National capitals are special cities. Planning for cities that include a seat of government often involves political and symbolic concerns that are different from those of other urban areas. National capitals have the privilege of representing a whole country, embodying its hopes and inspiring its people while remaining effective spaces for ceremony and administration, and allowing for the demands of security, tourism and other business.
In July 2001, as part of the annual conference of the Canadian Institute of Planners, the National Capital Commission hosted a series of meetings in Ottawa, focused on capital cities. Representatives from Canberra, Washington DC, Brasilia and Ottawa met to share common concerns and exchange ideas on the planning, urban design and programming of their capitals. It was agreed that these meetings were fruitful and should be continued.
The inaugural meeting of the Capitals Alliance took place in Canberra in March 2002, hosted by the National Capital Authority. Since then the Alliance members have conducted rotating meetings providing the opportunity to create linkages and encourage the sharing of visions and ideas for national capitals in the twenty-first century.
Alliance members maintain a regular exchange of information and have received requests from other national capitals for planning advice. A joint paper on their respective governance arrangements has been produced and a joint members’ website capitalsalliance.org where resources and information can be shared freely worldwide.
In March/April 2008, Alliance members participated in the United Arab Emirates Capital City Symposium to explore key aspects of capital city arrangements and governance. Authority officials spoke on a variety of topics including national programming and place making, commemoration, hosting embassies, approval process for national interests and governance.
The September 2008 meeting of the Capitals Alliance in Washington DC, entitled Greening the World’s Capital Cities, focussed on strategies for placing capital cities at the forefront of environmental sustainability.
The most recent Capitals Alliance meeting was held in Brasilia in March 2010, with the theme of Sustainable Mobility in the World's Capital Cities. At the conference the members of the Alliance also sent a message of support to the Haitian people in the aftermath of their devastating earthquake, pledging to share their knowledge and experience with Hitian authorities in the task of rebuilding Port-au-Prince.