Picturesque Dickson: the esoteric art of Views and Vistas

Don’t you love it when town planners go all poetic? Get this. Your iconophile lives on the fringe of Dickson, one of the larger shopping centers in suburban Canberra. Dickson Shops has a funkily downbeat, unpresumptuous, country town feel to it, thanks to having been designed by a Mr Rafferty, and therefore following no apparent rules or principles. It nicely merges Chinatown with Boganville. But not for much longer. The ACT Government has just approved a new Master Plan, which follows Planning and Design Principles to create a “progressive and safe hub”, among other extraordinary oxymora. One of the key Design Principles is identified as “Views and Vistas”, wherein we the citizenry are informed that: Views and vistas along recognisable routes promote legibility, ease of movement and a sense of connection. Defining vistas into and out of the centre will reinforce the ‘sense of place’ and the role the centre plays as a meeting place for the community. Aligning buildings along routes facilitates safety and reinforces the vista. Applying the principle, we are told that: The proposed precinct code will require that development/redevelopment along the view lines shown in the diagram below are setback and oriented so that views are not obstructed.

Let’s explore these Views and Vistas. The lesser vista to the West brings you to this view of the rear of the Telstra building. Not to be missed.

And what was it like along the way? Pure Heritage.

But the pièce de résistance is the Vista to the South, where your gaze is directed to the back fence of Daramalan College, just across the stormwater drain.

How about that? Or did we miss something along the way?

The Tradies! Of course! At this point on one of the Plan diagrams there’s a notation, a reminder to “improve connection to the drain.” But could it get any better than this?

Apparently such vistas of “fine grained shopping precincts” are to be preserved. “Most blocks have been developed with smaller shops creating the fine grained built form and scale that is typical of the retail core.” Except that there’s a roadway being planned to divide the Tradies Club and Motel in two, and there is provision for six story buildings where we now enjoy the “fine grain” of the Caltex servo, Premier Instruments, Canberra Auto Parts, Bells Drycleaning, Foxy’s Fast Foto, Asian Groceries, Curves, El Dorado’s Steakhouse, Michelle’s Hair and Beauty, Dom’s Barber Shop, The Cheesecake Shop, and Keir’s Radiators, just to the right of this photograph. Now preserving the authenticity of this fine graininess will present quite a challenge for future town planners and heritage buffs.


#1 Nigel (2) on 06.11.11 at 7:37 am

Nigel, this cracked me up.

Having originally trained as a landscape architect and have indeed worked in urban design when I was young and naive (at least even more naive than I am these days), plus was a Dickson resident for 20 years, this really did bring a laugh to my morning.

Yes, there’s certainly a language around urban design and planning, and much of it is clap-trap. What’s really interesting is this: urban design isn’t that hard: good urban places respond to how people go about their daily lives. It’s the old ‘form follows function’ thing. It’s why older places that grow organically are always more alive and inviting than those that are planned from above by people who, despite their best intentions, don’t really understand the place. Unconscious planning from people just doing what they do has to result in better places than those where the planning is conscious.

Having said that, places that grow organically – Sydney, for instance – also have their fair-share of ugliness. So there’s a flipside to just letting things go their own way.

Have you read ‘A Pattern Language’ by Christopher Alexander? If not, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s more a romantic notion of place than anything else, but there’s got to be truth in romance, surely?

#2 Nigel on 06.11.11 at 8:31 am

thanks N (2). Early Bird prize to you. But seriously, the Plan enables a quantum leap of potential private development which will coexist with what is already there for years to come.

#3 Vicki Mason on 06.15.11 at 7:05 pm

Hi Nigel

What a ripper, this is so so funny, thank you for making me laugh … you’ve so much to look forward to!

#4 Nigel (2) on 06.18.11 at 9:01 am

Nigel (1), are you saying the proposed changes are a good thing or bad thing?

#5 Vicki Mason on 06.22.11 at 12:27 pm

Personally and by the look of it, a bad thing. For me these views are just plain ugly!. I was being silly…I wonder what Mr Rafferty or the Griffins would have to say?

(fine-grained = invisible and inconspicious)

#6 The Shopping Sherpa on 07.03.11 at 9:01 pm

As a long standing (and sometimes sitting, or lying) Dickson fringe dweller I’m a little perplexed…

#7 Warwick Rowell on 11.29.11 at 3:37 pm

The words have not been followed through with good work. and as for the comment by Nigel: “Have you read ‘A Pattern Language’ by Christopher Alexander? If not, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s more a romantic notion of place than anything else…”, This is silly – Chris’s language is as pragmatic as you can get: is the pattern there? Or not? It is also pragmatic in the sense of being a useful tool: I have been using it for design work (rooms, houses, villages) for twenty years, and many much larger scale projects (eg Ellenbrook NE of Perth) have used Pattern Language to good effect.

Leave a Comment