Advancing our city with people at its heart
So where to now? What should we be aiming to become by 2026? I believe the aim for 2026 should be to remain and to be even more bold, inspirational and sustainable. Achieving any of these goals is no easy feat! So, the issue becomes what do we need to do to realise them?
What I propose may not initially sound as courageous as the overarching goal but a city is nothing without its people. And its people fundamentally determine the character of their city. For this reason, I say that Melbourne and its diverse communities will be best served by being better connected, more cohesive and more caring.
Since European settlement and our founding as a modern city around 150 years ago, Melbourne's success has been determined by our links to the rest of the world. It was not the fact that we had gold, nor that livestock thrived in Victoria, but rather our ability to sell those commodities to the rest of the world that saw Melbourne transform from a tented camp to an international city in a few short decades.
Today, the world's economies are more deeply connected than ever before. Melbourne’s economy connects on a global scale through trade, the flow of information, ideas, goods and services, as well as the movement of people. It is further connected to other cities, through trade partnerships, sister city arrangements in Asia, Europe and North America, and participation in networks like the 100 Resilient Cities initiative and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.
Connectivity through knowledge sharing and collaboration across organisations, sectors and government agencies is becoming the new norm. This shared knowledge and capability is facilitated through the use of digital technology. There are many examples of how digital services can help to make our city more navigable for all people, including our most vulnerable, such as our seniors, people with disabilities, new arrivals and the homeless.
The recently launched AskIzzy smart phone service is a great example of how digital solutions can help people in need be directed to services and assistance – in this case homeless and rough sleepers. It is also an example of how different sectors can be better connected: the application was developed by InfoExchange, News Corp, Google, reagroup.com, in collaboration with over 20 private and public partners, including the City Of Melbourne.
80% of Melbourne’s homeless population have a smart phone. As one contributor to the web-based service reports, the information now available through AskIzzy took him three to four years to acquire living on the street.
Being more technologically connected offers opportunities to make the city function more efficiently, through managed traffic and pedestrian flows, information about events and facilities and how best to access them. Fundamentally, our citizens are more connected to each other through social media and digital technology and 'connecting the city' will simply be expected of any city considered economically ‘advanced’.
Melbourne should be a leader in the digital field to take advantage of the opportunity to have services delivered more reliably, faster, as well as to help us to remain connected to the global economy.
Oxford University’s Global Cyber Security Capability Centre setting up its first international office in Melbourne is a strong indicator of the opportunities afforded by being internationally connected and our strengths in the field of digital technology. The Centre is a partnership working both at the international level and across our city’s key universities, as well as telecommunications providers, research and financial institutions.
While this is a good example of cross-sector collaboration we need to go much further. Government, at Federal, State and Local levels should be better connected to each other, both vertically and across departments. With government support, in some cases, and independently in others, we need to connect better and differently to diversify our economy, preparing an agile workforce equipped for the jobs of the future.
Yet, not everyone can be employed in the knowledge sector, or in the fast-paced world of technological developments. As the influence of our traditional manufacturing continues to decline, we should look at how we can combine old and new technologies to improve people's employment opportunities. The sharing economy, from bikes to cars, to houses and people’s skills is only just emerging. We need to ensure that policy at local and State levels, in particular, and activities more broadly, facilitate the possibilities of this nascent but rapidly expanding sector.
One way to activate new approaches and markets is through innovative procurement approaches. Citymart is a boutique agency that helps cities achieve their needs in pioneering ways. Sometimes this will involve high tech solutions. Other times, it will be a powerful mix of Citymart’s digitial facilitation linking with more traditional skills. For example, the project Citymart curated in Barcelona that trains blind women to detect early on-set breast cancer. This addresses a health issue Barcelona wanted to tackle while providing skills and employment opportunities to women often excluded from the workforce.
