Restarting our city heart

There are many similarities between Canberra and Wellington – the city dubbed the world’s “coolest little capital”.

With a population of 450,000 people, Wellington is an educated, culturally-diverse city surrounded by a spectacular natural environment.

Like Canberra, Wellington is home to the country’s major cultural institutions – including the national museum, ballet and symphony orchestra. And like Canberra, innovative local museums and public art are dotted throughout the city. 

While there are parallels between our two cities, there is one big difference – Wellington’s city centre is compact and vibrant, while ours is dispersed and dead. 

In Wellington, it’s easy to walk between museums and galleries, boutique shops and the cable car. In between, an electric hospitality scene of cocktails, caffeine and craft beer explodes with life.

In comparison, Canberra’s city centre, stretching from Braddon to Constitution Avenue, and from the Canberra Centre to the ANU, is 116 hectares it total – with bursts of energy on the outskirts and a dead zone in the centre.

Canberrans are crying out for a city centre that hums with life – but lasting change won’t occur overnight. Attracting residents requires more apartments; reducing the 15.9 per cent office vacancy rate requires more jobs; and filling empty shops requires a faster-growing economy.

However, there are actions we can take now – and one of those is to become the events capital of Australia. We already have a solid reputation for our big events – from Floriade to Enlighten, and from Summernats to the Blockbusters at the National Gallery. But guess what? Not one of those is held in our CBD.

Speaking at a recent Property Council event about how to make a ‘cool Canberra’, David Caffrey, Molonglo Group’s cultural coordinator and brainchild behind the Art, Not Apart festival has said that “buildings don’t create the culture or the space – they define the space; but it’s up to the community to decide how it will use a space.” 

There’s plenty of space in Civic - both in empty buildings and on the streets – for vibrant events and activities that restart our city’s heart. The annual Multi Cultural Festival and Christmas in the City are two events we hold in our city centre each year, and there are other ideas and happenings on the agenda. What else do we need? What other kind of events? I’ll let Canberra’s clever, cultured community answer that question.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia