Narratives of sustainability in the urban landscape: Canberra’s National Capital Open Space System (ncoss)

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Narratives of sustainability in the urban landscape: Canberra’s National Capital Open Space System (NCOSS)
Andrew MacKenzie

University of Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Dr Shanti Sumartojo

The Australian National University, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

ABSTRACT: Sustainability is a central ongoing concern for urban governments and communities, and the management of the urban landscape is an important part of metropolitan responses to challenges such as population growth and climate change. Urban landscapes provide essential social and ecological resources, and the way they are imagined and shaped is subject to intense scrutiny.

However, while official narratives embodied in planning legislation make reference to the notion of landscape value, little is known about what meanings the public ascribes to the urban landscape, including its social, cultural and heritage value. Furthermore, it is not always clear whether current urban planning practices reflect the way that communities value the landscape.

Using a case study from Canberra, the Australian ‘bush’ capital, this paper examines what the urban landscape means to people and how these meanings relate to ‘official’ narratives embodied in planning policy. In particular, it explores how the community understands the role of the landscape in their daily lives and what the implications might be for planning for sustainable development.

To do so, it reports on the findings from a recent review of community attitudes towards Canberra’s National Capital Open Space System (NCOSS), a key element of the city’s metropolitan plan. This review highlighted the importance of the social meaning of the landscape for city governments trying to balance development and conservation priorities in order to produce sustainable urban form. Based on this material, this paper explores the space between official narratives of the landscape and public or vernacular ones, with a particular focus on the implicit heritage values of the NCOSS.


Sustainability is a central ongoing concern for urban governments and communities. Likewise, the management of the urban landscape is an important part of metropolitan responses to population growth and climate change. Such landscapes provide essential social and ecological resources, and as cities become denser, the way these landscapes are imagined and shaped is subject to intense local scrutiny.

This paper presents one example of how the urban landscape has been understood by both the community and the metropolitan government, highlighting the ongoing dilemma faced by cities seeking to balance development and conservation priorities in order to produce sustainable urban form. It draws on findings from a recent review of the management of the landscape of Canberra’s National Capital Open Space System (NCOSS). The NCOSS is the term used to describe the open spaces designed to recognise and preserve the landscape setting of Canberra, Australia’s inland national capital of 330,000 people. This system essentially comprises the inner hills and ridges which surround and frame the urban areas, the major lakes and river corridors, and the distant mountains and bushlands to the west of the Murrumbidgee River. Closely associated with NCOSS are the Territory's rural lands which also contribute significantly to the landscape setting.

The NCOSS sits underneath the bureaucratic umbrella of the National Capital Plan (NCP), a document which regulates development within certain areas of the city of Canberra. The central organising principle of the NCP is that it ascribes ‘national significance’ to aspects of Canberra’s urban development. Unlike other Australian cities, Canberra carries a set of meanings woven into its landscape that are simultaneously national in their political and official symbolism and local to the specific ecological and environmental qualities of the area. This includes a commitment to the ‘preservation and enhancement of the landscape features which give the National Capital its character and setting’ at the same time that it promotes ‘the development of a city which both respects environmental values and reflects national concerns with the sustainability of Australia's urban areas’ (NCP 2012). In the NCOSS, the local and the national landscape narratives are closely linked and this creates challenges for balancing the heritage values with the development needs of the city. The landscape is an urban design tool that has fundamentally influenced the spatial structure of Canberra. The NCP protects in legislation, the physical setting and the aesthetic values provided by the landscape.

Figure 1. Landscape setting of Canberra ( NCA 2012)

In 2010 the National Capital Authority (NCA) committed to reviewing the provisions of the NCP designed to recognise and protect the landscape values in the ACT. It recognised the need to protect the heritage values of the landscape as an essential urban design legacy, while coming to terms with the need to foster and promote sustainable development. A year later the NCA commissioned a three year landscape research project beginning with a review of the NCOSS.

Drawing on the initial results of the material, this paper discusses the community understanding of the landscape and how it relates to the way the NCOSS is represented in Canberra’s current planning regime. It argues that community attitudes must be considered in any determination of how residual landscapes should be preserved and managed in the face of the urban densification that, like many other cities around the world, Canberra is facing. In exploring what the urban landscape means to people, it will ask how these meanings relate to ‘official’ narratives of sustainability and heritage embedded in contemporary urban planning policy.

