Our capital city circular street naming system: stability, structure and symmetry

I’m enjoying the learnings that I am being exposed to by living in a new city (Canberra).  Alongside the ubiquitous roundabouts right across the city, for which Canberra is so well known, there seems to be an interesting set of road naming protocols at work. There is a clear hierarchy involved.

We live in the Deep South of the Tuggeranong Valley. The main arterial roads heading north towards the city are all Drives: Woodcock Drive, Johnson Drive, Tharwa Drive, Ashley Drive, Erindale Drive, and Isabella Drive (which links up with the even more important Monaro Highway a little way along).

The Deep South does not seem to be important enough to warrant, yet, a Parkway, like the Tuggeranong Parkway on the west of the city, or the newly-opened Majura Parkway, on the east of the city. These Parkways swoop around many suburbs, with minimal on/off points, and a higher speed limit to enable a fast flow of traffic. But we have the above-mentioned six Drives, at least.

Within my own suburb (Gordon), there are four clearly delimited sections of the suburb, separated by Point Hut Pond and the waterway running into it (which runs past the back of our house). Each section appears to have a longer road running through it, which is labelled as an Avenue. 

Curiously, the two Avenues that are nearest to our residence swoop and curve around the suburb in a serpentine manner. Curiously, as I have always thought that an Avenue was a perfectly straight roadway, usually with some nice natural foliage running in parallel to the Avenue. Like Northbourne Avenue, for instance (before the light rail works began–although they have replanted new trees beside the rail tracks). But not in the Deep South. Avenues are quite curvy.

Next down in the hierarchy appears to be those roads labelled as Crescent, and those named as Circuit. As best I can tell, Crescents loop around in a semicircle pattern, whereas Circuits have a crescent-like semicircle pattern. It’s a bit hard to distinguish Circuits and Crescents—a bit like Streets and Roads, I guess. 

Mostly, these Crescents and Circuits follow the familiar serpentine pattern of Canberra roadmaps. Although, one of the Crescents in Gordon looks dead straight, to my eye. Curious. There’s also a Way near our house. It’s also got a curve built into it, so I’m not sure how it differs from a Circuit or a Crescent.

Then, I have noticed that there are shorter streets running off these Circuits, Crescents, and Avenues, which are allocated various street types: Place, Close, Glade, and (for the privileged, it would seem) Garden. They are all short streets. And, similarly short, there are some named as Loops. They seem to curl back on themselves to form, well, loops, whilst the other short streets are almost all cul-de-sacs, and mostly quite straight.

I thought I had this system all worked out: major Parkways, then Drives, then Avenues, then Circuits and Crescents, then all the small streets with more exotic naming conventions.

Shock! Horror! In studying my GoogleMap App, I discovered that our neighbouring suburb, Conder, actually has some streets that are all called, well, Streets. How did this aberration come about?? But, then, their streets are named after famous Australian artists—Sidney Nolan, Norman Lindsay, and even one named after a whole school of painters: Heidelberg Street.

Whereas, in Gordon, the avenues, crescents, places and loops bear the names of (mostly obscure) Australian sportswomen and men. Clare Dennis, anyone? Lewis Lutton? Myles Connell? Mina Wylie? (No, I have no idea about these people, either.) Although, I do love the oxymoronically-named Fred Lane Crescent.

Still, overall, the street naming protocols in Canberra convey a sense of calm assurance. There’s a certain predictability about it all. Unlike the politics that get played out in the parliamentary triangle, most of the year, which regularly demonstrate systemic dysfunction and unhelpful polemic. 😩

The naming protocols for this capital city circular street system are all about stability, structure and symmetry, you see. And so, for regular residents of Canberra, life just goes on, up and down, roundabout, with all of its expected twists and turns … 😄

See also https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/30/learning-of-the-land-3-tuggeranong-queanbeyan-and-other-canberra-place-names/

Author: John T Squires

My name is John Squires. I live in the Australian Capital Territory. I have been an active participant in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) since it was formed in 1977, and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in this church in 1980. I have served in rural, regional, and urban congregations and as a Presbytery Resource Minister and Intentional Interim Minister. For two decades I taught Biblical Studies at a theological college and most recently I was Director of Education and Formation and Principal of the Perth Theological Hall. I've studied the scriptures in depth; I hold a number of degrees, including a PhD in early Christian literature. I am committed to providing the best opportunities for education within the church, so that people can hold to an informed faith, which is how the UCA Basis of Union describes it. This blog is one contribution to that ongoing task.

2 thoughts on “Our capital city circular street naming system: stability, structure and symmetry”

  1. Thanks for your analysis and the strange conventions re naming. Generally the streets will have a connection to the suburb and the person it was named for. I think Gordon seemed to have been a sportsman, so possibly you will find some australian sportsmen and women among your streets among your streets. Our suburb of Fadden was named after Artie Fadden who was PM for about 10 minutes, so our streets are named after Queensland politicians (whoopee!). I can’t wait till we get Bjelke-Petersen Way and Pauline Hanson Loop – though that might become “Pauline Hanson – Loopy”

    1. Bill, Gordon is named after Adam Lindsay Gordon, whom Wikipedia identifies as “poet, jockey, police officer, and politician”—so I suppose the jockey relates to the naming of streets after sports people, although he is best known as a poet.

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