improvements permanent. If not then we will go back to the drawing board. Lessons will be drawn for place-making across the whole of Canberra.
Complementing the changes to the square will be the new Transport Canberra Interchange which one of the first flagship projects in the extension of light rail. Combined with the new bus depot, and extra bus services, light rail will drive economic, social and environmental change in Woden that buses alone have never delivered.
Community facilities will also be critical to the urban renewal project in the town centre and to support the growing population. Woden’s strengths as a community services and health hub have outgrown its current buildings. So, the government has begun work on planning for a fit-for-purpose community centre.
These changes will bring activity to the town centre putting old buildings to use, as well as new, improving business activity, supporting future residents and the surrounding community. From the failures of the past, Woden is emerging as a mixed-use precinct with commercial and residential, a mass-transit hub, thriving businesses and services, high-quality public spaces and community facilities; a better place for people.
It’s a bold experiment, but that is just what is needed to make Woden’s regeneration a success.
This article was originally published in the Canberra Times here.