In the next section, we contextualise the NCOSS review with a brief overview of how ‘landscape’ is understood in the nation’s capital and how that reflects broader attitudes toward landscapes in urban Australia. We then turn to the review itself and how the community understands the role of the city’s landscape in their daily lives. We conclude with a discussion of some potential implications for planning for sustainable development.

    1. 1.2 The Australian urban ‘landscape’, consolidation and sustainability

‘Landscape’ as a concept has long been scrutinised, and particular attention has, until recently, been directed toward the pictorial and scenic aspects of its evolution (Wylie, 2007). The appreciation of landscapes in Australia reflects the colonial history of expansion and occupation in and through the language used to record the landscape. Carter (1987) argued the language of the picturesque was central to the exploration and subsequent occupation of colonial landscapes in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia by pioneers. Explorers’ journals in colonial Australia automatically resorted to the picturesque convention in order to impose systems of land appropriation consistent with the Anglo imperial practice of occupation and settlement (Carter, 1987). The right to land and the right to property were intertwined with the way picturesque language represented the landscape. The use of the picturesque in this way was not restricted to describing domestic settings, but its use in art and poetry was central to the expansion of the British Empire. Landscape was productive land, and by recording its colonies in text and image, through a picturesque lens, Britain legitimised the colonization of both occupied and unoccupied territory (Bermingham, 1986).

The imperial focus on the productive value of land, qualified as picturesque, was accompanied by an aesthetic control and ordering of the urban landscape (Cosgrove 2008). By the end of the nineteenth century, the new science of town planning had also appropriated spatial and moral order to describe the ideal urban form. The picturesque not only came to imply control over resources including water, trees and labour, it permitted individuals to display social standing and unprecedented wealth (Olwig 2002).

Despite many attempts to promote alternatives, the scenic qualities of a picturesque setting still dominate landscape types in many western cities today, and Canberra is one of the most intact examples of a garden city in a picturesque setting in the world today. As we will show in our discussion of the NCOSS review below, this aesthetic control through scenic interpretations of the landscape is still evident in both the city’s spatial panning polices, and community attitudes to that landscape. The dominant urban form similarly follows this attitude, even though contemporary urban planning logic concerned with how cities should develop sustainably is at odds with the landscape-dominated city.

The form and configuration of Australian cites developed during most of the twentieth century was typified by a small brick bungalow on a large lot surrounded by vegetation and separated from the street by a large grass verge which contained an avenue of street trees. The style of domestic properties was substantially low density and dominated by open spaces containing lawns, gardens and trees. As a result Australian cities spread rapidly to become some of the lowest density conurbations in the world. However, by the 1970s, the demand for more compact cities and the desire to improve environmental outcomes created a renewed interest in local environmental activism and accountability of local authorities to environmental justice principles (Gleeson and Lowe, 2001). As a result, the environmental debate not only shifted away from low-density sprawl, but also eroded broad scale urban planning. This suited the housing construction industry, which advocated for a reduction in centralised planning control and supported free-market approaches to improved environmental outcomes in the planning and development of cities (Pennington, 1999).

More recently, the social and economic costs of urban growth have prompted a more strategic approach to controlling the spread of Australian cites on a national level. Since 2000, all major Australian cities have revisited their metropolitan plans: these have included Melbourne 2030, the Sydney Metropolitan plan, Brisbane’s SEQ plan, Perth’s network city, Adelaide’s Strategic Plan and the Canberra Spatial Plan. All of these plans have promoted containment and consolidation strategies to accommodate increasing urban populations extending the urban edge of the city. The main objective of a containment strategy is to create an urban boundary to stop the outward expansion of the suburban fringe. This has two main effects. Firstly, it limits future Greenfield development from replacing productive non-urban land on the fringes of the city. Secondly, it encourages local governments to adopt a more aggressive consolidation strategy to accommodate growing populations.

This focus on consolidation aims to increase the density of dwellings in an existing urban area, a key strategy to develop more sustainable cities. This is achieved by redeveloping existing housing stock to increase the number of homes, and presumably the number of residents, living in established suburbs. Many Australian cities have turned to this strategy as a sustainable development solution to pressing social, environmental and economic challenges. It is also seen as preferable to constructing new residential areas which place increasing pressure on existing resources (Smith, 1997).

