Archive for October, 2009

Below the tree line, but …

October 20, 2009

“I have to pinch myself when I realise we live in the best part of Australia,” says Sandy Taylor. “I love the uniqueness – the fact that I can see the country and not just the buildings.”

Sandy is an Alice Springs Town Council alderman and one of two Council’s nominees on the Development Consent Authority, which in a couple of weeks time will have the ominous task of deciding whether the town of Alice Springs should go in a new direction:  up.  The Authority will recommend to the Planning Minister Delia Lawrie whether she should say yea or nay to a group of  five storey buildings, a full two storeys, or four and a half metres, above the town’s current 14 metre height limit. The buildings, if completed, would provide 120 apartments, some serviced, The target residential group  is “professionals, hospital staff and mine workers.”

In this debate, as in the last one more than 20 years ago, proponents of breaking the height limit will talk about judging buildings on their merits. They will talk about urban sprawl, and the high cost of land in Alice Springs and the importance of developers getting value out of a block.

But what will determine our support or opposition to this proposal is ultimately a question of our individual perspectives. Effective planning – which, unfortunately, Alice Springs has never had – could deliver accomodation for residents and business, and allow developers to make money. The accomodation shortage the town faces, as the real estate industry has told us so consistently, has been caused by insufficient land release. This particular land has already been released. And even then the developers are hedging their bets about it. Their project proposal consists of a series of buildings which will be erected sequentially according to demand, beginning at the northern end of the block – “allowing flexibility as the land and sales market in Alice Springs may dicate.”

Surely a series of three storey buildings would be more likely to meet the as yet unestablished level of demand.

This debate is not about being for or against development, as two anonymous letter-writers suggest in the Centralian Advocate today. It’s about how we and our visitors experience the town of Alice Springs. Do we , like Sandy Taylor, pinch ourselves when we see the MacDonnell ranges – or Billygoat Hill – or Annie Meyers Hill – or the gums of the Todd River  – as we walk or cycle or drive around the town? Are these views worth giving up, as the next proposal goes even higher and the question of its architectural merit becomes somehow less important, when there is no longer a height limit?

Alderman Brendan Heenan is the other town council nominee on the authority. Like Sandy, he grew up here, but his benchmark is lower – or higher – depending on how you look at it.

“I haven’t seen the full proposal yet,” alderman Brendan Heenan told me on the weekend. But he said, “as long it’s below the tree line and doesn’t destroy the view of the ranges from Anzac Hill”,  it was worth considering.

Fair enough. But how often do we look at the view from Anzac Hill? We  love the view and we appreciate it because we see it so rarely.

I have to admit I don’t always pinch myself when I see massive amounts of blue sky and glimpses of the countryside as I go about my business. Sometimes they’re just the background music.  But I know they  – and not the architecture – were the first thing that inspired me about the town when I first came here from a big city thirty years ago. I’m still here, and so far, so are they.

Dave Richards