Love it or leave it

In today’s borderless world, people, business, ideas and capital can move anywhere.  This has great implications for the way we build and grow our cities, says acclaimed urbanist, Larry Beasley.

Beasley flew in to Melbourne this week for the annual Green Cities sustainable building conference, arguing that we’re entering an era of “dog-eat-dog competition” among modern cities, and that the “feel” of a city is a determining factor in its success or failure in the 21st century.

Our cities are in fierce competition for tourist dollars, talented workers, businesses and investors.  Our cities also face many challenges – population growth, congestion, sustainability and liveability to name just a few.  These challenges can only be addressed if people are passionate about their cities.  “If people love their city, they will be loyal and do what they can to make that city thrive,” Beasley says.

On the other hand, if their city doesn’t inspire and delight them, if it doesn’t provide them with great lifestyles, it’s easier than ever before to find a city that does.

Beasley argues that all cities must embrace smart growth – because that’s the best way to build cities that have high levels of amenity, and are exciting, dynamic and comfortable places in which to live.  Smart growth means increasing density in places that support it – such as along transport corridors, in our town centres and suburban shops – while also protecting our precious natural environment and the lifestyle that we so love.

Changing the shape of our cities doesn’t mean losing our suburbs. In fact, Beasley points out that “most people live in suburbs not because they have to, but because they want to”. People want the benefits of privacy, independence, spaciousness and safety that suburbs provide.  Smart growth can provide the best of both worlds. We have the opportunity in Canberra to create new places and spaces as well as retaining some of the features many like best about our city.

In Canberra, we’ve got the basics right – and we have the most liveable city in the OECD as a result.  But we need to build on those basics to enhance our city’s character and charm and to help more people fall in love with – and invest in – our city.

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