City debate

Future visions for Canberra attract a range of passionate and often polarised views – views that are routinely aired in the media. 

In the blue corner, we have the covetous, cold-blooded developers who value quantity over quality and are willing to thrust any dreadful design on an unsuspecting public. 

In the red corner, we have time-wasting NIMBYs with their irrational objections and demand that consultation starts by sitting down with a blank piece of paper.

Neither of these portraits is true – and neither is helpful when we are planning for the future of Canberra.

Polarising debate about development is stopping us from building the city we need – and the city we deserve.  The development industry and the community are not on opposite sides of the fence. We all live in Canberra, and we all want Canberra to be a vibrant, liveable, prosperous place of opportunity.

We mustn’t dismiss community concerns under the catch-all term ‘NIMBYism’. This oversimplifies a vast range of motives that the community may have for opposing a development. Instead, we need open and respectful dialogue that ensures everyone has a say in the future of our city. The cure for NIMBYism is consultation and an acknowledgement that we must collaborate to build quality developments that fit within our established communities. 

At the same time, let’s recognise the contribution made by the development industry to Canberra – generating 10 per cent of the Territory’s total wealth and employing a third of its workers.  It also contributes more tax than any other industry, which helps to support our community, and the amenities and services we all need. 

In our city, more so than many others around Australia, much of the local development industry is led by long-term Canberrans with an enduring investment in building attractive, appealing places for people.  In fact, many of our local developers are second or third generation Canberrans – people who are determined to leave a lasting legacy for their community and for their children. They, just as much as the rest of us, want to get it right.

It’s time we stepped out of the boxing ring, and stopped talking about ‘winners and losers’.  Instead, let’s look at how we work together to ensure everyone wins.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia