Liveable Canberra

We will maximise the existing social and natural assets and structure of the city to create cohesive, liveable communities. Canberra will have a quality built environment, public spaces and streetscapes that improve sustainability and connectivity.

As expressed in the Better Suburbs Statement 2018, we have heard and understood what people love about Canberra and what makes it liveable — accessible green space, the natural environment and bushland settings, connected communities, unique neighbourhoods, good design of buildings and public places, more housing choice and continuing to be a leader in sustainability and climate change adaptation.

Liveable places combine well-designed built environments with economic prosperity and strong social connections and opportunities. They enable people to live healthy lifestyles and easily access and afford a wide range of facilities and services. Canberra is such a place; our city was recognised among the top-ranked liveable cities in the world by Numbeo in 2016 and the OECD Regional Wellbeing Survey in 2014.

Canberra has strong spatial foundations of liveability, a rich network of community spaces throughout our city comprising: open (green) space and recreation areas woven through where people live and work; dispersed local centres often co-located with schools; halls; ovals; art spaces; heritage places; and community-focused land.

This mix of uses provides an opportunity to transform local neighbourhoods in the future. Land use has a key role to play in delivering walkable communities that provide significant health and wellbeing benefits.

Canberra's legacy as a planned city with a rich cultural heritage underscores our relationship with the environment.

As we look to the future, we can add to this legacy by improving quality in the design of our built and landscaped environment.

Responding to growth and change to maintain and improve the liveability of our city is fundamental to our success.

We need to support a sustainable community where we embrace our history and culture, have a diversity of housing and lifestyle choices, easy access to services and facilities within our centres and efficient and sustainable movement options for our neighbourhoods.

Related resources

Infographic of liveable Canberra indicating a chain of icons around a circle that are interlinked that describe the key characteristics of liveability. Icons include: housing and demographic diversity, good access to open space and recreation opportunities, high levels of amenity and quality design, economic opportunities, strong connected and safe communities, high levels of physical and mental health, thriving cultural and natural environment, access to education and lifelong learning opportunities.

Direction 4.1 - Deliver social infrastructure that supports strong communities

Deliver social infrastructure that meets community needs and supports strong communities.

Ensuring every Canberran has good access to community facilities and opportunities for social interaction is a key feature of liveable, inclusive and resilient communities. Social infrastructure encompasses all the facilities, services and networks that help families, groups and communities to meet their social, health, education, cultural and community needs. Effective and efficient delivery of social infrastructure requires coordination across government. It often relies on strong partnerships with not-for-profit organisations and the private sector, and ongoing engagement with the community.

Contemporary approaches maximise the use of existing infrastructure and seek benefits from the co-location and clustering of social infrastructure. Planning for community facilities across sectors provides this opportunity; for example, locating schools with sporting infrastructure and open space creates a community hub. Creating opportunities for creative and artistic participation build community and support innovation and creative industries, enhancing the liveability and competitiveness of the city.

The land used for community uses and social infrastructure is becoming increasingly limited even while servicing a growing population.

At the same time community land will become more important in a medium and higher density living environment where it is relied on because private open space is smaller and many social activities are undertaken outside the home.

A liveable city will proactively identify and align community need with land availability and maximise the benefits for the whole community. Reviewing community land, its functions, availability and community needs at a district level can help promote equitable and efficient use of land and greatest community benefit.

To help provide core community and social facilities that benefit the community, Government provides land under concessional leases. These leases are leases that have been granted for less than market value (other than rural leases, Territory owned leases and other specified exceptions). For example a concessional lease might be granted to a church or community organisation.

In order to help plan for future community needs, we will investigate land under concessional lease to determine the future use of that land for greatest public benefit.


4.1.1 Investigate social infrastructure in infill and urban expansion (greenfield) areas to meet community needs, including consideration of the following:

  • capacity of, and potential to optimise, existing social infrastructure
  • co-location or clustering to create activity nodes where viable
  • inclusive and accessible - appropriate supporting infrastructure that facilitates use and participation by people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, building social networks
  • flexible and multi-use in nature
  • central to catchment it serves and accessible by public transport and active travel
  • supports a network of facilities at a variety of scales including local, district or regional to avoid duplication and develop complementary opportunities
  • complementary to adjoining land uses
  • investigate planning mechanisms to facilitate timely delivery of key social infrastructure

4.1.2 Undertake district-level assessment of land used to deliver community-focussed functions to inform the strategic release and development of land for community use to maximise whole-of-community benefit.

4.1.3 Investigate land under concessional lease to strategically determine the future use of that land for greatest public benefit.

Direction 4.2 - Deliver recreation, open space and public spaces that support social interaction

Deliver recreation, open (green) space and public spaces that support social interaction, physical and mental health and engagement in public life.

