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Future Capital


Tiffany Bonasera

TAKING CUES FROM CANBERRA’S PAST IS HELPING TO DEFINE NEW ASPIRATIONS FOR OUR CITY

How does Canberra, a planned political city, shake off its reputation as a soulless public service town to become a hotbed of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship? By playing to its strengths – brilliant minds, big ideas and bold ambitions.

With our population set to hit 400,000 by the end of 2016, our little bush capital is it at the crossroads. What kind of Canberra do we want it to be in the future? Six notable Canberrans share their vision for our city. They all agree pretty cool things are already emerging in our national capital, which we can all feel proud about, and there’s plenty more to come.

THE BIG PICTURE

As our city has grown, it has benefited from becoming more diverse and interesting. However, ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, acknowledges change is confronting for many people.

“The pace of that change can impact on how people to respond to it,” he explains. “The biggest challenge in my job is about one-third of residents want it to change faster, about one-third are pretty comfortable with the general direction, and about one-third have concerns.”

For Mr Barr, his vision for Canberra involves getting the balance right. That means drawing on our values, heritage and identity to implement positive changes as the city rallies to elevate its status to become the world’s most liveable, inclusive and competitive cities.

Mr Barr is confident we are on the right track. Canberra will soon be connected by international flights and the planned light rail project has the potential to transform the city. But there’s a sticking point. For the city to be a global talent magnet, revitalisation has to be a priority.

“What Canberra needs is to be a little less homogenised, to have different areas that have their own distinct character, and make that a virtue – the concept of 100 little villages,” he says.

In Mr Barr’s view, the Braddon, NewActon and Realm precincts are good examples of higher density, urban renewal projects. They reflect the new culture of people choosing to live here – less conservative, prepared to push boundaries, and happy to leave the car at home.

SMART PEOPLE WITH BIG IDEAS = INNOVATION

Our city’s value proposition is its intellect, according to Sarah Pearson, CEO and Founder, CBR Innovation Network (CBRIN). It is thanks to the high concentration of world-class education and research institutions. The fact these organisations are collaborating is what’s driving innovation.

“You won’t see that happening anywhere else in Australia,” she says. “We are not trying recreate 
a Silicon Valley, we’re drawing on the concept to create a connected ecosystem where we’ve got new businesses being born and growing to be successful international businesses.”

The CBRIN, which supports and promotes innovation across the public and private sectors, has a clear vision – for Canberra to be recognised globally as a clever, connected and creative city. According to Sarah, entrepreneurs are sitting up and taking notice of our connected ecosystem.

“What entrepreneurs are telling us is that while there is lots more activity in the bigger cities, it’s all disconnected and they don’t know where to go,” she says. “The reason entrepreneurs will come to Canberra is because there is support for them.”

For Sarah, who believes we will see “many, many startups coming out of Canberra” in the future, the dream is for large internationals to base research and development hubs in our city, and for the public service to be more commercially-focused.

“The most phenomenal thing is the community has really jumped on board. If people aren’t buying into it, you can’t achieve anything. But people are really buying into it,” she says. “We’re already being seen as a hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship, which is amazing.”

While innovation is permeating in many places it hasn’t been seen before in our city, Sarah notes housing affordability, transport and lifestyle will influence decision making, too.

“Entrepreneurs like to walk places, they want entertainment and creativity,” she says. “We’ve got experienced entrepreneurs here in Canberra, but we’re going to need more.”

THE IMPACT OF DIRECT INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS

“Airports say a lot about a place because they are both a city’s business card and its handshake: they tell us what a community yearns to be as well as what it really is.” The quote, by renowned travel author, Pico Iyer, has guided the transformation of the Canberra Airport precinct.

According to Stephen Byron, Managing Director, Canberra Airport Group, the new terminal is one of the key markers that gives us confidence and makes us proud of our city – from a place to live, to have friends and to have tourists visit.

“It is a sophisticated terminal that says we’re a sophisticated city, ready for international flights,” he explains. “It says we are contemporary, we are forward looking and we do believe in design, aesthetics, and also function.”

Preferring to focus on concrete actions than aspirations, Stephen is optimistic about the future of Canberra. He describes the knock-on effect of direct international flights between Canberra, Singapore and Wellington as a “significant upwards jolt” for our city.

“We will have more people in our hotels, more people in our restaurants, more people visiting our tourist attractions, which leads to more creative investment in bars, in restaurants, in lifestyle,” he says. “It [direct flights] will really justify the investment small business people have made over the last five to ten years.”

Direct international flights will also open up freight opportunities for Canberra and surrounding regions, which will attract new businesses and industries.

