Sunday, 9 February 2014

7 years on: some thoughts on Queanbeyan

When we arrived in Carwoola, almost exactly 7 years ago, we began to use Queanbeyan as our base town. (Yes I know it is a city, but in this area Canberra is really the centre of the Nodal Region and thus regarded as the city.  But we moved here from Manhattan so viewing Canberra as a city is itself a bit of a stretch.)

We were continually pleased to find how friendly and helpful people in Queanbeyan are, which turned our perceptions of the place around by approximately 180 degrees.  That process has continued, and we are still fond of the place and get most of our services in the town.  However we still find it difficult to love the appearance of the main drag (Monaro St.).  We have wondered for quite some time why this is so, and why some of the other towns we have visited in NSW don't suffer in that way?

Before getting to that I will put in the City Vision from the Council's website:
It is the year 2021 ...A thriving lively city with a strong community spirit, based on its country values and the warmth and friendliness of its people. The city celebrates its natural setting and its rich heritage, preserved in its built form.The city, suburbs and surrounding rural and residential areas cater for a multicultural population of 50,000 which enjoys a diverse lifestyle; a growing economy; retail, health, education, recreation and cultural services; continued investment in the city’s infrastructure; a sense of safety; and easy access to Canberra, Sydney, the mountains and the coast.
That all seems quite reasonable: so why do we feel that Monaro Street doesn't fit that bill?

To start with, here are some snaps of a few other towns.  Unfortunately the images were not taken with this comparison in mind so don't show the contrast as well as might be hoped for.
Canowindra
Coolamon
Ganmain
In fairness, Ganmain is much smaller than Queanbeyan so has not been subject to the same redevelopment pressures.

One could note that there is very little traffic in any of those photos so wonder if that is the problem.  If so, it will be fixed when the bypass is built-  or perhaps completed is the correct term.  While the bypass is an excellent idea for many reasons, unfortunately I don't think it will 'solve Monaro St', as the street is still not attractive even at 7am on a Sunday when there is very little through traffic.  The following image illustrates what we see as the problem.
The scene is a mish-mash of uneven awnings and (particularly) garish, poorly positioned advertising signs.  While several of the premises (Tattoo Parlour, Vinnies and the Anglicare Op-shop) could be seen as reinforcing the struggletown stereotype (which we believe to inaccurate) I don't think the nature of the businesses is the problem: it is their visual impact.  I shall return to this below.

First, however let us look at some of the things that are being (or have been) done by the City Council to move towards "celebrates its natural setting and its rich heritage, preserved in its built form."

A highlight is Ray Morton Park on the Right Bank of the Queanbeyan River, looking down on the Weir.  There is a good array of art work in a range of styles  ..
 .. and an excellent Sensory Garden, bordered by attractive tiles.

 Another view of the Garden.
I believe this new - and well patronised - cafe, adjacent to the Park is also a Council initiative.  First a close up ...
 and then a longer shot (from the Queens Bridge).
 A view across the weir towards Morrisett St.
 The flower beds in the middle of Monaro St. have just been refurbished and replanted.
 The pedestrian precinct in Crawford St seems to be getting a good amount of clientele ...
... and some imagination has been given to the design of the garbage bins.
Still however, it is impossible to get away from the tattiness of Monaro Street.  This view is the reverse of the one used above to illustrate the problem: it doesn't look any better - indeed the big-box building makes it look worse.
Especially the decrepid sign for a now unrecognisable "..orporation"on the end of the building.
The next two images show Monaro St, looking West from Crawford St.  Most of these buildings are (by Australian standards at least) quite old.  However rather than having historic appeal the tacky advertising on the awnings (and elsewhere) just makes them look run down and grotty.

Looking at the state of repair of the awnings emphasises their run-down nature.

It isn't clear to me what can be done about this.
  • Giving all the buildings a good coat of paint; 
  • fixing up the decrepid awnings; and 
  • banning the advertising on the awnings (which I cannot imagine is a cost-effective means of advertising)
would surely help.  Perhaps someone with Photoshop skills would like to have a go at this to see how it looks?  The Council has made a move on this, as detailed in the 14 February edition of City Life.

The most visually appealing area is around the weir.  While it was originally designed to provide water for the town it is now for aesthetic purposes only (plus providing great Platypus habitat).  This view is looking towards Morrisett St from the bridge.
Swinging the view round towards Collett St gives a far less attractive view: the back side (or possibly backside) of Riverside Plaza.
However even this quasi-brutalist wall isn't as bad as it might be.  Just imagine (with the help of my basic Photoshop skills):
However with a little imagination, and a few spray cans, the local graffitologists could probably enhance the place quite well.  One very rough approximation:
What else could be done to get a bit of zip and life into the area?  A possibility would be to add a few more cafes/restaurants with a view over the Weir.  There are very few eateries in Queanbeyan (other than the fast food outlets on Bungendore Rd) and it is possible that putting a couple of places overlooking the weir - possibly on the Western side of the Caravan park - could be an economically viable idea.  Should it be considered that they wouldn't work year round, but just in summer, perhaps quality marquees or even, reflecting the ethnic diversity of Queanbeyan, some genuine yurts or gers would do the job?

1 comment:

Rosanna said...

Good to find your blog with your passion for improvement of Main Street. ( And you showed my favourite place, Canowindra. ) Like your idea of more eating places riverside.
Qbns lucky to have the river in the centre of the town and can make much more of its beauty while preserving the tranquil nature environment.