I was in Canberra, capital of Australia, today. Since I was there for business, I didn’t get to see the sites (a phrase that some people would consider a small joke). One of the people I saw referred to Canberra as “Australia’s most boring city”, but another said she absolutely loved living there.
The history of created capital cities is mixed. Think Brasilia, Astana, Abuja, Yamoussoukro. But also think New Delhi and Washington, DC. On a small scale, my impression of Canberra was that it bids fair to make it to the better category of invented capitals.
The layout is spacious, but not unduly distended. So there is a feel of a small urban fabric. The main political complex, in the middle of Lake Burley Griffin, looks impressive both from the air and the ground. There’s plenty of green and lots of bike paths. It’s clearly a liveable, well-functioning place.
But it doesn’t excite many people. Australian prime minister John Howard has never moved to the capital, keeping his home in Sydney and commuting in on Australia’s two weeks on, one week off legislative calendar. And this weekend in Melbourne I met a number of Canberra politicians who all flee the capital first chance they get on Friday afternoon. Some, of course, are visiting constituents. But more are gulping frantically for some urban vibrancy.