Canberra is fortunate to have an extensive network of recreation, open spaces and public spaces that provide amenity as well as places to meet, exercise and relax. Canberra's landscape setting includes the national capital open space system, the hills, ridges and buffers between urban areas and the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee River corridors, Lake Burley Griffin and extensive areas of mountains and bushland to the south of the city.

Sport and recreation activities are part of the history and social fabric of the ACT and surrounding region and include a diverse range of opportunities (i.e. indoor sporting facilities, tennis, golf, equestrian, aquatic facilities and a range of ovals and fields to accommodate informal and formal sport and recreation). We are committed to planning for the long-term sustainability of the diverse recreation sectors in Canberra.

Recognising the significant physical, mental health and well-being benefits of active lifestyles, we sought to promote active living by incorporating appropriate principles into the Territory Plan in 2017.


4.2.1 Investigate planning mechanisms to deliver a range of sport and recreation opportunities to meet changing community need by taking a strategic city-wide approach including consideration of:

  • supporting existing and new or emerging sport and recreation sectors
  • supporting innovative and emerging sport and recreation facility delivery models
  • the allocation of land to support future sport and recreation facilities (both in existing suburbs and in the planning of new suburban areas)
  • the provision and siting of outdoor and indoor sport and recreation facilities that recognises co-location opportunities (i.e. indoor sporting facilities co-located with outdoor sporting facilities)
  • mix and scale of uses appropriate in response to sectors experiencing transition and external pressures; for example, golfing and equestrian sectors

4.2.2 Investigate opportunities to enhance the network of accessible, high quality local urban open space to meet changing community need through a district planning approach that considers:

  • distribution, role and quality of open space network
  • neighbourhood connectivity, including access to nature reserves within the urban environment
  • strategic alignment of urban growth and further investment with the open space network

Related resources

  • Draft Canberra Nature Park Management Plan
Direction 4.3 - Strengthen neighbourhoods and support their diverse character

Strengthen neighbourhoods and support their diverse character by creating strong local activity hubs.

Each local centre has its own combination of businesses, built forms and natural and cultural features that combine to form a distinct identity and character. Key to creating and supporting liveable neighbourhoods is recognising and facilitating each centre's future potential so that it may continue to adapt and respond positively to change.

Local centres are evolving and need to respond to different lifestyle and economic demands. For example, centres that may have traditionally accommodated a small supermarket, chemist and take-away food shop now support more diverse use such as cafes, niche supermarkets and small services such as bike stores, hair dressers and florists.

While many local centres are thriving, providing an important social function, others are struggling to remain economically viable and integral to their surrounding neighbourhoods.

Through the development of the Better Suburbs Statement the community highlighted the importance of amenity, street and park trees and a level of maintenance to their suburbs.

Supporting centres through a greater mix of uses, housing diversity and appropriate service levels can help strengthen local centres as destinations and hubs of activity. Centres can adapt over time when there is a variety of uses, they are easily accessible by walking, cycling and public transport, and are integrated with green space.

Initiatives such as place-making, which involves creating spaces that are locally relevant, provide the opportunity for communities to be involved in shaping their local neighbourhood, to build on their character.


4.3.1 Continue to support local community and business capacity by developing place-making approaches to support vital neighbourhoods.

4.3.2 Investigate planning mechanisms to respond to the changing role of local centres and their long-term viability and place within the hierarchy.

Direction 4.4 - Deliver diverse and affordable housing

Deliver housing that is diverse and affordable to support a liveable city.

Liveable cities offer diverse housing options that are accessible to all. Canberra has added approximately 65,000 new dwellings in the last 25 years and will need to almost double that with more than 100,000 new dwellings over the next 25 years. Single detached dwellings make up approximately 65% of our existing housing stock. Historically Canberra has been dominated by detached housing on large blocks of land. More recently, there has been a consistent supply of multi-level apartment buildings; however, there has been limited supply in medium density housing options.

People are living in smaller family units, with growing numbers of one and two-person households. While the ACT has benefited from a strong economy, rising house prices are making it increasingly difficult for young people to obtain home ownership.

Increasing the supply of well-located and designed medium density housing to the housing mix will help respond to changing demographic and community needs.

The Housing Choices project and the Collaboration Hub consultation undertaken in 2018 provided a comprehensive body of information about what is important to people. It highlighted the importance of achieving balance in keeping the things we value while providing an increased diversity of products and more affordable housing options. The consultation indicated the need to investigate the changing needs of the community, including a range of medium density and dual occupancy housing.

Medium density housing is often referred to as the 'missing middle', as shown in the diagram below.

Infographic of housing. From left to right, diagram of a cluster of houses, medium density and apartments representing 170,000 private homes. Second diagram represents houses of which there are 65% of low density dwellings in the ACT. Third diagram represents medium density houses of which there are 18% of medium density dwellings in the ACT. Fourth diagram indicates apartments which represent 17% of high density dwellings in the ACT.

