There was a bit of a sniffy article published in the Canberra Times this week about the current ACT government’s ambitions for the territory’s future infrastructure.
As far as I can tell, the newspaper got hold of an ACT government ‘wish list’ for all the things they’d like to build in Canberra over the coming years.
In Denmark, these kids of lists appear regularly. Some of the items on the list are deemed too fanciful and never materialise, like the idea of building a bridge from the main island of Sjælland, to the minor island of Samsø, and then on again to the largest land mass Jylland — all so that Denmark could build a high speed rail loop between its three major cities of Copenhagen, Aarhus and Odense.
But such thinking also leads to projects that do happen, and results in considered, prioritised and properly budgeted long term plans. For example, the Øresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden,opened in 2000; the Copenhagen Metro, opened in 2002 and now being expanded; or the Fehmarn tunnel, between Denmark and Germany, under construction and due to open in 2021.
Nevertheless, the Canberra Times article seems to focus on the difference between the publicly stated cost of one infrastructure project — Canberra Light Rail — and the upper ceiling of the budget, as stated in the wish list document, ignoring the ambition of the ACT government and what it might mean for the city’s future.
In addition to the light rail project, the document details a desire to see a new hospital and education centre; improved arterial roads, to reflect the region’s growth; an international standard convention centre; a new football and entertainment centre; a new aquatic centre, as well as direct international flights from Canberra’s recently rebuilt airport.
Long-term community planning, rooted in ambition and confidence about the future, is one of the things that Scandinavia excels at. It was one of the things that made me proud to live in Denmark — being a part of a place that was more focused on the future than the past. It was also one of the things that convinced me to swap our life there for a new one here in Canberra, because I saw a similar drive here, while I saw little in my home country, the UK.
Of course, as the Danes themselves demonstrate, you can’t do everything at once. Each project has to be costed, affordable and delivered piece by piece, so that you don’t turn the territory into one large building site which is saddled with Greece-like debts for generations to come.
But I can’t help feeling that the Canberra Times has missed the point about the ACT government’s wish list. We implore our politicians to lead rather than follow public opinion, yet when they do, they get scant credit for imagining a future that is bold.
Personally, I’d love to see these projects come to fruition. They point the way to a kind of Canberra that I’d be proud to live in and many of them are much needed.
I also applaud the government for considering Canberra’s future growth rather than sweeping those challenges under the carpet in a ‘let’s do nothing’ strategy while hoping that they will go away and leaving them to someone else to solve.
There’s little in the article (or it’s readers’ comments section) to suggest that criticism of these ideas is coupled with alternative proposals, but that’s so often the way — it’s much easier to criticise someone’s vision of what could be than to propose something better.