CAPITheticAL: a design ideas competition for a hypothetical Australian capital city
For all the praise and criticism surrounding Canberra as an idea and location, rarely has the logic of its selection process been called into question: Canberra’s only mistake was its conception as a singular occurrence. If the mission 100 years ago was not: ‘find one Canberra’, but: ‘find 101 Canberras’, the results would have been far less problematic, even enjoyable. Viewed in this light, perhaps Canberra was just the beginning… The 147 Capitals of Australia proposes the decentralisation of the 205 Government departments, agencies and services to regional and country Australia. Under this plan, each of the 146 new capitals (Canberra is retained as the seat of parliament) will receive a new Civic Forum to house its allocated government department, along with other local and regional services. These Civic Fora are intended as sites for a renewed engagement with the political system in Australia. They are places where Federal, State and Local members can address their constituents, where ministers will visit the various agencies within their portfolios. The distribution of services formerly concentrated in Canberra and the state capitals will bring the Australian Government into direct contact with a wider geographical section of the nation, entering a new chapter of participatory government in Australia. This redistribution of government agencies will be the first phase of economic stimulus in the development of selected country towns into the regional cities of tomorrow. With the exception of Canberra, the selection of Australia’s new 146 capitals is based on factors of size (populations between 2k and 12k) and remoteness (distance from a major urban centres). The 147 Capitals of Australia are de-capitalised, anti-monuments that reflect the life and landscape of Australia as is, rather than an idealised version of what a representative capital city should be. These are the places that produce the country’s food, energy, and resources. They are located close to Australia’s iconic places of cultural and natural significance, the sites of national and international tourism. They are the places where the majority of indigenous Australians live. The 147 Capitals of Australia, imagines an alternative future for country and regional areas – one of growth, prosperity and equality with the coastal cities. For the purposes of illustration, four randomly selected case studies demonstrate the impact and potential of the decentralisation of government departments across country and regional Australia: Katherine’s allocation of the ‘Indigenous Land Corporation’ shows the positive economic and representative function of decentralised government agencies; Roma, as the new headquarters of ‘Meat and Livestock Australia,’ demonstrates the growth potential of these towns in coming decades; Collie, as the new major centre of the ‘Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’ illustrates the economic and urban planning potentials offered by a large government agency; finally, Bega, as the new home of ‘Dairy Australia’, shows how a new Civic Forum fits within the existing fabric of Australia’s newest capitals. The 147 Capitals of Australia suggests that country and regional Australia have a meaningful role to play in the future of the nation. The case studies presented here show that decentralisation and regionalisation does not mean a levelling of the differences between city and country Australia or their merging into one indistinguishable whole, but the cultivation of their distinctive characters and cultures.
Competition website: http://wp.architecture.com.au/capithetical/. CAPITheticAL was an international design competition that invited people to look back at the big ideas that shaped Australias national capital and look forward to the big ideas that will shape future Australian cities in the 21st century and beyond. In the lead up to Canberra’s Centenary celebrations in 2013, it is timely to consider the factors and influences that lead to the city’s creation. Artists, graphic designers, architects, urban planners and environmentalists are invited to review Canberra’s history and help our nation imagine how a hypothetical national capital might be created today.