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Why Lonely Planet can help us share Canberra’s story

Catherine Carter

News that Canberra has garnered Lonely Planet’s imprimatur as one of the world’s top 10 cities “ready for prime time” has been met with faint incredulity in the national media.

Canberrans, don’t listen to the sceptics.

Lonely Planet is right – Canberra “packs a big punch for such a small city”. The nation’s capital came in third, behind Seville and Detroit, but ahead of Hamburg, Oslo and San Juan in Puerto Rico as the places to visit in 2018. Lonely Planet went so far as to say Canberra had been “criminally overlooked” in the past.

“National treasures are found round almost every corner and exciting new boutique precincts have emerged, bulging with gastronomic highlights and cultural must-dos,” the guidebook says.

Events slated for next year played a role in Canberra’s prominence on the list. Lonely Planet listed the first Test cricket match at “picturesque” Manuka Oval, the 100th anniversary of the WWI Armistice at the Australian War Memorial and the nation’s first Reconciliation Day holiday as reasons to visit.

The “flourishing food scene” also scores top marks. Lonely Planet praises our city’s “sky-high standards for coffee, cocktails and fine dining” that have “nurtured a restaurant scene with an exclusive feel”.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said the ACT Government’s goal is for overnight visits to Canberra will reach $2.5 billion by 2020, and that “this global recognition will help us get there”.

But Canberra isn’t just a great place to visit.

Remember, the OECD ranked Canberra the best placed to live in the world’s best country to live? The OECD ranked 362 regions in 34 countries in 2014, with Canberra coming up trumps against nine measures of wellbeing: income, jobs, health, access to services, environment, education, safety, civic engagement and housing.

This goes some way to explain why Canberra has attracted 75,000 extra residents in the last 15 years, and why we are expected to grow by another 93,000 in the next 15 years.

This is good, measured growth – it won’t have us bursting at the seams like Sydney and Melbourne. Instead, it’s steady growth to keep us moving forward, while giving us the chance to strategically build on our strengths.

I’ve written about our innumerable strengths many times, but they include a highly-educated population, world-class universities, nature on our doorstep, a thriving arts and cultural scene, national attractions that stack up against the world’s best, and a large band of community-minded citizens building a brilliant place for us all to live.

Where we are missing the mark is in our ability to tell our story – which is why the Lonely Planet’s ranking is met with such scoffing and surprise around the country.

Each time I host interstate visitors they are astounded by the vibrancy, the vim and the vigour of our city. They are amazed to discover that Canberra is not a boring backwater of endless roundabouts and windswept streets.

But they shouldn’t be. We have so many great stories to tell. They just aren’t being told.

In our globalised world, cities are in fierce competition for capital, talent and ideas. This means each city must emphasise its unique characteristics. Storytelling helps to do this.

This is about more than just branding. It’s about diving deep into the fine grain of our city.

We have scientists working towards medical breakthroughs, start-ups revolutionising renewable energy, artists mining the depths of what it means to be human, restauranteurs expanding our culinary scene, social entrepreneurs finding new ways to add value to the community and retailers reinventing the shopping experience. Each of these people has a story to tell.

Our city is a living organism that is constantly evolving. Storytelling doesn’t just share our successes with the world – although this is important. It also challenges us to get better. Sharing our stories can help us to reshape our city by integrating new ideas and ways of being.

I’ve heard urban planners argue that a good city tells a story. But I think a good city tells a multitude of stories. They are already out there. We just need to start listening to them.

So, tell me, what’s your Canberra story?

Feature image: Martin Ollman


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author

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