Only last month, Canberra was named the most sustainable city in the world, thanks to its excellent public transport, air quality, renewable energy, and low pollution.
But Labor MLA Dr Marisa Paterson was dismayed to see national and international media channels splash images of Parliament House next to those headlines.
Becoming Australia’s first and most appropriate National Park City would position Canberra as a more attractive destination, she proposed in the Legislative Assembly this week – a city in which government, business, and community work together for improved relationships between people and nature.
“Canberra offers an unparalleled intersect between urban living and natural environments,” Dr Paterson said.
“We have the best of both worlds – here the most indulgent, civilised, and sophisticated experiences of city living are just a hop, skip, and jump from our nature parks and natural environments.”
At present, London is the only National Park City in the world; 35 other cities, including Adelaide, may follow suit. But Dr Paterson believes Canberra is ideally suited to become one.
The movement’s Universal Charter describes green, healthy cities, rich with nature, high quality public and green spaces, clean air and rivers.
“It’s almost as though the founders of the National Park City Foundation had Canberra in mind.”
But many people (rather to her frustration) still think of Canberra first and foremost as a government town.
“Canberra is NOT just Parliament House! Parliament House plays such a minor role in the day-to-day life of ordinary Canberrans and the various attributes that make Canberra such a special place in which to live and which won us the sustainability title.
“Perhaps it’s time for a divorce from Parliament House?”
Speaking in support of the motion, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said Australians’ view of Canberra had changed over the 15 years he had been Tourism Minister. When he began, Canberra was considered unfriendly, unfashionable, no fun, not a short break destination for young people, not the place to go for sport, entertainment, food or wine, or nature.
Perceptions have shifted dramatically since 2006, to the point where Lonely Planet ranked Canberra the third best city in the world to visit in 2018, and Canberra was named one of the top five cities in the world to live in.
Before the pandemic, Mr Barr continued, the ACT smashed all-time records for domestic and international visitors; the city’s reputation had improved considerably; and the quality of tourist and visitor experience had improved exponentially. Mr Barr expected the tourism market to rebound, thanks to cheaper, easier plane flights.
“This motion, and the idea within it, present a great way to take a further step to promote Canberra and to reinforce the things that are unique about this city.”
Labor and Green politicians also supported the motion. Chris Steel, Minister for Transport and City Services, thought becoming a Park City would highlight Canberra’s work on clean living (urban forests, green spaces, active travel) and sustainability. Rebecca Vassarotti, Minister for the Environment, said it was appropriate for the “bush capital” to be part of the movement. Mick Gentleman, Minister for Planning and Land Management, noted that the Burley Griffins’ plan for Canberra was inspired by the natural landscape – the mountains, bushland, hills, and river – while the government intended that Canberra’s urban footprint would have a 30% tree canopy cover by 2045.
Canberra Liberals MLA Leanne Castley, however, found the government’s desire to revisit how the national capital was portrayed disappointing. Dr Paterson’s motion, she said, suggested that Canberra’s status as the seat of federal parliament somehow held Canberra back from achieving its full marketing potential.
“To be our national capital is a badge of honour for Canberrans. To seek to revise or dilute that with motions about brand image and identity is a real concern.”
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