BEST OF 2021: Is stress-free, carefree Canberra living on borrowed time?

Zoya Patel 16 December 2021 89
Weston Creek

The population paradox: will what makes Canberra attractive be lost as more people are attracted to Canberra? Photo: Region Media.

Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2021. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2021. Today, Zoya Patel takes a look at the changing face of Canberra.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of this city. Canberra has been my home for the better part of 20 years, and despite the brief sojourns I’ve made interstate and overseas, I imagine I’ll be living here until I die (ideally peacefully, in my sleep, sometime before the climate apocalypse really takes hold).

The same reasons why some people disdain Canberra as a soulless city that lacks the grit and energy of our bigger neighbours are the reasons why most Canberrans love it here.

There are fewer people, which means less traffic, less urban sprawl and more meaningful access to the entertainment on offer here. We have great schools, a sufficient job market, and while the property market is entirely dysfunctional, the same is true of every capital city in Australia right now.

Of course, these benefits are only available to those of us with the income and resources to engage in them, and we do still have significant inequity in Canberra. But for people like me, with stable incomes, a house to call their own, and a dog to wander the mountains with, things here are truly excellent.

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My brother recently moved back to Canberra after almost a decade of living in Melbourne. Since being back, he seems like a different person.

Instead of waking up at 6 am every day to start the two-hour routine of dropping the kids at before-school care, driving to the train station and catching the train to work so that he can start by 8 am so he can leave at 4 pm to do the whole thing in reverse before it’s too late, he now strolls five minutes down the road to catch a bus for his 10-minute journey to his job in the city, while the kids walk the short distance to their school.

After years of just not being able to reasonably squeeze in the time after work, he’s started playing sport again and is even coaching his kid’s soccer team. He’s also looking into volunteering to mentor young people in need.

I watch this transformation of my brother from a harassed and exhausted father of two, constantly stuck in the rat race of home-traffic-work-traffic-home, with every potential outing or experience requiring more time to get there, and navigating crowds, and then getting home through more traffic, into someone with time, energy and convenience at their fingertips. I can’t help but feel validated in my love for Canberra.

READ ALSO: Is the Griffith Manor House a densification Trojan horse?

For years, as I watched my friends do the classic migration from Canberra to the flashier cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, I felt a little ashamed of staying put in my home town. I would question whether my desire to stay was a sign of a lack of adventure in my spirit, or a sort of lethargy that made me boring, or lazy for wanting to keep my life as pleasant and easy as it is here.

But with the wisdom of age, I can now see that the stressed, harassed, constantly busy demeanours of my friends isn’t a sign that they’re living life to the fullest, but a sign that they are so stretched just managing their full-time work and life admin on a week-to-week basis that they can’t relax and actually enjoy life.

In contrast, I spend 20 minutes getting to and from work. I can easily avoid major shopping centres by heading to my local shops when I need groceries, and there are schools, supermarkets, doctors and a post office within five minutes of my house. Even when we lived further out than we do currently, there was never more than 25 minutes of nasty peak ‘hour’ traffic, and we still had amenities right near us that made our day-to-day lives much easier.

I assume people in big cities do have relaxed and happy lives, but I would wager that the people who have the best experiences are also the ones with the most money and freedom of time. The same is true of Canberra, of course, but the actual level of resourcing needed to have a relaxed and happy life here is much lower than that in bigger cities with higher rents, more competition for work, and population sizes that create a constant sense of scarcity.

But as glad as I am to live here, I’m equally scared that our enjoyment of a smaller population and the benefits that it offers is doomed to end.

As apartments go up on every available block of land, and more people journey to join us here in Canberra, it’s clear that our comfortable existence in the middle ground between town and city is due to change, probably in favour of the latter.

Does this mean the ease of access and convenience that we all love about Canberra is on borrowed time? How do we safeguard the best things about living here when it’s those same attributes that act as drawcards to people looking to move to the ACT? Is Canberra only this good because there are fewer of us here to enjoy it?

What's Your Opinion?

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89 Responses to BEST OF 2021: Is stress-free, carefree Canberra living on borrowed time?
Deref Deref 1:08 pm 26 May 21

As long as we keep electing neoliberal governments like our longstanding Labor/Green coalition, things will only go downhill.

Catriona Moxham Catriona Moxham 9:38 pm 08 May 21

Molonglo stage 3😢

Capital Retro Capital Retro 4:30 pm 08 May 21

Living on borrowed time?

It’s actually more like living on borrowed money, from the Territory government to the unemployed.

There is a massive debt bubble in Canberra and, thanks to the policies of governments and the RBA, few people see the need for borrowing restraint.

I won’t make a prediction about what is likely to happen.

Lesa Schuster Lesa Schuster 1:42 pm 08 May 21

The housing prices need to come down, it’s very hard for many’s pretty city though and does not feel like a rat race. I work in canberra in my own business, not in the public service. luckily I have found a space with reasonable rent, but it wasn’t like that for years, I paid way too much and worked way too hard in canberra.

Acton Acton 11:21 am 08 May 21

The Canberra lifestyle is fresh air, trees, birds, roos, mountain views, bush and lake walks, good roads, bike paths, kids, picnics, sport, slow coffees, intelligent conversation, gardens, parkland, gardens and uncrowded spaces. So if you want to keep this lifestyle don’t encourage people who want to change it. You know who I mean.

