Viv Straw is the President of the Planning Institute Australia (ACT Division). This is the fifth in a series of articles exploring themes derived from Randolph Hester and others, developing an Australian Ecological Democracy theme.

TT: Viv in our first article you talked about four global megatrends, city centre living becoming more popular, technology driving the new economy, a diversity of land uses and the re-emergence of mass transit as an alternative to connecting people to other parts of the city; then you developed the role of vision and GovernanceAnd location and competition and finally communication, but if you have one thing what does it all come down to?

VS: Putting it all into context, I think that cities are places where people engage each other, they make things, exchange ideas and generally gather. People in close proximity to each other are productive.

TT: But Canberra is not a dense centralised city, so what works for us here?

VS: There are lots of very liveable and productive cities around the world that have less than 500,000 people and Canberra is one of them. Canberra is a city in a landscape, but it’s more than that; it is a city of villages that relate together. Civic is perhaps the first among equals, Belconnen, Woden, Tuggeranong, Gungahlin, Queanbeyan are all hubs that work well.

TT:So you are selling Canberra, but are there things that need to change?

VS: Yes, cities need to be adapting, forever changing, Canberra is no exception. It needs to be more internally competitive. It needs to reduce its reliance on government and the property industry. It needs to become a place where people can set up a business at low cost and be able to compete internationally. Places grow in two ways; they grow their population, they innovate their economy. Canberra has done well at growing its population but now it must turn to innovation.

TT: If I look at the global stage cities seem to be becoming more important in commercial terms, is that right?

VS: Cities are becoming the new centres of global activity. There are two trends globalisation and localisation. Cities are becoming centres for national and international attention. More and more we talk about competitiveness in terms of cities. It is cities that build the strength of the national economy in Australia and the world.

TT: So what can we do in Canberra?

VS:We need to be very clear about how we differentiate ourselves in the international market. What is it that will attract investment; is it low tax, is at liveability, is it the place where great minds meet, easy investment regimes, is this a secure place with reliable legislatures, we need to be able to say something like, this is a great place because it is…

I think Canberra is a meeting place that is innovative, inclusive well connected to the world and diverse; a city of villages in a beautiful landscape.