In Canberra the state planning authority has adopted growth control policies to restrict development to within fifteen kilometres of the city centre and increase the amount of infill development to fifty percent of all new housing (Canberra Spatial Plan 2004). Both the consolidation and containment strategies in Canberra are well documented and their benefits are promoted widely. Yet these strategies are placing new pressures on existing urban landscapes as city governments look for means of achieving these consolidation and containment goals. Perhaps more than any other city in Australia, Canberra can accommodate such development without adversely affecting the landscape character of the city. However, the shift away from centralised planning and the increased density of both Greenfield and infill development presents ongoing challenges to retaining the Griffins’ landscape legacy. Add to this the shifting land management priorities to deal with climate uncertainty, and the value of the urban landscape remains under the spotlight.

Canberra itself has a particular planning history that is very different to other Australian cities, as it was a product of a master plan resulting from a design competition commissioned by the new federal government. Through this process, the Australian people sought a national capital that expressed the symbolic union of the states to form the Commonwealth. The new capital was of such importance that the federal senate committee for choosing a site and the commissioning of an international design competition felt the city should mirror the ambition and optimism of the nation in its infancy (Headon 2003). The landscape played a central part in this new national identity through the extensive plantings by Charles Weston along with the development of the garden suburbs by Sulman and the eventual adoption of the Griffins’ plan, gazetted in 1925. However, while the framework and landscape vernacular of the city was established in the first thirty years, the majority of urban development in Canberra occurred after World War Two.

In Canberra, this unique urban planning legacy presents particular challenges to balancing the demands of contemporary development. The National Capital Authority (NCA), the body that administers parts of Canberra’s natural and built environments, has embarked upon a series of reviews to gauge what values the community ascribes to Canberra’s landscapes and how the city should be planned in order to respect these views. In the next section, we turn to one aspect of this series of reviews, which provides the empirical substance of this paper. We begin by explaining the relevant aspects of Canberra’s landscape and urban planning regimes before turning to the NCOSS and what the results of its review reveal about the attitudes of respondents to sustainability and heritage.

  1. 2 Canberra and the National Capital Open Space System

Although Canberra was founded in 1913, as early as 1902, the search for the new national capital placed a very high priority on the visual quality of the landscape setting of the future city (Headon 2003). In this sense, it echoed the emphasis on the picturesque, discussed above, with its long tradition in Anglo-imperial landscape values. Furthermore, it was seen as important for the future citizens to enjoy ready access to parks, gardens and the surrounding natural environment. Such an environment was also seen as an important structural element essential to the formation of a modern city. A key element of the Griffin's competition entry for the new capital included Marion Mahony's renderings of their proposed design that showed a city nestled in the landscape. It was this landscape concept that won over the jury. To this day the central elements of Mahony’s artistic rendering, the monumental building circumscribing a central lake and the surrounding forested hill slopes and without any development persist today. It is these hill slopes and forested corridors that form the most prominent element of the NCOSS.

It took fifty years for this landscape setting to be formally protected under legislation. In 1964 the Australian Commonwealth Government agreed to recognise 'areas of special national concern' in order to protect the intent and symbolic purpose of the Griffin plan. It was not until 1975 that the NCOSS was formally conceptualised as part of a study to determine the needs for the planning and management of open space in the ACT. A 1977 review of the NCOSS concluded that 'Canberra needs, deserves and can afford a generous open space system, and it should preserve open space now for the future needs of a major metropolis. The system should be integrated, sometimes physically, always in terms of policy, management and design' (Seddon 1977). In 1983 the Commonwealth Government accepted that 'the NCOSS should remain a Commonwealth responsibility in the event of self-government for the ACT.' In the lead up to self government in 1988, the National Capital Planning Authority recommended that the NCOSS should be included as designated land in the NCP, rather than falling under the jurisdiction of the new territorial government. This decision underscored the fundamental aim of the NCOSS, which is to preserve the landscape setting of Australia’s capital, an aspect of Canberra that has been considered of national importance since its founding.

The NCOSS was formally incorporated into planning regulation through a series of planning and policy reviews undertaken by the NCDC during the 1970s and 80s. These reports identified the NCOSS for its amenity and recreation value for residents and visiting tourists. Today the NCOSS has four main identified functions:

  • Symbolic space: the NCOSS incorporates the key symbolic elements of the gazetted 1925 plan based on the Griffin's design for the city, and provides the settings for the major national cultural institutions in the Central National Area. The larger landscape setting of the ‘bush capital’ is regarded as an important symbolic element of the city's urban structure, with significance for the people of Australia as well as the local population.

