Canberra: Why is it so unknown and unloved?

What do you get when you mix new infrastructure, a low population and an influx of federal money?


Unlike other cities — which are built over a long period — near something such as a river or the sea for trade, Canberra was designed and built in one-go for the sole purpose of being the nation’s capital.

In fact, it’s one of only four capital cities in the world that has been planned as a capital city from its inception.

Parliament House

The unique amalgamation surrounding capital hill — public sector buildings, monumental sights and statues, taxi after taxi, modern and boutique hotels, a man-made lake and student-thriving pockets — creates an artificial environment unlike any other around the country.

The conundrum for Canberra is why such a unique and carefully planned city is little known overseas and so little loved within Australia.

Here are some reasons to think otherwise.

Parliament House

Community Environment

Often pitched as having ‘no sense of community’, Canberra is actually one the highest ranking cities in the nation in regards to social capital.

‘Canberrans’ are most likely to give time and money, engage in the political process and local sports.

Relative to other cities, the capital has the highest share of charitable donors and the highest volunteering rate.

Canberra’s high ranking is probably down to its homogenous, highly educated population and the large proportion of public servants and politicians imbued with the ethic of networking.

Sparrow-Folk Christmas Picnic | Image: David Burke

As a city that attracts people for education and work, perhaps many in Canberra have abandoned friends, families and contacts in other cities — as a consequence they’re keen to get involved in the community and meet new people through going out.

Canberra’s high scoring social capital could also come down to higher accessibility and opportunity, lower commute times and close proximity in relation to the country’s key decision makers.

With a minimal degree of separation and a greater likelihood that people will bump into people they already know, its small size also encourages the reinforcement of relationships.

Braddon | Image: Adam Thomas

Quality of Living

In Mercer’s worldwide survey of 200 cities measuring a range of political, social, economic, environmental, personal safety and public service criteria, Canberra was the only Australian city to rise agilely from last year — up two spots to 28.

The lack of traffic, great infrastructure and availability of housing helped Canberra’s ranking, while more international travel connections would have improved the city’s index.

Canberra’s environment promotes physical activity — it has many parks, cycleways and neighbourhoods with walkable local shops and services.

View from Parliament House towards Canberra City and Braddon

Hip Suburbs

Canberra is a city with little pockets of goodness — the high street of Manuka is quaint with shops, restaurants and a bar or two — Kingston has a great little foreshore of cafes, perfect for a walk — and down by the National Library of Australia on Lake Burley Griffin is a beautiful spot overlooking the water.

But north of Parliament House and over the lake is where all the action happens.

The suburbs of Canberra City and Braddon are Canberra’s two trendiest and coolest places according to Urbis’s list of the ‘21 Hippest Suburbs in Australia‘.

These two suburbs have the highest proportions of tertiary educated and singles of any of the ‘hippest’ suburbs across Australia.

So, they’re unlikely to be dull places to live.

Local espresso bar, Braddon | Image: Tim Riley

Is it time to revisit perceptions on the nation’s capital?

Attracting some of Australia’s brightest, trendiest and social human beings — Canberra demonstrates that a city’s character depends on much more than simply population and size.


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