When Canberrans are asked what we love about our city, we tend to start channelling characters from the movie The Castle. "It's the vibe of the thing."
The proposed national heritage listing for Canberra is on the same page. It recognises that what we're trying to protect and celebrate about the capital doesn't just include buildings - in fact, doesn't even mainly include buildings.
It's far more about preserving intangible things, like our views - those Brindabella blues shading into each other on our western horizon, the symmetry of the vista from the top of Mount Ainslie across the lake to the Parliament House flagpole, the summits of Mount Taylor and Mount Painter and One Tree Hill and so many other high points any keen Canberra walker can climb for a panorama of the whole city.
It's about preserving the underlying form of one of the world's first - and in my enthusiastic opinion, most successful - planned cities. It's about celebrating and maintaining the green spaces that both connect and separate our neighbourhoods, as well as keeping us cooler and giving us all the health benefits of natural systems close at hand.
This kind of heritage listing is largely symbolic in nature. But symbols are powerful.
The listing will enable us to leverage significant tourism and economic benefits. In December, the ACT government announced a hotel partner to support our heritage festival next year, and the ability in the future to market our city as a national heritage-listed city in this context would be significant. It would also open a pathway for us to pursue UNESCO world heritage listing - something that is key to attracting more domestic and international travellers.
And, of course, it's not just about tourism.
As this government works on specific precinct projects such as the Acton waterfront, and the planning review more generally, support for the heritage listing of Canberra would send a strong signal to the local community about our commitment to value the bones of the city, and would confirm some of the decisions we have made to date - yet without impacting key city-shaping infrastructure projects such as the light rail.
Are there risks to saying yes to this listing? Yes. We don't want to be in a situation where we are living in a museum and we can't evolve our city to meet our changing climate and community needs.
We've looked at this question extensively, via strong engagement with the Commonwealth, which is one of the reasons that, to the external eye, progress has seemed slow. There have been lots of conversations within the government regarding what this could mean.
We have been examining whether the listing will curtail the operational decisions made to maintain a working and evolving city, to ensure it will not translate to nit-picking action at the street level.
We've determined that any projects that could conceivably be snagged by the listing already need to engage the National Capital Plan, the Territory Plan and the EPBC Act. The discussions that have occurred have reassured me that national heritage listing would not add an additional layer of cumbersome bureaucracy.
I strongly believe that protected heritage is an asset and a legacy for the whole community, and that the community should be at the heart of what we do in this area.
I'm keen to say yes to the Commonwealth government's proposal for a national heritage listing for Canberra without further delay.
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