In Melbourne, we intend to run a Citymart challenge to identify inventive ways to reduce traffic congestion while increasing social connectivity. The nature of this solution-oriented approach to procurement means that we too could have as human-a-solution to something as prosaic as congestion. Keep an eye out for the challenge and bring forward your best ideas – from wherever in the world they are drawn.
Diversity and multiculturalism is at the heart of Melbourne’s identity, and is another key way in which our city connects to the rest of the world. Each year, over 40,000 people migrate to Melbourne from overseas. Our society comprises people from over 140 nationalities. Nearly 50% of our population was born elsewhere, or has one or more parents born overseas. We speak more than 200 languages, and 30% of people speak a language other than English at home.
In being proud of our city, we must ensure that pride doesn't become exclusionary. As a city a long way from many places, not necessarily on Asia's doorstep as we at times believe, a welcoming, multicultural spirit must characterise us, in order to maintain our connectivity and relevance to the rest of the world.
Connectivity means little if we grow in ways that make our communities more disparate, more inequitable and more isolated. A more cohesive society is something that Melbourne must aim for if we are to continue growing successfully.
Social cohesion describes the way in which we come together as a community - or set of communities. As the Scanlon Foundation through its excellent work on social cohesion describes it, a community that is cohesive is founded upon shared goals and responsibilities, and co-operation between community members. Importantly, a cohesive community is one where people have a strong sense of belonging, where people are motivated to build relationships, participate in community activities, and help create strong social networks.
In many ways, Melbourne is moving in the right direction in terms of its social cohesion. The Scanlon-Monash Index showed that our sense of belonging, sense of worth, participation, and acceptance all improved in 2015.
However, social cohesion in Melbourne is today lower than when the benchmarks of the Scanlon-Monash index were originally set in 2007 and our sense of justice and equity has declined as well. According to the same report, 76% of Australians either agreed or strongly agreed that the gap between those with high incomes and those with low incomes was too great.
While trends do not suggest that we are likely to fundamentally change our market-based economy any time soon, we should acknowledge that sustained inequality, whether economic, social, political, has tended throughout history to result in unpleasant consequences.
We need to use our platform as one of the world’s most liveable cities to demand visionary buildings and precincts. We should have the confidence to insist on innovative and mixed-use housing, as well as trialing new forms of community-led planning. The built form of our city and the activities within it should encourage social cohesion, equality of opportunity and well-being. If we cannot manage to grow in line with this when times are broadly good, as now, what hope do we have of making those demands when we are in greater need of capital and have a potentially less admirable position from which to negotiate?
Melbourne’s cohesion is linked with the operation and co-ordination of our various levels of government. While citizens, including you and me, will be unlikely to desire the heavy hand of government encouraging us to be more sociable, there is an important role for governments to play in facilitating positive interactions.
In 2015, the Department of Premier and Cabinet established the Community Resilience Unit, specifically tasked with adopting whole of government, and whole community evidence based research to improve social cohesion.
The Resilient Melbourne initiative that I lead works across the 32 local government areas that make up our metropolitan city to take a more cohesive approach to being better prepared for the shocks and stresses we will all face during this century. While the project has several work streams, at its heart is helping individuals and communities take more responsibility for their own and each other’s health well-being and safety.
In a community that is cohesive, it is less likely that marginalised or isolated people succumb to the risks associated with shocks and stresses such as extreme heat, economic downturn or power outages. The Victorian Council of Social Services ‘Feeling the Heat’ report highlighted that during periods of extreme heat, social isolation and the inability to change circumstances and behaviours was a key cause of deaths.
It is in all Melbournian’s interests, be those selfish or altruistic, that Melbourne strives to be an ever more inclusive city. This will determine whether or not we are greater than the sum of our parts or undermined by perceived differences and diverging agendas.
A cohesive society is one in which people fundamentally care about one another. Melburnians are proud of the way in which we care for each other’s health, wellbeing and safety.
