Canberra is a spread out place. If you live in the original suburbs (areas now known as Inner North and Inner South), it's less obvious. They were designed in the days before the motor car ruled, and everything was to a human scale. Every street has footpaths, there are numerous little pockets of green space, sometimes even with seating. Bus stops are frequent and it's normally only one bus ride to work. Each suburb has a shopping centre, with newsagent, post office, grocery store, butcher and so on. Most suburbs had schools within walking distance. Blocks were not built out, there was a real sense of scale and openness. Enough land was in the backyards for you to keep chooks, a modest vegetable garden, some fruit trees as well as the necessities of clothes line, compost heap and garden shed, where things were mended or created. Space also for the firewood that was so necessary in the winter, when the wind slices down from the mountains and through your bones. We rarely get snow in the city, but it normally sits on the Brindabella and Tinderry ranges that surround this valley. Back to the point - pretty much everything you need is in walking distance, and the prevalence of footpaths makes walking everywhere easy and safe.
But then Canberra started to grow, the car took centre stage and there was little, if any, thought given to what would happen when resources started to run out. That's pretty much the way it was, the world seemed limitless in it's resources and there were only a few voices in the wilderness.
So now we have a sprawling city. Inner North and Inner South are now too expensive for most people to buy into. The newer areas - Woden, Belconnen, Tuggeranong, Gungahlin - they are dominated by the car. Only the major streets have foot paths. There is less green space - and will be even less as the public schools fence off their ovals. Two or more bus rides are needed to get to work - and when you start adding up the time spent on the bus versus the cost of parking, parking normally wins. (3 bus runs with multiple stops, a bus stop that's 15 minutes away and almost 4 hours travelling (both ways), for $8 (so $16 for the pair of us) or 40 minutes plus $5.50 parkings and the car will carry whatever groceries need to be picked up and route diversions for specific needs are possible) Shopping centres have been closed and converted to townhouses and flats. Shopping is generally based around the town centres - malls dominated by Westfield and full of chain stores. And there is no sense of community.
I had to take the car in for some work at the dealership in Belconnen. Because I'm on holidays, I chose to walk home. I figured it was easier and would probably take as long as waiting for a bus and then doing a cook's tour of Belconnen. It took about an hour. I smiled at the three people I passed. I saw animals going about their daily business. I heard parrots bell-like calls. And there was bugger all in the way of footpaths, so I was extremely glad I was wearing sneakers. Now - this was up Southern Cross Drive, a main arterial road. There are footpaths and cyclepaths that meander through the suburbs, but NOTHING for a fast, direct walk.
And I thought about this and got quite cranky at the inherent short-sightedness.
We have suburbs where it's not easy to get by if you work and don't have a car. It's not easy to add incidental walking to your day because the infrastructure just isn't there. I've got damaged ankle ligaments from too many trips and rolled ankles. So I need a flat surface to walk on safely. Grass verges are not a safe option. Between bad parking, incautious drivers, narrow roads and poor visibility, the streets aren't a safe option either. Unless dedicated cyclepaths are built (at significant costs), cyclists are also at risk. If you're sick, or old, or a parent with young children, or a child - the odds are good that there is no local shop in walking distance. Which lessens the ability to build a local community. Because so many of us spend long hours at work, home time is used for the never-ending chores that keep a household turning. Very little of it is available for hobbies, catching up with friends, meeting neighbours or (heaven forbid) going to one of the many wonderful museums or galleries in the area.
I'm fairly sure this isn't progress.