Artist's impression of a light rail station at the Gungahlin interchange. Photo: Supplied
Light rail could be the key to preserving the bush capital, using densification around rail lines to limit the need for continued urban sprawl, claim academics, architects and environmental campaigners.
Density has been a longstanding conundrum for Canberrans, according to Phoebe Howe, a spokeswoman for climate change group Canberra Loves 40%, who said the capital struggled to preserve the city while coping with a growing population.
Ms Howe said planners needed to focus on a more compact Canberra instead of continuing with greenfield developments such as Molonglo.
''With an increasing population, it might be density that saves our bush capital by limiting suburban sprawl,'' she said.
''With a new light rail in Canberra, we have the chance to create a more compact, vibrant city that reduces our need to build on the bush edges of the capital.''
Ms Howe was one of the organisers behind a design workshop at the University of Canberra on Thursday, where academics, architects and students examined environmental concerns alongside recent political pledges to introduce light rail.
Shaowen Wang, from the University of NSW, said the development of a public transport system would allow for increased density within a five to 10-minute walk from designated stations.
''You can preserve the existing bush capital characteristic of the city plan and at the same time you can introduce another layer that is almost like a series of urban islands,'' she said. ''Every light rail stop becomes an area that's densified, with mixed use designs.''
Ms Wang said the introduction of light rail would not be supported by existing infrastructure, but saw no real challenges to its success.
''It's actually a kind of projective thinking - that because you build it, it will work,'' she said. ''With careful insertion of the line and selected points for densification, I can't see any reason why it wouldn't work.''
Ramin Jahromi, from urban design and architecture firm Cox Richardson, said if developers could sell the idea, it was more than feasible to build light rail within the capital.
Having previously worked as project architect for the Chatswood transport interchange, Mr Jahromi said the wide roads and reasonably flat corridors meant constructing light rail would be quicker and more cost effective than in other cities.
''You're already starting at a better platform than most cities are,'' he said. ''Most cities have to deal with rail corridors when they have existing infrastructure. They've got tight roads, they've got tight streets.''