Over approximately 100 years, the Australian capital, Canberra, has evolved in association with the predominant values, vision and cultural relationships of people to the area. The location and design of the city derived from a formal intention to integrate nature and culture for the benefit and edification of residents and in symbolisation of the city’s importance as the seat of national decision-making and legislature. Established on a native grassland surrounded by wooded hills and ridges, and with nearby confluences of rivers as security of water supply, the city’s landscape was transformed through centralised planning and implementation of Garden City and City Beautiful constructs to become one of the world’s most liveable regions. Twentieth-century expansion of the city’s suburbs, tree streetscapes and gardens progressed with varying emphasis on exotic versus native species, and contemporary programs aim to increase urban tree canopy cover to 30%. Yet, there is increasing acknowledgement of the landscape’s rich history of culture–nature interactions extending back at least 25,000 years. Indicators are evident in human modification of tree-dominated ecosystems, the overlapping ways in which people related to elemental landscape features, and a continuity of valuing particular sites for ceremonies, social activities and human movement. With projected steady population growth, climate change, and associated impacts on the environment and natural resources, contemporary planning must be innovative and integrative to ensure ecologically sustainable development. Strong visionary leadership is needed to develop a landscape policy that encompasses key natural assets including threatened woodlands and mature native trees for their intrinsic values and as habitat for threatened fauna, cultural landscape values such as forested montane and ridge areas, and heritage and protected trees. From pre-European to current times, planning, modification and management of environmental and ecosystem values has been integral to enabling local people to sustain themselves. The next challenge is to create clarity about the future of this cultural landscape and enhance the community’s attachment to and stewardship of the city and its landscape.
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