I had three people bag Canberra to me today. First, I watched a video embedded in this link, in which Former Prime Minister Keating described it as ‘a great mistake’. Malcolm Fraser then described Parliament House as ‘not meritorious in itself’. He was trying his hardest to be nice.
FIve minutes later I was instant messaged by a friend who lives there. Unprompted, she concurred, delivering the pithy soundbite they were aiming at: ‘the can sucks… :( ‘
And it’s true.
I spent three years living there, and discovered a simple truth: the layout of a city affects your life.
If I was miserable there, at least some of the fault rests on the shoulder of Mr Walter Burley Griffin, the American architect who won the design competition for the nation’s capital.
Canberra has too much parkland. There’s more straggly grass and native shrubs than Kevin Rudd has committees of inquiry. While it looks frikking lovely on google maps, it is too expensive to light these areas at night, and means the distances in the capital are not walkable. Even in the suburbs, the city is so lightly populated that only the most generic of shops can survive within walking distance of one’s home. It’s bland.
Some blame should also go to the nuff-nuffs who decided that Canberra should be inland, while every other significant settlement in Australia is on the coast. It’s cold there. If Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t agree, at least the capital should have been in the balmy, blissful surrounds of Merimbula.
You could locate the steering house of a modern economy there, and fill it with staff before morning tea. And then you could go for a surf. I’ve been to Merimbula, and they do very good fish and chips.
Meanwhile, Canberra’s public transport you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Hourly services. Nothing after seven on weekends.
You have to pay public servants a premium to work for the federal government. Most of them were born and bred in Melbourne and Sydney and they love to escape for the weekend, and then eventually give Canberra the flick. If you put the capital somewhere less bucolic, public service staff retention might improve.
Are we stuck with the Can? Keating said that if you properly depreciate the billion bucks we spent on Parliament House in ’88, we can walk away from the asset in about 25 years. His plan is this: relocate to Garden Island in Sydney.
Bring it on. Your thoughts?