[UNTITLED DESCRIPTION OF A COMPETITION PLAN FOR CANBERRA]
John D. Leckie
Untilted Typescript, Australian Archives, ACT, Series CP487/6/1, Item 1.Although the identification of the author does not appear on this document, from internal evidence it can safely be attributed to John D. Leckie, the only competitor from Paraguay. Leckie may have been an Australian connected in some way to the New Australia Movement that in the latter part of the nineteenth century established a settlement in Paraguay. However, his name is not among those recorded as taking part in this project. Leckie's plan does not survive, but he describes a design consisting of a grid of streets creating blocks 500 feet square and an overlay of radials. This is a design that may owe its inspiration to the plan of La Plata, Argentina, a city that Leckie mentions in this description.
December 27th 1911The Secretary
Department of Home Affairs
I beg to send herewith a design for the Federal Capital City. I regret delay in sending in, for which I am in no way responsible. This design is sent in from a remote part of the world and there is no office within seven thousand miles from which maps and conditions could be obtained. These also were sent by parcels [sic] post, involving much further delay, so that I did not receive the plans until three months after I had seen the invitation to compete. In this out of the way spot it has also been impossible for me to obtain many of the articles requisite for making the drawings; I hope therefore you will excuse any shortcomings in the execution of the enclosed plan. It is also impracticable for me to send the drawing from here by any other way than by post; hence I have been compelled to mount in [i.e., it] on cloth as a folder and not on a stretcher; I hope you will find this admissible.
The nature of the ground makes it of course difficult to perfect a design which will answer all possible requirements. Great attention has been paid to the location of the Parliament House, as a large and imposing building which will occupy a commanding position. It is located on a rising slope, commanding a view over a large open space which extends to the River Molonglo. The immediate front is occupied by a public square, which it is suggested should be surrounded by the statues of eminent men, the centre being occupied by a rostrum or tribunal for the use of public speakers; - a necessary adjunct in a country like Australia where freedom of speech is one of the pillars of the constitution. In the drawing the Parliament House is shown with curved wings, with the intention of giving a better view of the House from the square and vice versa. It also permits the erection of a larger and more imposing facade (in proportion to the body of the building) than would otherwise be practicable. Any person who has seen the Trocadero at Paris will remember the pleasing impression which such curved wings produce. It will also have to a certain extent the merit of originality and will obviate that servile imitation of the Capitol at Washington (a building quite devoid of originality) so often found in buildings of this class. This is of course merely a suggestion; as the planning of the Parliament House is not one of the competitor's duties and must be decided by other authorities; it is merely suggested as in general harmony with the design which it is intended to fit.
Adjoining the central square overlooked by the Parliament House, and forming a continuation of it, is an open space, which it is suggested should be bordered with trees, and adorned with lawns and shrubbery. This open space extends to the River Molonglo and is bordered on both sides by the principal buildings. As the Federal Capital is destined from the force of circumstances, to be an official rather than a commercial centre, all the public buildings and official residences have been grouped as much as possible towards the centre of the city.
The great mistake in cities such as Washington has been to place these public buildings too far apart, owing to the ambitious ideas of the founders, who imagined that that city was destined to become much larger than it is. Hence, between the various public buildings, are found large spaces vacant, or ineffectively occupied, which has given that capital its nickname of "City of Magnificent Distances". Needless to say, Washington is the capital of a much more populous country than Australia, and occupies besides a situation much more favourable for commerce; hence it seems extremely unlikely that the Australian capital will ever become a city or great size; it is more likely to shine by its special merits than by its size.
A similar mistake was made in South America, within the writer's experience. The city of La Plata was specially founded as the capital of the province of Buenos Aires. It was laid out on a very ambitious scale,; and four years after its foundation was said to have had a population of 60,000. but this increase was to a great extent fictitious and based on speculation. In fact, it is said in Argentina, that the bursting of the "boom" which took place in 1890, in Argentina, was due in great measure to the building of La Plata city. Large sums had been borrowed in England for the purpose; money was lavishly spent, a fever of speculation set in; everyone thought the great rise in land values was going to last. When the boom burst, property in La Plata city sank to a mere fraction of its former value; in fact it was almost unsaleable.[sic] La Plata, is still, like Washington, a city of magnificent distances, though the population (which had greatly diminished on the collapse of the boom) has lately again commenced to increase.
In the enclosed plan, special attention has been given to the system of laying out and numbering the streets and houses, with a view to practical utility and convenience. The city is laid out in regular squares of 500 feet each, reckoned from centre to centre of streets. But in order to relieve the monotony of this chessboard formation, and also to facilitate rapid transit from the suburbs to the centre, diagonals are laid out in four directions, all focussing in the central square in front of the Parliament House. the streets are all numbered on the American system. In order to make a perfect numbering of the streets and houses, eight base lines are necessary, as the number must commence in each case from some central point. To effect this, the streets are in the first place laid out square with the points of the compass, north, south, west and east, only the diagonals occupying an intermediate position. For the sake of better distinction, the thoroughfares are designated Streets, Rows, Drives and Lanes, according to the direction in which they run.
The numbering of the streets (or thoroughfares) commences from the centre, the numbers increasing in an outward direction, and the houses will be numbered on the same principle,; the base line for the commencement of the numbers being the central avenues (North Avenue, South Avenue, East Avenue, West Avenue). In numbering the houses, 100 numbers are allowed between thoroughfares (that is, to each square). As each square is 500 feet long (or rather less if the width of the streets is taken into account), this will allow at least five feet lineal space to each number, which will be ample to leave blanks for future intermediate numbers where necessary. As 100 numbers are allowed to each square; if the number of any house in a street is given, the exact distance from any given point to that house is at once apparent; thus a difference of 1000 in the numbers on any street will mean a distance of 5000 feet, or approximately a mile. Even a perfect stranger, knowing the plan of the city, ;can thus find his way about without asking and can tell the exact distance he is from his destination, for all squares lying at the same altitude (that is, between the same parallel streets) will have the same hundred numbers, the number of hundreds denoting the number of squares (or multiples of 500 feet) from the central line.
The diagonals are laid down mainly with a view to facilitate traffic, as they will form natural short cuts,they will be the principal business streets and have been made of extra width, one and a half chains, the ordinary streets being one chain wide. the tramway lines will naturally be laid on the diagonals.
It is suggested that the steeper slopes be utilised as villa residences, as steep gradients are no impediment to a cable tramway,; while a better view is obtained. In some American cities, as San Francisco, the wealthiest residences are situated on the tops or slopes of hills so steep as to be quite inaccessible to ordinary vehicles.
There is only one point on enclosed plan where storm water is likely to collect; it is suggested that it be drained into the watercourse tributary to the Molonglo.
From the nature of the enclosed plan, it can be returned direct to the writer, by post, as "commercial papers" which he requests will kindly be done.
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