I have followed with interest the debate in The Canberra Times' letters pages between those who lament the "lost" Canberra and those, presumably younger, who tell the lamenters "to get over it".
The truth is that Canberra's past had good and bad features. Whether you liked the old Canberra or not depended largely on your age, tastes and interests - and when you arrived here.
I have been coming and going from Canberra since the mid-1960s when I was a teenager. Back then it had little socially to offer young people. There was not much night life to speak of other than a weekly dance at the Hotel Ainslie Rex (now the Mercure Canberra) and social activities at Commonwealth hostels.
Restaurant options were limited. Local clubs run by Canberra's German, Scottish and Italian communities, among others, were some of the few places you could get an authentic "foreign" meal. There were no fast-food outlets until the mid-1970s.
Modern housing design options were very limited until the 1980s, when Gary Willemsen and his father designed and built innovative designs, including my house in Chapman.
Outdoor activities in summer were made miserable by the bushflies that crawled into your nose, ears and mouth.
Civic café owner Gus Petersilka is credited with leading the drive for outdoor eating from the 1970s, but few customers wanted to eat outside in summer because of the flies. That changed with introduction of the dung beetle in the 1980s and sheep being gradually displaced from the Canberra area.
In my 30s I came to better appreciate the capital's bush surrounds - the coast in summer and snowfields in winter.
Looking forward, we should be focused on improving the quality of life for future generations of Canberrans. That means forgetting about never-ending economic growth, suburb expansion, and creation of ever more jobs.
Canberra's cultural life gradually improved with the opening of the Canberra Theatre (1965), Llewellyn Hall for music (1976), the National Gallery of Australia (1982), the National Museum of Australia (2001), and the National Portrait Gallery (2008).
Having children gives you a different perspective on life. Instead of mainly pursuing one's own interests, much time is spent driving children between home and school and their other activities (long gone were the days when Australian children walked several kilometres to school). It is a stressful period for parents; it coincides with rising schooling costs, work demands, competition for promotion, and limited discretionary time.
Self-government in 1988 seemed to make a difference to Canberra's visual appearance. I suspect there was considerable federal subsidisation of Canberra's maintenance before prime minister Bob Hawke imposed unwanted self-government on the ACT.
Before 1988 the ACT was run by the minister for the capital territory, and probably around 2000 public servants. Back then we had a population of 270,000.
Financially, probably not a lot changed for my generation over the years as the downturn in mortgage interest rates (from a high of 17.1 percent in 1989) was offset by rising land rates following self-government, while rising living costs were offset to some extent by rising wages as one gained promotions.\
One of the best modern features of Canberra is the world-class airport - thanks mainly to the vision of Terry Snow, who bought the old airport area from the Commonwealth government in 1998 and developed the impressive airport and business precinct. Meanwhile, in 2000, the Federal Highway dual carriageway to Sydney was completed. Hopefully, we will also have a modern fast train service before too long.
Recreational facilities have improved over the years with many first-class developments, including the opening of Bruce Stadium in 1977, the Australian Institute of Sport in 1981, and the continual upgrading of Manuka Oval and other sports facilities.
There was not much emphasis on heritage protection in Canberra's past. Perhaps the worst case of developer vandalism was the overnight demolition of the Capitol Theatre in Manuka in 1980. Residential houses worth saving have also disappeared from Canberra's older suburbs at a rapid rate. It's likely too that local Ngunnawal and Ngambri heritage sites were destroyed without reference to local elders.
Overall, I think the best time in my lifetime to live in Canberra was probably around 2000, when it was less congested and quality of life was high. However, there's little to be gained by lamenting over what we've lost. The past is another country. There was also no internet before the 1990s, and there were more limited interaction and entertainment options.
Looking forward, we should be focused on improving the quality of life for future generations of Canberrans. That means forgetting about never-ending economic growth, suburb expansion, and the creation of ever more jobs. Instead, we should be planning for a more sustainable and enjoyable future - while adapting to climate change and protecting Canberra's heritage features and bush environment.
More accessible tertiary education (including college, university and vocational courses) would also be a positive development.
- Clive Williams is a visiting professor at the ANU's Centre for Military and Security Law.