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Workshop thoughts on the future of Canberra through the lens of the economy

A Canberra where innovation is business as usual

“I have for many years greatly admired the bold radical steps in politics and economics which your country has dared to take”—Walter Burley Griffin, in a 1913 letter to King O’Malley, Minister for Home Affairs, referring to the design of the new Australian capital.

On 21 November, a group of creative and inquisitive people captured this spirit of boldness to imagine where Canberra is headed. ThinkPlace hosted the DESIGN Canberra Alternative Futures event, where we used the technique of foresighting to imagine the potential futures for the city.

Bill Bannear's profile'
Bill Bannear
A group creates a scenario for Canberra's future
Collectively, we imagined the future of Canberra

We began by picturing where Canberra is likely to be in ten to twenty years, through four lenses: Economy, Environment, Technology and Social. The illustrations and scenarios we developed reflected concerns with uncontrolled growth. Traffic congestion, less wildlife and nature, and gentrification pushing less affluent people to the edges of the city were some of the descriptions we used.

Another common theme was isolation. Some predicted that Canberra would continue to sprawl across the countryside, spreading us further and further apart. Others identified the cultural and technological changes that are leading us to spend more time at home.

We then imagined the Canberra we desire—what is possible, rather than probable. Here, potential isolation became an opportunity.

We pictured a city where positive steps were taken to preserve our connection with society, culture and heritage. Public interactive spaces bring us physically together. Housing arrangements support human relationships and not just developers’ profits.

This Canberra would maintain and grow its green spaces, reinvigorating the original promise of the city. We would build the city into planned bushland, rather than planning the city onto the natural landscape.

To get to this ideal, government is small and agile. Canberra was established to serve the people and its government should do the same. Interactions with business are more transparent and focused on good for the people. We have a longer vision and are not short-sighted.

To achieve these goals, the government uses and encourages human-centred design. People are placed at the centre of economic growth (not the other way around) and there is a commitment to design excellence. Design is used to turn challenges such as increasing isolation into opportunities to create a better city.

By using foresighting, we identified the potential future we want: where Canberra is a global leader in innovation and design; where we aspire to and reward good design and creativity; where humans are at the centre of everything we do and innovation is Business As Usual.

This small exercise demonstrated the potential of our creativity, imagination and good intentions. We described a positive future to guide our present actions. We imagined a better future for all Canberrans.