  • Living space: landscape amenity for recreation was considered particularly important in the development of the NCOSS following the 1964 Commonwealth recognition of areas of special national concern. At the time, neighbourhood planning included the provision of a minimum area of open space per person in a suburb. This open space provision is still considered an important community amenity, as the recent NCOSS review’s survey responses show.

  • Linking space: legislation regarding the NCOSS restricts development within it. In doing so, the NCOSS enshrines the cultural view of Canberra as a city in the landscape. In linking 'the city with the country', the fingers of urban open space provide views into and out of the city (if only from particular elevated vantage points) and frame the suburban edge. This provides a clear urban boundary, a good fit with larger strategies of urban infill and consolidation. The concept of linking space relates closely to the notion of ‘symbolic space’ because it highlights the symbolic value of living in the 'bush capital' rather than capturing ecological values associated with the spatial structure of the open space network.

  • Conservation space: this function provides a higher level of protection for specific areas designed to recognise heritage values. Today the landscape setting including the NCOSS offers a resilience buffer to natural and man-made change, and the NCOSS is increasingly understood in ecological terms of adaption, resilience, appropriation and flexibility.

    1. 2.2 The 2011 NCOSS Review

In 2011, the National Capital Authority commissioned a sustained research project into the landscape values of the ACT, seeking to understand how these landscape values are understood, expressed and incorporated in the National Capital Plan. This research project has been conducting a series of reviews that directly impact landscape values in the ACT, through which the NCA can develop a better picture of the way in which the NCP reflects those values held to be important. The landscape has been chosen as the subject of this study for a number of reasons, broadly defined in terms of community, conservation, amenity and national symbolic values.

Reviewing the NCOSS has presented some significant conceptual challenges in terms of reconciling the different perspectives of the government and the community. For example, the NCOSS as described in the NCP has two objectives. The first is to provide an aspirational description of the landscape values in terms of amenity, ecological significance and community attitudes. The second concerns the specific land use objectives in terms of development by identifying permitted land uses and special requirements for defined areas. In addition, there are also provisions for informing management and master plans that incorporate landscapes in the NCOSS such as the Lake Burley Griffin and Adjacent Lands Heritage Management Plan 2009. In terms of the review, the practical challenges and competing priorities result in a need for a policy mix that preserve the tacit community held values to do with experiencing the landscape, while allowing and encouraging developments that promote a more sustainable city.

For these reasons, landscape was seen a central organising principle for examining the city of Canberra because it is best understood from multiple perspectives. The ecological values and interconnectivity of landscape processes require the planners to look beyond artificial planning and land use boundaries. At the same time, they are required to consider the scenic values and incorporate the landscape as an urban design element tracing back to the Griffin plan. These aesthetic principles are of such high importance that they are prescribed in section 10 part 2 (a) of The Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act. Finally, the community values contain the local knowledge about how the landscape is used, valued and managed.

Landscapes also provide important social, economic and ecological services that affect the well being of residents and visitors to the capital. Most importantly, the landscape, particularly in Canberra, provides a sense of identity and belonging to residents who develop an affinity with living in the landscape regardless of the prescribed aesthetic values pertaining to national significance. The NCA recognised that it needed a better understanding of the NCOSS, both in terms of whole-of-landscape values, and in terms of more detailed management practices and land use issues. As those landscapes cross boundaries and ignore jurisdictional barriers, the review presented an opportunity to explore possible partnerships between government agencies; industry and community to better communicate and implement programs based on best practice and shared values.

    1. 2.2.1 Consultation and survey results

The NCOSS review sought to identify how the NCP objectives are articulated to land users and managers and how the NCP can improve the understanding and incorporation of these objectives. During April and May 2011, forty-nine stakeholder groups and individuals were identified from a range of areas from community organisations, user groups, non-government organisations, academics, professionals and other individuals engaged in land planning management and conservation. Twenty-four individuals agreed to an hour long interview, the purpose of which was to provide scope of the range of issues to be addressed.

In addition, the ‘Have Your Say’ community engagement website hosted by the NCA provided three ways for individuals and community organisations to provide responses to the NCOSS review. These included a survey, a short answer section, and a formal response section. The NCOSS was divided into twenty-two separate areas delineated by a colour coded shape and accompanied by screen information about each of the areas. This allowed respondents to comment on the part of the NCOSS that most interested or concerned them.