There are few more poignant demonstrations of this than the efforts of the volunteer firefighters who battled the Otway National Park fires in Wye River, Kennett River and Separation Creek on Christmas Day just gone. Thousands of Country Fire Authority volunteers demonstrated care for the safety and wellbeing of their communities and the surrounding natural environment, in many cases supported financially and with other resources by people based in Melbourne. Collectively, this helped to save thousands of hectares of bushland, hundreds of properties and many lives.
At the same time, many services that rely on volunteering report a steady decline in the number of people regularly committing their time. However, Volunteering Victoria, among others, have told me that while the pressures of modern life are making it harder for people to commit time on a regular basis, the spirit of volunteerism has certainly not gone. Indeed, people will jump in in the face of an emergency, or are looking for other, more flexible ways to contribute.
Casserole Club is a terrific innovation being piloted in several Melbourne councils, supported by the Metropolitan Association of Victoria. It uses council's registers of vulnerable residents and links them online with others in the community, frequently young professionals, who want to contribute to their neighbourhoods but may have limited time to do so. The volunteers make an extra portion of food when preparing meals for friends and family and deliver it to their allocated neighbour.
You may, or may not, be surprised that I am often told that this kind of activity is somehow abdicating the responsibilities of State or local governments. This is misguided. Such activity is what makes a place a home, makes a suburb a neighbourhood. If we want to be a truly liveable city, we will we need to do more of this kind of thing as our city continues to grow a-pace.
It is also important because in a larger, more complex city, which we are almost inevitably becoming, there is not just more scope for things to go wrong, but more chance of multiple things going wrong at once. In a city already exposed to hazards such as extreme heat, fire and flood the possibility of such multiple shocks occurring simultaneously will increase, particularly in the face of on-going and increasing climate change.
Should we experience such profoundly challenging situations, we will be grateful for all initiatives that have encouraged connections between neighbours and that assist our emergency services to deal with the most complex, critical challenges while we take more responsibility for the well-being of one another. Let's face it, the person who takes round an extra meal to someone when times are good is someone likely to check on them – and maybe you - when times are tough.
It may be uncomfortable to think that the future may not simply be better than today, but we should acknowledge that it is a possibility. The more that we accept and prepare for that, alongside focusing on things that are more truly desirable, the more likely we will be to have a city that is inspirational.
We should acknowledge the 120,000 formal and informal non-for-profit volunteer organisations across Greater Melbourne, but we need to find a way for citizens to be still more engaged in the development and progress of our city. Setting the tone for this is particularly pressing as we have high numbers of new arrivals not necessarily accustomed to public involvement. Technology, once again, may play an important role in facilitating this engagement and participation, as this Future Melbourne work demonstrates.
The concept of a caring city extends beyond the social field. Collectively Melburnians need to care more for the natural environment that provides amenity and services that provide clean air, fresh water and fundamentally influence the quality of life and ultimate viability of the city. For all the sustainability commitments across Melbourne, Australia as a whole and Melbourne specifically, continue to have some of the highest rates of species loss anywhere in the world. Trying to slow this trend and finding ways to protect our natural assets alongside a growing population will determine whether or not we can truly be sustainable.
Melbourne has come a long way in its bid to be bold, inspirational and sustainable. However, the nature of these ambitions is that they are tough to achieve and even harder to maintain. What’s more, you are only ever bold or inspirational for a moment in time. To be either of those for the long term means continually making tough choices and demonstrating courageous leadership.
As a city, that means taking decisions today that don’t just make us liveable now but set us up for the long-term. This includes supporting our most vulnerable community members, building places that encourage social cohesion and connectivity, helping people diversify their employment and income-generating opportunities, and protecting and enhancing our natural environment.
A city that is better connected, supports greater cohesion and demonstrates care for citizens, as well as reflecting its citizens caring about the city and one another. Now that, is admirable – truly bold, inspirational and sustainable.
Toby Kent - Chief Resilience Officer, City of Melbourne
What does it mean to be connected, cohesive and caring? Add your voice to the conversation about Melbourne’s future. Share your ideas now.