With so much construction activity planned or underway in Dickson, we decided to catch up for Q&A with Gary Rake, Deputy Director-General of the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate
Q: That’s a pretty long job title – can you tell us what you really do?
A: As the name says, our directorate looks after environmental and planning matters. On the planning side, this ranges from very long term strategic planning for the future of our city through to master plans for particular precincts and regulatory planning (writing planning rules and making planning decisions). On the environment side, we have everything from skilled research teams working to help the survival of species such as Corroboree Frogs, Quolls and Bettongs, through to climate and sustainability programs including the ACT’s 100% renewable energy achievement. In July this year, we were joined by Parks and Conservation Service which makes us directly responsible for managing some of the most precious environmental areas in the ACT.
Q: Have you always been a public servant? What made you choose a job in the public service?
A: I have spent about a third of my career in each of the private sector, the Commonwealth public service and the ACT Public Service. My first job, straight out of school, was counting money boxes at the Civic Advance Bank (remember the old Civic Building Society and Canberra Building Society?). I still laugh at the fact that they had a machine that could count coins, but it was broken and my wage was cheaper than fixing it! I have worked full time since I left school and did my tertiary studies part time.
I have always been attracted to public service roles where I can see a direct line of influence on trying to make people’s lives better. I prefer to call myself a ‘community servant’ rather than public servant.
My past roles have been pretty diverse. I have worked in consumer advocacy/protection and fair trading regulatory roles. I was the Chief Finance Officer at ACT Forests during the 2003 bush fires (and I was on the fire line throughout that campaign including on the day itself) and I served as Chief Executive of the National Capital Authority from 2008-2013.
Q: So what is your background? How long have you been in Canberra and what do you know about Dickson?
A: By qualification, I’m an economist and accountant. I was born in Canberra (my mother was too!). In her early years, my mother lived on Antill St. I went to Daramalan College in years 11 and 12, maybe drank a beer or two at the Tradies and the old Darra Club (once I turned 18 of course!) and when I left home I moved into a flat on Gardiner St in Downer. So I’ve got a bit of Dickson mixed in my DNA. But I grew up in Kambah and, over the years, have lived in Tuggeranong, Inner North, Gungahlin, Weston Creek and Inner South (with a few years in surrounding NSW – Gunning and Carwoola).
Q: And how much do you have to do with Dickson now?
A: My office is in Dickson, so I’m here daily. I buy coffee in Dickson every weekday unless I have an early meeting in the city and I’ll take dinner home from one of the restaurants once a week on average.
My work involvement includes planning decisions in Dickson as well as looking at things like parking management and facilities to encourage walking and cycling.
I also get a little bit involved in place making – which is one of the cooler parts of my job.
Q: Tell us more about ‘place making’.
A: Noting that I am an economist not an urban planner or designer, I’ll probably mangle this description. But here it is in my words…
It’s a practice within the planning and design professions and it focuses on bringing a place to life. Place making involves carefully considering why a place exists and what is it used for – and looking for the ‘details’ that can help make it even better. Sometimes place making is considered from the initial design of a new place, but it can also help build on a place that is already in use.
I think the most successful examples are where the people who are most closely associated with a place initiate the discussion and where the needs and aspirations of those people are placed at the very centre of assessment. The simple question I like to use is ‘What would make this a better place for people?’ Every location will prompt a different outcome.
Q: The DVTA has thought about holding weekend markets to further boost the vibe of the place. What do you think about that?
A: That’s a really interesting, and positive, idea. It will be important to find that niche that produces a vibe that is authentically ‘Dickson’. The ACT Government, through teams like Access Canberra, can certainly help get events like that off the ground. The Dickson Group Centre has a great base frame for events like markets – with a couple of separate courtyards or village squares that present an opportunity to break the event down into precincts with slightly different feels.
Q: So it sounds like place making and events are things we could talk about for the middle of Dickson Group Centre?
A: Yes, there is a lot of investment activity in Dickson and the construction of light rail will ensure this place is going to continue to grow. Dickson has a great reputation and a strong identity. We’ll be working to help preserve the positive things about Dickson and help develop new great features. There’s a very good reason that people are attracted to this place…and I don’t think we’ll have any trouble finding people who want to help make it even better.
Q: What do you think light rail will mean for Dickson?
A: Light rail is going to be transformational for our city. Gungahlin and Dickson will be some of the first places to see that benefit. Transport will undergo a phenomenal change in the next couple of decades. Light rail systems across the world are proven generators of investment, growth and more sustainable urban living. Dickson has the potential to be the first to experience and help drive the great future of our city.
Q: Is there a greening strategy as well as a transport strategy?
A: Yes. One of the most exciting projects our Directorate is working on is looking at Living Infrastructure. This includes trees, understory plants, waterways and other urban ecology. We know that having large street trees and systems like urban wetlands can help reduce the impacts of a warming climate. These make our environment more comfortable for humans as well as reducing the impact humans have on the planet.
Q: The Dickson Village Traders Association has found you are always willing to go the extra mile to help. What drives you?
A: In short, I love it when people show that they care about where they live. I find that really inspiring and I can’t help but get drawn in. Our city is changing. That’s an unavoidable fact. I want to be part of making those changes as positive as possible. I’m an optimist and I love the fact that the DVTA members are optimistic about Dickson, optimistic about their businesses and about the community that looks to Dickson. So it’s actually the passion and positive approach of the DVTA founding members that drives me.