Partnership the new leadership

A city of soaring monuments, empty green spaces and blue skies filled with hot air balloons.  And not a person in sight. 

That’s the promotional picture that ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the nation’s capital painted for many years – and it’s one that he’s determined to dismiss in favour of Canberra’s story as a place for people.

Speaking at a Property Council luncheon on Friday, the Chief Minister says that Canberra is faced with the challenge of “trying to have a party in too many rooms.”

“We have a city built on such a grand scale for a small population, and many of our buildings weren’t designed for people, but for viewing from 10,000 feet,” he said.

But this is changing.  Barr, who unashamedly called himself the ‘Mayor of Canberra’, is overseeing a record $2.8 billion public infrastructure program covering health and education facilities, court buildings, an active transport network and the largest public housing renewal program ever seen in the nation’s capital.  All these initiatives will build better places for people, and help us ‘connect the dots’ between the monumental and the human-scale.

The ACT Government’s emphasis on supporting ‘urban villages’ is a good start.  Financial investment in our CBD and town centres is needed to support innovative urban design and buildings that enhance the unique character found “walking down Lonsdale Street with a Llama”, as the Chief Minister observed, drinking great coffee in Manuka or enjoying quiet reflection at Lake Tuggeranong.

Barr wants us to “play to our strengths” as a city, and to not compare ourselves to Sydney and Melbourne.  “Do we want Canberra to be like Sydney – polluted, expensive and full of unhappy people?” Barr joked. 

If we want to enrich Canberra’s unique character then there’s only one way forward – and that’s by working in partnership.  The property industry wants to collaborate with the ACT Government and the community to build a vibrant city of villages that reflect our inimitable national identity, spark ideas and innovation, boost economic opportunity and create perfect places for people.  And to do that, we need partnership as much as we need leadership.

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