One of the fun parts of this job is getting to contribute a regular column to The Chronicle. Here's my latest...
Flower power, The Chronicle, 7 October
In 1637, Dutch tulip mania was at its peak. In that year, a single bulb could trade for 10 times the average wage. History records a bulb exchanged for 12 acres of land. One unfortunate sailor was jailed when he mistook a tulip bulb for an onion and ate it.
As an economist, I can’t help thinking of this story when I walk through Floriade each year. While the Dutch tulip bubble burst after a few years, Floriade is now in its 27th year. But the same intensely coloured flower that drew speculators to part with fortunes centuries ago now draws over 400,000 people to Canberra to enjoy the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest spring festival.
When the first Floriade was held in 1988, Canberra’s population had yet to hit 300,000 and the Gungahlin region was little more than an outline on a surveyors’ map. The Canberra Centre was just a single block of shops known as the Monaro Mall, and the openings of cultural landmarks like the National Museum of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery were still over a decade away.
Canberra was more provincial back then, but plenty of people believed that it had promise. In the decades since, those people imagined and planned for the bustling city we have today: a bevy of new suburbs, a funkified Braddon and a chic NewActon, a stunning National Arboretum and public art installations that bring a smile to the lips.
Each of those projects has enriched Canberra, but none was without controversy. Each of them called on this community to look beyond the pressing demands of today and imagine the kind of city we’d want for tomorrow.
I hope that in another 27 years we’ll be looking back with pride at the decisions made today on projects like the City to the Lake urban renewal initiative, the Australia Forum meeting complex and the Capital Metro light rail link. These are challenging megaprojects, and it’s not surprising that there’s been a lot of debate about them.
But as we come together to have those conversations, we need to challenge critics to say more than ‘no’. All of us need to be challenged to outline our alternative visions for Canberra’s future.
Just as Australia on the world stage punches above our weight, so too Canberra is a small city that thinks big. There’s never been a finer time to live in our city, and the task today is to look to the horizon and imagine how we can make it even better.