Thursday, November 12, 2009

On bookshelves and hypocrisy (or good stuff about Canberra)

Although I hasten to add that that the two are entirely unrelated.

The husband built bookshelves today! I am very impressed that I know someone who can build bookshelves. And in one day. I give you a little time to quietly marvel.

**** **** **** ****

The hypocrisy is about the national capital. I am thrilled and grateful to be living in a place with no traffic congestion or air pollution. I love the trees and space. But this, of course, means that the city is rather thinly spread. We don't have a lot of areas of high population density. The planning also means that employment centres are a lot more spread out than in most 'cities'. There's not one centre, there are several - round the Parliamentary area, Civic, Belconnen, Woden and Tuggeranong. Bottlenecks are rare.

But of course, it's exactly this which makes public transport impossible to run effectively or efficiently. So I take joy in the pleasure of a quiet, clean, well-serviced city and curse curse curse the slow and inconvenient bus system.

But hyprocisy is not the greatest luxury, actually. That would be the pleasure of not having to sit immobile in a car for an hour and a half on a so-called freeway twice a day every day. Oh I cannot tell you the pleasure it brings. Those of you living in congested cities probably notice every day how frustrating it is, but I can tell you, you don't know how badly it burns inside you, how much it weighs you down and makes your life incrementally less bearable until it stops.

Sigh of relief and relief again.

Now, after Paul Keating's anti-Canberra rant many of the locals (introduced and born-and-bred) argued that Canberra was quite nice actually, thanks for asking. Many of them mentioned the lack of traffic as a key benefit. Nay-sayers seized upon this as an indication of what a weakly and unappealing town we have. Nuh. What we have is a town where you can do what you like without the traffic interfering to make the journey hideous, to make every single thing you do every day somehow less pleasant to downright unbearable.

There are many, many delights about the heart of the nation. I live here in a kind of mood of wonder and ease. But the peace of being able to get about and do all the good stuff is certainly a part of it.

This may be the first of a random series called 'stuff I like about my town'. It won't be a hugely frequent series if it is dependent on the excitment of new furnitured, though.


Armagnac Daddy said...

I don't think it's hypocritical to experience such a paradox. I think it embodies something that is undeniably good about Canberra (traffic ease, with related space, fresher air, etc etc) and highly related not-so-goods in terms of its standing as a city (lack of 'organic' cafe and bar cultures, over prescriptive bureaucracy, unacceptable and awful public transport situation).

My Paris flat option would be a small city, lots of open spaces and fresh air, that had great culture and life at the same time. It probably won't happen, all the things I love about a big city tend not to arise in small contexts.

I think it's a legit debate for outsiders to have in respect of Canberra, in a way it might not be for other smaller regional towns. The cultural 'issues' in respect of Canberra undoubtedly do two things: 1) restrict the pool of people prepared to work there, and therefore in this case the pool of people from which senior federal public sector managers can be selected, 2) in turn shape the way those people reason, in the sense that they are at arm's length from the type of environment most of Australia's population lives in.

PK's very rude and I'm not surprised locals would take some affront. He also in calling it a mistake I think ignores how strong regional prejudices are- and it has to be said that he is a particularly overt Sydney bigot.

I actually think the big mistake was not the idea of a capitol in between Sydney and Melbourne, but rather the way they didn't put it in Albury/Wodonga, which has its own population and industry base and so would always have a raison d'etre beyond just being 'the capitol' (I hope I used the right tal/tol there!).

persiflage said...

I lived in Canberra for 36 years, arriving when the population was about 60,000, and while it was difficult to leave family and friends, gradually, as the city grew, as family arrived, and we made friends, and then when I had a wonderfully interesting job working for the parliament, I grew to love it deeply. I have now been living in Sydney for nearly ten years, and although I have settled in now, there are so many things about Sydney which are awful (the climate, the traffic, the geography, the obsession with real estate, the noise, the inability to get anything done, the parochialism...)

Australians should realise that it was the inability of the state politicians and the framers of the constitution to agree on whether Sydney or Melbourne should be the national capital. The compromise was that it should not be Sydney, but must be in NSW within 200 miles of Sydney.

I agree that a car is a necessity, but it is easy to get around and you don't risk a nervous breakdown every time you drive.

Canberra is beautiful, the climate is far more pleasant than Sydney's, and there are many things to do. As for Paul Keating knocking Canberra, well, he has a great turn of phraseYou know where he stands, and I am an admirer of his, but he is not right about everything. He has lots of views on town planning, and they are worth considering.

Penthe said...

I think it is impossible to live in Canberra without developing an appreciation of town planning and the many different views about it. One of the things I love about living here. The people here have very strong opinions and ideas about the kind of city they wish Canberra to be. Including ex PMs (dead or alive). Armagny's comment about 'over prescriptive bureaucracy' is true, but it's sort of one of the 'organic' things about Canberra - you have to accept it in the same way you accept the terrain in Sydney - it's part of what makes Canberra unique and precious.

So speaketh the bureaucrat, I guess.

Roger Parkinson said...

Canberra is very nice. We went there some years back and thought so then, though a couple of days doesn't tell you what it is like to live there.

I completely agree about commute times. I used to spend a lot of time commuting, but now I have a 10min walk. Sitting in a car leeches your energy. Even on a bus you can read or think because you aren't driving.

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trampoline girl said...

I would love to visit Canberra some day soon.