The survey received 122 submissions with 423 votes. The frequency of responses indicated that there was a strong sense of the ecological and recreational values of the NCOSS, whereas the symbolic and economic values were not as prevalent. More broadly, a measure of environmental values recorded the highest number of votes, followed by a measure of social values.

Figure 2. Survey responses to ‘What do you most value about the NCOSS?’ (NCA 2011)

Forty-three short answer responses in addition to the votes were provided and the dominant themes emerging from the short answer and formal responses included:

  • The visual and symbolic importance of the NCOSS to the overall look and feel of Canberra is valued; in particular, the role of the NCOSS as a back drop to the city. The NCOSS reflects the vision of Griffin’s original plan and makes Canberra unique. It is an important part of our heritage.

  • The bushland close to the city centre makes Canberra much more liveable than many other cities. It provides (a clear urban edge with easy access to nature and waterways for local residents.

  • The NCOSS makes Canberra a sustainable environment that provides many social and health benefits. However the future development of the city must not diminish the NCOSS values, in particular the scenic values. Urban densification may become a threat to visual and physical access to the NCOSS.

The NCOSS is an area rich in biodiversity and helps provide resilient spaces for plants and animals. It has rare and endangered ecological communities and the overall environmental values of the NCOSS are at risk of being significantly degraded and need to be conserved and protected.

    1. 2.2.2 Findings - Sustainability and heritage in the NCOSS review

There were several ways that the NCOSS review dealt with the specific issues of sustainability and heritage. The primary means by which the NCP describes the significance and function of the NCOSS is through reference to two of the systems four main function, ‘symbolic space’ and ‘conservation space’. An example of how this appears in the detail of the NCOSS is evident in its description of the ‘Hills, Ridges and Buffer Spaces’ as one of the four main land use categories (the other three are Lake Walter Burley Griffin, River Corridors, and Mountains and Bushlands):

“The environment and Australian landscape character of the hills and ridges will be protected and enhanced to provide a unified landscape setting for the National Capital”. (NCP, 8.5.3e)
In this definition, heritage and sustainability come together through the notion of the particular landscape of the capital. This landscape is described in terms of both its environmental qualities, and its ‘Australian character’, suggesting that its ecological value must be understood, at least in part, in terms of its social and cultural value. The survey responses reflected community understanding of the NCOSS as an ecological space (for example, a habitat for plants and animals) and a recreational space (‘where I walk, run or ride my bicycle’). In this way the top-down narrative of a scenic component of the city’s landscape heritage sits comfortably with the bottom-up community view that the NCOSS is a living space of human and non-human alike. However when the concepts of development and management were examined, tension arose as to how this might occur.

In terms of responses to the review, the discussion of sustainability and heritage appeared across all of the different methodologies. For example, in the expert interviews, the questions referred to sustainability by discussing how environmental and conservation management planning could be improved, and what types of development should be permitted in the NCOSS, if any. At the heart of this question was the definition of development. As with many questions of land management, many respondents felt the NCOSS could be better managed through more funding, better information sharing and political will.

Furthermore, the on-line survey questions, tabulated above, asked three separate questions germane to issues of environmental sustainability. These related specifically to the NCOSS’s function as a wildlife corridor, its role in both improving the city’s air and water quality, and in offsetting Canberra’s carbon emissions. Two of these questions were in the top three attributes of the NCOSS most frequently identified as important by respondents. This suggests that respondents value the NCOSS in terms of both its specific ecological attributes and its role in making the city more sustainable. The city has for most of its existence been referred to as the ‘bush capital’, and despite the derogatory origins of the term (Vernon 2006), the ‘bush capital’s’ natural environment legacy remains deeply ingrained in the way the city is understood.
The green spaces of Canberra are what makes this city what it is… (sic) it is the bush and the spaces that give the city character. We should not try to be something we are not, but preserve the character
Less common was the notion that the values of the landscape could be protected or even enhanced through development. In part this was because development was seen in its most extreme and intense form of land use which involved urbanising open space and through this process making the landscape private or inaccessible to the public. For example, one respondent said: ‘I am most concerned about recent developments that jeopardise the green spaces that make Canberra what it is’. Yet a number of the most successful developments of the open space in the city have occurred in NCOSS areas. After fires that destroyed many forestry plantations surrounding the city, new landscape uses were developed including developments that were sensitive to the heritage values of the landscape. However, to many residents, the landscape and the city’s character are intertwined in a way that prevents a genuine conversation between land managers and the community about how to preserve the heritage values and at the same time allow for sustainable development.