“You only need a couple of things to get Canberra front and centre and change the radar a little bit,” Stephen says. “We will become a more cosmopolitan and lively city. Being able to travel to Asia more easily means Canberra will be an outward-looking society with a world view.”

“I think we’re on the cusp of being a city of which the country can be proud. Anyone who knows Canberra, knows we have gone well and truly beyond that.”

LIGHT RAIL – ARE WE THERE YET?

The Capital Metro – the planned light rail in Canberra – will change our city’s future. Saori Peguicha, Project Manager, Pacific Partnerships (part of the consortium which will deliver stage one) encourages Canberrans to be open to change.

“Canberra has lots to offer in terms of lifestyle, great food, and beautiful places,” she says. “This project
is the first stage in delivering a truly integrated transport system, which will provide more options in how Canberrans move around, enriching lifestyles and enhancing growth.”

Major construction on the tram line from Gungahlin to the city centre is due to begin in October this year, covering 12 kilometres and 11 stops.

As the system grows, all Canberrans will benefit from a better public transport network.

“Light rail will bring local employment and a new industry in light rail operations, maintenance and hospitality for the next 20 years,” Saori explains.

This will drive growth, and growth will generate vibrancy, diversity of employment and long-term sustainability – just like it has in other cities around the world.

THE FUTURE OF OUR CITY PRECINCT

Historically heckled for its lack of oomph, Canberra’s city centre – comprising the city village of Braddon in the north to the Lake Burley Griffin Parklands in the south, and stretching from the CIT to the ANU is being reinvigorated.

Higher density living, our thriving food and café culture, and calendar of city-based events and cultural activities has infused life into our city centre and surrounding inner suburbs. For Jane Easthope, CEO, In the City Canberra, we all have a part to play in changing outside perceptions.

“My dream is for us all to have a paradigm shift and consider ourselves in the business of tourism,” she says. “The business of attracting, accommodating and entertaining our guests so that they will return – and perhaps stay and invest.”

In the City Canberra, a not-for-profit organisation, advocates for improvements in the city centre, specifically across cleaning, safety and beautification. It is important to Jane that we have a city for the next generation with a discernible identity.

“I would like us to known as the kindest little 
capital as well as the coolest little capital,” she
says. “And we have people wanting to escape the older cities in preference for our city that has a remarkable quality of life – a blend of the natural and built environments.”

According to Jane, we must “fix the broken bits first” – slow down the urban sprawl and the sell-off of finite government-owned land. Then, there’s the fast train and our city’s gateway.

“What I’d love to see achieved is Northbourne Avenue as a showcase to the arrival to our national capital and to the metropolitan heart of Canberra sprinkled with award-winning architecture with something for everyone – day and night,” she says.

YOUNG AND NOT SO RESTLESS

Young people couldn’t leave Canberra fast enough – once upon a time. Traditionally a city with a transient population, families now have roots here. It means there’s a pulling power to stay that hasn’t been there before, according to James Deamer, Community Manager, Entry29.

But what James thinks is so motivating for young people – the future of our city – is the accessibility
of technology and how it can be applied to solve problems, because problems create opportunity. He sees it happening every day at Entry29, a community of entrepreneurs.

“Most of the startups in Canberra either come through our co-working space or are part of the Canberra startup community,” he says. “What is happening is we are being forced to change and think differently because of environmental constraints.”

An entrepreneur himself, with an interest in technology and health, James believes Canberra is a great place to be a young person. Canberra is such a unique city, you have access to world-class universities and research institutions, great employment and career opportunities, events and attractions but it is still small enough to be a connected global village.

While he is more-or-less happy with the direction
our city is heading, he does feel high-level decision- makers sometimes miss what is actually happening. As someone who has grown up in Canberra and chooses to stay, James believes the city’s progression is reliant on being brave.

“I think what’s important for high-level decision- makers is to have an educated standpoint, and say, ‘We’re going to do this’,” he says. “Progression is stifled because a decision can’t be made.”

“Canberra has been pretty good at making decisions and just going for it – whether it’s good or bad. Really, the future of our city is exactly what we want to make it.”

Feature image by Martin Ollman

You can read this article in full and more in our latest edition of Magazine: The Dream Issue. Available for free while stocks last. Click here to find your closest stockist. 

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Tiffany Bonasera

Tiffany Bonasera is a Canberra-based journalist and copywriter. She is intensely curious by the stories people and brands have to tell, and feels grateful to be in a position to articulate them through her writing. She values the flexibility of her career, as she enjoys being engaged in her girls’ school community. Tiffany believes resilience is one of her greatest strengths (a skill acquired after working in newsrooms for many years), but concedes she is ridiculously bad at reverse parking (in fact, any parking). Thankfully, being resilient gets her out of most tight spots. More about the Author

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