Many Australian cities lack adequate representation of this component of the housing market, prompting proactive planning policy changes.

For Canberra to remain desirable as a city of choice for living and working in, we need an expanded diversity of housing in the right locations that is affordable and reflects the changing needs of our community.

The community has clearly articulated that our future housing must be:

  • diverse - offering choice in location and housing type
  • respectful of our landscape and existing neighbourhood character
  • affordable to the whole community
  • of high quality design and construction
  • working to minimise our ecological footprint


4.4.1 Plan for a range of higher density development in appropriate and clearly defined locations with a mix of apartment and dwelling types to improve diversity and access, and to support:

  • ageing in place
  • changing family housing preferences
  • range of affordability
  • adaptable apartments

4.4.2 Identify priority areas for medium density housing in locations that meet diverse community needs based on:

  • proximity to centres or activity hubs
  • access to public transport and active travel options
  • site specifics including topography
  • physical and social infrastructure capacity
  • neighbourhood character, including heritage issues and design
  • existing subdivision pattern
  • solar access
  • living infrastructure

4.4.3 Building on the Housing Choices consultation, continue to develop planning mechanisms to facilitate the delivery of medium density housing options.

4.4.4 Building on the Housing Choices consultation, investigate options for dual occupancies in the RZ1 zone and RZ2 zone having regard to the following minimum considerations:

  • appropriate residential densities
  • character and streetscape
  • access to services, infrastructure and public transport
  • site planning and access
  • appropriate minimum block sizes including titling
  • size of houses and building footprint on the block
  • solar access
  • integration of living infrastructure
  • other considerations related to the scale and form of development on a site

4.4.5 Investigate planning provisions to facilitate the delivery of affordable housing across the spectrum of community needs.

Direction 4.5 - Encourage high quality design, built form and places for a changing climate

Encourage high quality design, built form and places for a changing climate.

As our city grows, good urban design is essential to make sure we have integrated design for our buildings, public places, streets and where we live. To provide quality in our environments we need to work holistically across disciplines and collaborate with design professionals, the community and the private sector. A liveable city should have well designed, sustainable and diverse places for all.

The ACT Government has a strong commitment to revitalising urban areas through place making, and has undertaken several place-making initiatives with the local community. Place-making encourages community and business involvement in the design and the creation of liveable and attractive neighbourhoods and communities.

As Canberra evolves to becoming a more compact city, living infrastructure needs to become more important as an integral part of the city. Living infrastructure can provide the balance required by urban intensification; with a growing population access to parks and green spaces can provide benefits including increased physical activity, mental health and social interaction to improve liveability.

Improving design and responding to key environmental challenges help create environments that are resilient to climate change and meet the needs of our diverse community.


4.5.1 Investigate a range of processes to improve the design and quality of our buildings and public places, including:

  • continue to support the establishment of the National Capital Design Review Panel for the ACT as a city-wide design review process to improve the quality of development outcomes and the public realm. This multi-disciplinary panel with independent experts will provide advice on significant private and public projects
  • establish guidelines for the ACT to improve the quality of design in development outcomes for buildings and public places on public and private land while encouraging new design approaches and innovative, climate-wise sustainable design
  • support the implementation of design guidelines in government policy and statutory planning provisions to improve design quality outcomes
  • support the development of place-making guidelines to encourage place-experience and deliver high quality public places and streets
  • encourage place-making initiatives and public place improvements to guide planning and design for better public places and streets across the city and as part of urban renewal projects such as grants or community programs
  • conserve heritage buildings and places and value their contribution to the character of our city

4.5.2 Investigate policy and planning mechanisms to improve streetscape design for better tree canopy cover and improved verge design of streets that includes:

  • develop streetscape guidelines for our streets and improve sustainability outcomes, enhance connectivity and create opportunities for place making
  • review planning and development codes, guidelines and standards to improve sustainability in streetscape design including tree canopy and planting, permeability of the verge, servicing, block width and driveways
  • enhance biodiversity and habitat connectivity in planning for urban residential areas through streetscape planting

4.5.3 Integrate policy and planning mechanisms to enhance living infrastructure for the planning and design of residential areas in our neighbourhoods. Consider:

  • reviewing planning and development codes, guidelines and standards to incorporate living infrastructure objectives that include:
    • In precinct planning and greenfield estate design for residential areas provide a connected open space network and sufficient tree canopy cover for public spaces
    • In urban intensification areas provide sufficient planting area and tree canopy cover in the planning of neighbourhoods, on residential blocks and for public spaces
    • mitigating against the loss of tree canopy cover, permeable surfaces and planting area as a result of residential urban intensification
  • encouraging community education about living infrastructure at the neighbourhood level
  • supporting best-practice water sensitive urban design principles including implementation of the new Water Sensitive Urban Design Code and ACT Practice Guidelines for Water Sensitive Design in the development of our public areas, neighbourhoods and buildings
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