    Shaun Rivera Shaun Rivera 11:19 pm 08 May 21


    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:33 am 09 May 21

    “slow coffees”?

    You mean warm/cold coffees. Even when one asks for a hot coffee it rarely happens.

Syl Jones Syl Jones 2:24 pm 07 May 21

When I moved to Amaroo nearly 11 years ago it was so quiet but now I'm hearing the same traffic noise I used to hear in Hackett. The number of little birds has reduced as well but think that may be the garden changes. Trouble with a tree change to the wider country region is the lack of health services. Still have been considering it for a few years now

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 3:53 pm 07 May 21

    Syl Jones where you expecting Amaroo to stay like that for ever? The plans have shown new suburbs planned around Amaroo for well over 30 years now and for undeveloped land in Amaroo like where the shops are now to be built on too.

Nick Savino Nick Savino 10:41 am 07 May 21

I prefer making coffee at home don’t see the point of cafes everyday

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:49 am 07 May 21

    Nick Savino I don't have coffee in a café everyday; not even every second day; but likely weekly. I prefer the café coffee to the home instant coffee. It's not only the coffee also, but the outing and seeing other people.

Sashika Mendis Sashika Mendis 9:08 am 07 May 21

People have found the Canberra gem and there’s been a lot of interstate moves lately. Good for them. Canberra is the best!

    Amy Nelson Amy Nelson 10:10 am 07 May 21

    Sashika Mendis we loved living there. Now living in Melbourne, a “most liveable city”, we question why more people don’t live in Canberra. The schools, services, public spaces, events etc are fabulous. We might have “everything” here in a bigger city, but we also have so many more trying to access it, and while a city might have a certain service; it’s of no benefit if it takes longer to drive to it than to fly interstate

Tina Maree Williams Tina Maree Williams 7:40 am 07 May 21

My other half and I saw the writing on the wall when the eyesore of Whitlam increasingly impinged on our view driving down William Hovell Drive. We are retiring back to rural NSW!

Demi Naylor Demi Naylor 12:22 am 07 May 21

Well.. you know.. f they can afford a house or find one suitable to rent..

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:59 pm 06 May 21

The time remaining for a relatively low stress Canberra might be longer if some of the people who are pushing to make this town more like places they’ve lived in relatively briefly (typically as unattached/childless young adults) or places they’ve never been to, but imagine they would like to live in (based on fantasy lifestyles depicted in film and TV), stopped trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Tanya Pascoe Tanya Pascoe 6:26 pm 06 May 21

Where I live is growing also, they are building 40 more of our houses on this land

gobbledok gobbledok 5:14 pm 06 May 21

Canberra will be stress free when we stop gold plating the road network and build a public transport system that is flexible and can move with the times. This does not include a tram given our sprawling city with very low densities.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 6:01 pm 06 May 21

    Yep. Express peak hour buses used to get workers relatively quickly from home to work without too many stops and without having to change buses.

    Then some bright spark in the ACT Government took those buses and the bus stops they served away. They replaced these popular buses with a worse service and commuters have voted with their feet.

    No good having more buses more often in the time periods that less people want to catch a bus.

    Maya123 Maya123 8:13 pm 06 May 21

    Flexibility can be a problem. You get used to a service; maybe even buy a house near it, and then because it is flexible it can be easily taken away, as has happened. At least light rail gives some certainty. Much harder to remove, which is in its favour. Because of that, it will attract people to live near it, especially near the stops.

    iGonePostal iGonePostal 5:10 pm 14 May 21

    I agree. The shared and cycle paths also could do with a massive overhaul so that we have an actual network that cyclists can use and avoid roads entirely. There actually are cyclists who still prefer this to riding on roads.

Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 4:30 pm 06 May 21

Been here for 30 years. Raised my kids and wish now I had done it in a smaller town. Oh dont get me wrong, I love the place but it demands a lot from our kids. Cant wait to retire to a small town.

Roger Johnstone Roger Johnstone 3:51 pm 06 May 21

I left Canberra for 4 years during the 80's and then I left again in 2000, and I've never regretted it.

Paul Mathews Paul Mathews 3:48 pm 06 May 21

Yup, too many hoomins and they all bring their dog with them, so we now have 100,000 BARKING DOGS. ever think of that Barr and Chris .eh ? Can they ride on yr new train? (the dogs that is). Suggest we build a new dorm suburb on top of the cemetry

Scott Clegg Scott Clegg 3:29 pm 06 May 21

Where are they going to live?

Jenny Graves Jenny Graves 2:35 pm 06 May 21

I fell in love with Canberra when I first came here in 1980. I’ve been living here permanently for 25 years now and I’m so sad to see the huge apartment blocks going up everywhere. I really feel that the city is being wrecked. The developers seem to be given free rein to do whatever they want, despite many protests from the city’s residents. The beautiful city that I first saw no longer exists in many areas. Very sad.

    GeoffB GeoffB 2:42 pm 07 May 21

    Completely agree. Sad to see greedy developers exploiting the policies of single-minded, corrupt politicians. I wish people woild think long term when they vote.

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 2:23 pm 06 May 21

What! “less urban sprawl” you must be pulling our collective legs. Canberra has the same north-south dimension as Sydney which is a disaster for public transport and journey times. Berlin is the same size as Belconnen.

Lindy Douglas Lindy Douglas 1:33 pm 06 May 21

Stress free?? Really??!!

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