The tacit values the landscape presented as a defining characteristic of the city also reinforced the scenic qualities of the landscape setting. Many individual respondents in the short answer section of the online survey implicitly returned to the relationship between the landscape and urban consolidation by singling out either the view of or from Canberra’s ‘inner hills’ as holding special value both for themselves as individuals, and for the symbolic language of the city. As one respondent put it:

Not building on ridges, hills, etc is important for the overall look and feel of Canberra. We want to see bush/grass/greenery not looking at other rows of houses (and they looking at us!).
More general references to ‘green’ or ‘open’ spaces also linked the individual experience of the city to its larger symbolic identity.
[The NCOSS] provides the landscape backdrop for the national capital…
Open spaces close to everyone make Canberra much more liveable than other major cities.
Open spaces/bushland make Canberra way different to cities of ugly cement and urban sprawl. They are an inherent part of the design of Canberra.
As with the NCP’s definition of the ‘inner hills’ of the city as having interdependent environmental and social values, for many of these respondents, the symbolic landscape of the capital was inextricable from the individual experience of the NCOSS environment. In other words, the landscape that the NCOSS was designed to both create and protect, with emphasis on the national significance of the system, appeared to be recognised by respondents. Importantly, this was most often couched in terms of visual amenity and urban ‘liveability’. It also included a strong concern about building infill and urban consolidation, as well as the ecological value of the NCOSS. This issue was related to both the ‘inner hills’ areas and the less metropolitan mountainous and riverine regions. Such responses were usually expressed in terms of threat, or endangerment, particularly in terms of urban encroachment. The relatively inner city area of Red Hill, for example, was described in one response as being of ‘enormous ecological value’ , and in another as the site of an ‘endangered ecosystem’. The symbolic value of the landscape was best understood by the community through the experience of being in rather than seeing the landscape from afar or via a vantage point designed to capture a scenic view of the city. The landscape meaning and value to the community intertwined the heritage, amenity, ecological and environmental values in a way that is difficult to express in formal legislation.

It is in these responses that heritage and sustainability come together most obviously. Respondents called repeatedly for the preservation of the NCOSS as it currently exists for a range of reasons. Visual amenity, urban density and ecological conservation were all raised as concerns in the ‘community’ component of the review, and they were often tangled together in a way that suggested the respondents did not see the different functions of the NCOSS as separable. By comparison, the expert interviews were much more concerned with achieving policy setting that appropriately balanced development and preservation of the NCOSS.

  1. Conclusions

Although the review of NCOSS is ongoing, initial findings have identified the complexity of its role in Canberra’s meaning and development. The NCOSS represents a landscape that contains social and environmental values important to the local community, while also expressing the official narrative of the national capital’s founding fathers’ aspirations and the Griffins’ iconic design. This landscape has been shaped by these dual interpretations that are locally and nationally significant. However, the city faces the challenges of development in and around this landscape setting, and the community and the agencies responsible for the management and use of the NCOSS must reconcile apparently competing priorities of heritage and sustainable development.

The review of the NCOSS has teased out significant issues for decision makers about how the community perceives this challenge, including the recognition that the meaning and use of the landscape is shaped by both official narratives and community-held views. A meaningful dialogue about how the landscape is valued can occur when it is seen as more than a scenic framed setting to be preserved in perpetuity, or a fragile ecosystem to be locked up and protected from urbanisation. When the landscape is treated as a dynamic living space, rather than a static scenic view, the mix of built and unbuilt structures it accommodates have the latitude to acquire multiple understandings over time, and this flexibility is central to the longevity of the NCOSS’s social value. In other words, the close links that the survey found between the ‘symbolic’ landscape and the ‘used and experienced’ landscape suggest that the social sustainability of the NCOSS will flow from sustainable development of the landscape.

While popular and official landscape narratives may differ, the symbolic value of the NCOSS is valued by the community, as much as its utility for recreation and other uses. To this end, enhancing sustainability in Canberra is often negotiated in terms of land use protection and conservation. Perhaps a more productive conversation would about what constitutes sustainable development, and how the urban landscape can be managed in the long term in ways that allow for simultaneous and multiple meanings and uses.


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