The capital city conundrum: an exploration of Canberra as Australia's national capital

Australia Australian Capital Territory Canberra

This background note examines how planning of the national capital can facilitate better living outcomes for the city and its growing population.

It also considers how Canberra compares to other world capitals and why it deserves a higher profile and contends that improved urban design has the potential to raise the image of this planned city. This note provides an examination of the various issues around Australia’s national capital that we should reflect on as the city moves towards its centenary.

Canberra rarely rates highly in the national or international consciousness as a capital city ‘par excellence’. Easily dismissed by politicians, relatively few tourists come to see it and many people overseas have never heard of it. Yet this totally planned city provides an enviable standard of urban living for its inhabitants, notwithstanding some identified problems. The conundrum is then: why such an excellent and carefully planned city is so little known overseas and so little loved within Australia. Can Canberra be an even better national capital – or will it remain as a second-ranked city?

There is renewed Federal interest in Australia’s cities with the creation of a new Urban Policy Forum to foster sustainable and liveable cities. The Federal Government is pursuing a policy agenda titled ‘Our Cities, Our Future—A National Urban Policy for a productive, sustainable and liveable future’. Curiously though, the policy initiatives focus on the state capitals with little attention given to the national capital.

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