University of Tasmania
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Hobart Civic Square reconsidered : a professional town planning project

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posted on 2023-05-27, 16:17 authored by Risby, B
The debate over a Civic Square for Hobart has been alive ever since Governor Macquarie instructed Surveyor Meehan to lay out the grid of streets in 1811. Part of Macquarie's grand plan was the creation of a large public space at the foot of Elizabeth Street on the Sullivans Cove side of Macquarie Street. This he named Georges Square in honour of the King. It was to serve variously as muster area for the convicts, parade ground for the troops and centre of the town around which all important public buildings were planned. Although the Macquarie Plan was never really fulfilled that square is present in part today as Franklin Square yet the debate over a civic square continues , having reached its height in the 1980s when designs were submitted for a maritime flavoured public space and commercial development. These plans were also never to get much further than the drawing board. So why has the issue of a civic square remained so difficult to resolve and so controversial? This study contends that most ideas for such a square have been devoid of any considerations of the social and cultural context that is needed to have them accepted by the local people and all too often have been of a physical style or typology which is not characteristic of Hobart and therefore not easily assimilated into the city fabric. As the twentieth century draws to a close, the rapid social changes brought about by technology raise the question of the role and worth of civic spaces in the contemporary city. The relevance of such public spaces must be determined before any proposals take physical shape. At the same time recent theories of urban design have rediscovered the importance and characteristics of public space, determining that space is the primary element of the city not buildings and that the buildings are used to create the spaces. Through a process of examining the historical development of public space in Hobart, and the roles and characteristics of spaces in history and their relevance today, the study concludes that far from public space being irrelevant in today's city, it is increasingly needed to act as 'social glue'. However, in accordance with the need to apply meaning to the physical space, an analysis of the city covering amongst other things functional zones, movement patterns, landforms, climate and ambience, and cultural institutions and associations is carried out. From this analysis a key space emerges as that which offers the opportunity to extend the public realm while linking existing spaces, improving the problematic City to Cove link, providing a much needed adjunct to a major civic building and offering a new site for an isolated civic function which has historical links with the site. The space is created through repairing the city fabric by a planned intervention on the site at the back of the Hobart Town Hall and the Elizabeth Street edge of Franklin Square, and then reworking the section of Elizabeth Street as a series of connected spaces. The proposal suggests a new wing to the Town Hall abutting the Carnegie Building and running along Davey Street which would be an ideal new home for a public library function. The essence of the study is not to search for a physical site where a grand space can be created, but to recognise that Hobart has a number of smaller spaces which serve a variety of functions and a huge informal waterfront area which can be used for occasional events. What is required appears to be an intimate space which serves a multitude of functions related to city government and ·information exchange, and which links the existing spaces and major sections of the city together. The recommendations cover not only the basic characteristics of the key physical space but also management and detailed design considerations which are an integral part of making the space a 'place' which will be 'owned' by the public and used to enhance the social life of the city and its sense of cityhood. The opportunity exists to complete the new Civic Square to coincide with the bicentenary of the founding of Hobart on this site in February 2004.


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 1994 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Project undertaken for the Master of Town Planning degree, University of Tasmania

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