The following is a submission made by Ballarat resident Carolyn Guirguis to Ballarat City Council on the Civic Hall development.
I DON’T intend to focus on the current building, but rather the site, and its potential to provide open space for the community.
There were close to 300 proposals submitted on this issue with approximately 260 in favour of preserving the hall. 99.997 per cent of the population did not submit a proposal.
Sadly, there is so much eye-rolling and community disengagement on this issue. The “keep it” message is small, vocal and consistent, but those who shout the loudest don’t always have the best answer and we must not let the vocal minority hijack this discussion. Let’s be advocates for the people of 2030.
Don’t allow the planning decisions of the 1950s to dictate our vision for the 21st century. Please let’s not be satisfied with mediocrity. As the population grows and central green space becomes more valuable, the concept of providing lungs for the city becomes even more important. We need to appreciate the benefits of open space as opposed to mass building.
We are talking about a sizeable parcel of land – roughly the same footprint as Pleasant Street Primary school. Let’s remove our blinkers and see this space as the pivotal site in the old city of Ballarat. Once we get this right, then areas around it will start to reveal themselves.
I was recently in Sydney and was moved by a story of 1930s planning. At the time of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, when the country was depressed and people were actually being charged a fee to sunbathe on Bondi Beach, the NSW government made a courageous decision to the keep the highly-sought-after land at the base of the bridge as an open space for all people to enjoy.
Eighty years on, Dawes Point Park and Bradfield Park are filled with tourists and locals alike, who, at no cost, can take in one of the world’s great vistas.
In 1997, the city of Chicago made a decision that would transform if forever more. It quite literally decided to create a public park out of thin air in the centre of the city, by building over the top of the railroads.
Millennium Park was officially opened in 2004 and is regarded as one of the most successful examples of urban parkland anywhere in the world.
Christchurch is currently developing a master plan for the reconstruction of that devastated city, with significant emphasis on a revamped city square within a large green space.
In Ballarat in 20 years’ time, Stockland Wendouree will have doubled in size. The community of Lucas will be firmly established.
The Ballarat we know today will be changed enormously. This site will remain in the heart of the beautiful old city, though the geographical centre of the larger Ballarat will have shifted.
This magnifies the importance of the decisions we need to make on this site. Ballarat has never had its own Town Square so we really don’t appreciate what we are missing.
I implore those of you who are re-elected to council – please remember the big dreams you had when you first came to office, the vision you had, and the legacy you hoped to leave.
As council goes into caretaker mode, think of the cities of the world that you love the most.
The truly beautiful and iconic architecture, but more importantly, the parks and open spaces that define a city.
I expect that I will never meet the people that will thank us most for having the vision to create a central park in the heart of Ballarat.
As they sit under a shady old tree, they will be grateful to those who had the foresight to construct a green space on this site, in the same way that today we can sit under the old Moreton Bay Figs in the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne benefitting from those who had the vision to develop a masterplan with green spaces for that city.
One thing is certain – if we don’t do this, and instead decide throw millions of dollars at trying to re-purpose the existing mediocre building, we will never have this opportunity again. To quote Mark Twain: they don’t make land anymore.
I, along with a small but passionate group of like-minded residents, would love to have the opportunity to work with the new council in unlocking the amazing potential of this space.
This site is such a gift. It is one of our city’s most valuable assets.
Let’s embrace the opportunities and challenges, let’s continue the debate and most of all, let’s dare to dream and create something truly special for our community – and create something even better than we could ever imagine.
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