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Canberra a potential world heritage site, experts say

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Canberra should look to apply for a world heritage listing, according to planning experts, who say the capital is often taken for granted locally but lauded globally as a remarkable example of a planned city.

In his first visit to the capital, global urban conservation expert Ron van Oers said he’s found Canberra’s access to the environment and open space is not always appreciated as much as it would be in other parts of the world.

“In my readings of the debates and what I’ve been discussing briefly with some people here in Canberra, there might be an impression on my side that much is taken for granted here in Canberra in terms of how special the city is,” he said.

Dr van Oers, who works with the World Heritage Institute, will speak on Tuesday night at a public lecture, where he’ll outline how conservationists and developers should work together to maintain the city’s character without impeding necessary modernisation and development.

He said developers shouldn’t fear heritage status, as it actually can add value to a city, and recommended Canberra go through the application process for world heritage listing, even if just to encourage conversation and understanding around what makes the city unique.

“I would strongly recommend Canberra goes through that process … I think that Canberra certainly has something to offer that is worthy of world heritage listing,” he said.


“There’s nothing to fear, but what people fear is that they have to put a little bit more effort in it. Development will always be possible, but you’d need to justify better why you’re doing things.”

Emeritus Professor Ken Taylor, from the Australian National University’s Research School of Humanities, said Australians are often the last to recognise how important Canberra is in the history of planned cities and cities within landscapes.

“International colleagues have a greater regard for Canberra than we do in Australia,” he said.

“Canberra is a remarkable achievement by a small nation in building the city, envisioning a city in the landscape.”

Professor Taylor said he was hopeful Canberra would be awarded national heritage status soon, after being nominated in 2009, which would pave the way for a world heritage application.

“Who owns this city? We the people own this city, the people of Canberra and the people of Australia, because it’s both local home and national capital. And I think we should celebrate this place,” he said.

Who owns this city? We the people own this city, the people of Canberra and the people of Australia ... And I think we should celebrate this place.

Emeritus Professor Ken Taylor, ANU

The Shaping Canberra conference runs from September 17 – 20. Dr Ron van Oers will give a free public lecture titled Canberra: An International Heritage Perspective at 6pm on Tuesday at the National Museum. Bookings are via the museum’s website.