The residents of Canberra have woken up this morning to a novel sensation: somebody out there actually likes their city. In fact, the travel guide gurus Lonely Planet have put Canberra at number three in their Top Ten list of cities to visit in 2018 (“Ten cities that are ready for the prime time”). Canberra. Top ten. In the world. At number three. No wonder so many on social media thought it was fake news (why are the Russians so keen on Canberra all of a sudden?) or an October Fool’s Day joke (a sort of a Christmas in July for those who can’t wait until the next April – as if the everyday news coverage wasn’t ridiculous enough).
So have the Lonely Planet people actually ever been in Canberra? We don’t know, but the story only seems impressive until you realise that the city ahead of Canberra in the top ten is Detroit. Yes, Detroit. What does this Democrat-controlled, post-(and de-)industrial hell hole has to recommend itself to intrepid travellers?
After decades of neglect, Detroit is rolling again. It’s like the whole place is caffeine-buzzed, freewheeling in ideas. Young creative types jump-started the scene when they began transforming the crazy-huge slew of abandoned buildings into distilleries, bike shops and galleries.
Oh sweet Jesus, not the hipsters. Give me 8 Mile, subprime mortgages, and crack epidemic any day of the week (as a serious aside, even Richard Florida, whose 2002 book “The Rise of the Creative Class” advocated hipsetrification as the remedy for the urban decline and decay, is now having second thoughts: “Just when it seemed that our cities were really turning a corner, when people and jobs were moving back to them, a host of new urban challenges — from rising inequality to increasingly unaffordable housing and more — started to come to the fore. Seemingly overnight, the much-hoped-for urban revival has turned into a new kind of urban crisis.”)
To be fair to Lonely Planet, the rest of their list, from Seville to Oslo, seems more credible, even if I have only been to one of their pick cities, Antwerp (yes, if you are anywhere near Belgium, go and seen it; it’s beautiful). But still. Canberra. Top ten. In the world. At number three. Sorry for repeating myself. But Canberra.
Criminally overlooked Canberra packs a big punch for such a small city. National treasures are found round almost every corner and exciting new boutique precincts have emerged, bulging with gastronomic highlights and cultural must-dos. This is the first year that Canberra will host a Test cricket match at the picturesque Manuka Oval, and later in 2018 the Australian War Memorial will take centre stage as it hosts the 100th anniversary of the WWI Armistice. Significantly, Canberra is establishing a permanent Reconciliation Day into the state’s holiday calendar from 2018 onwards, to symbolise commitment to tolerance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Unidentified “national treasures” (Michelle Grattan? XXX Adult Shop? The “Mooseheads” pub and “nightclub”? The “sky whale”?), test cricket, war anniversary, and Reconciliation Day. Oh, and Kingston Foreshore, the trendy development that finally allowed Canberra to catch up to the 1990s. “Criminally” is an adverb often used in the context of Canberra, but until now never together with “overlooked”, so is this really it?
Now, if the Lonely Planet writers were really honest – and/or actually ever visited Canberra – this is the blurb they would write instead:
Canberra exists today only because neither Sydney nor Melbourne had the guts or the good sense to “rock paper scissors” for the dubious privilege of being the national capital. As is common with compromises, Canberra sucks. The city contains some of the wealthiest postcodes in Australia, but it does not produce anything, except heartache and misery. Quite the opposite; since its main industries are extractive, in a sense of strip-mining taxpayers’ wallets, Canberra is a giant open drain on the rest of the country. If you’re in Canberra in September or October, don’t miss Floriade, the famous festival of flora and arts; if you visit in May, don’t miss Spendiade, the annual festival where the nation’s worst and the dimmest get to piss away the money they don’t have on things that don’t work for the sake of bribing those who don’t contribute. Make sure you also see the new Parliament House, which is built into a mountain, the aesthetic inspired by the robber barons’ castles historically likewise built on natural elevations to allow the lords to look down on their serfs and protect their ill-gotten gains from peasant rebellions and other robber barons. You can also buy some fireworks.
I’m already rooting for Geelong for the 2019 top ten, but in the meantime who wants to come with me to Detroit? Apparently they have some good bike shops.