It’s a common refrain that we tell ourselves in the Territory that if you want to have a family or you have kids to raise, then Canberra is the very best place to do it. And it’s definitely what I’ve always thought, having grown up here myself and about to become a parent for the first time. But I’m curious if the assumption is based on fact. Many residents in bigger cities would certainly disagree.
For me, there are obvious characteristics of Canberra that make it a city that is extremely amenable to raising kids. I’ve always boasted that the ACT public school system is one of the best in the country, based entirely on my own experience. Compared to the small schools I attended in country NSW before arriving here at the age of 10, and compared to the schools my friends went to in Sydney and Melbourne, I’ve always felt that our public schools don’t have the same level of geographical disparity as bigger cities, and still offer excellent amenities, extracurriculars and academic extension programs than smaller and less resourced schools.
But if I look at recent NAPLAN results, the ACT actually performs completely average compared to other states and territories – neither substantially above or below the national average. Our schools aren’t necessarily better than other cities, so is my perception of ACT public schools being havens of both social, academic and physical education just biased because I went to them? Was I also influenced by the fact the schools I attended were in affluent suburbs?
I also rank Canberra as being a particularly good place to raise kids because of our wide open spaces, opportunities to engage with nature through the reserves we have in close proximity and the general sense of having room to grow and play. But on reflection, these are all very vague notions of what children actually need to be entertained, productive and to learn and grow in their home environments.
What about activities for weekends? Do we have the variety and accessibility for extracurriculars or one-off experiences that bigger cities have? We don’t have the range of smaller arts spaces or urban events and festivals as many larger cities. Still, I would argue we do have amazing national institutions that often run kids’ programs. We have a diverse and multicultural community that rivals any bigger city when it comes to connecting our kids to cultures and experiences outside of their own.
I used to argue that one of the best things about Canberra was the lower density of our suburbs and the opportunity to raise kids in a detached home rather than an apartment or small townhouse. Now, of course, I know that dream may never come to fruition for many, including myself.
Trying to buy a house in Canberra that has a backyard and that isn’t either located in the outer suburbs or else run down and in need of renovation is a challenge and only really accessible to the wealthy. We will be raising our child in a townhouse with a concrete courtyard for the foreseeable future, but we’re super close to parks, nature reserves and open areas, so this doesn’t worry me too much.
I am conscious, though, that my main arguments for Canberra being a great place to raise kids are based on ‘vibes’ more than experience or facts, so I’m putting this question to our readers. Am I about to get a rude shock, or is this city truly as family-friendly as I think it is?