By Matthew Cleary | 6 Nov 2020

As Melbourne emerges from its 112-day lockdown, there’s hope on our streets again. As a community though, we have two paths ahead of us. The first takes us back to how we used to live, the second propels us towards new and better environments.

Our Mission Fit Cities research is one part of how we hope to contribute. We’ve also invited a panel of esteemed civic leaders to share their insights on how cities elsewhere are approaching recovery.

not all cities will succeed equally

Kate Meyrick, Urbis Future State Director

Urbis’ Future State Director, Kate Meyrick states, “Cities will matter more than ever in the future, but not all cities will succeed equally. By 2050, around 70 per cent of our population will live in cities and close to 80 per cent of our global GDP will be created there.”

“At the same time, our cities will be responsible for two thirds of our global energy budget, around 70 per cent of greenhouse gases, and in cities like Melbourne, our ageing population and declining productivity per capita could very well threaten the lifestyle we’re known for.”

While this is a call to arm – Ms Meyrick urges us to remember that “cities remain courageous, creative, charismatic, sometimes charming places – often home to some of our boldest solutions.”

Mission Fit Cities is a predictive framework with an actionable scorecard for cities that’s intended to inform intentional, long-range decision-making and focus policy and investment.

Melbourne fares relatively well. We have a vibrant university sector, strong city brand and our CBD is known as an excellent destination, at least pre COVID-19. And we can leverage our engaged communities, both business and residents, as we emerge from the pandemic.

But there are also vulnerabilities. We need more STEM graduates in a sector increasingly important for our future growth, and we need to address the impact of housing stress, which threatens everything from talent acquisition to social inclusion and wellbeing.

And these are only a few. Melbourne’s complete Mission Fit scorecard, in addition to that of other Australian cities can be found in our white paper here.

In response to COVID-19, Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation Director, Professor Anna Peeters sees an opportunity in the growing popular acceptance that our social and economic circumstances are entwined with our health and wellbeing.

“Better economic conditions directly affect health outcomes – and better health and wellbeing outcomes are essential for a more resilient economy,” states Professor Peeters. “If anything, we face a risk that we’re not going to embed this lesson into future solutions.”

With this in mind, it’s a shame the 2020-21 Federal Budget offered nothing on social housing, missing an opportunity to create a positive impact and deliver social good over a longer period of time than many of the forecasted Covid-19 stimulus measures.

It’s fortunate we can learn from other cities around the world, particularly when they respond to crisis as an opportunity to address inequity – bringing together communities and several layers of governance to arrive at a common goal and vision.

As the Mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand, Lianne Dalziel has experienced several disasters in a single decade. In February 2011, a destructive 6.3 magnitude earthquake, then last year, the devastating mosque massacres. And now, a pandemic.

Following the 2011 earthquakes, Ms Dalziel who was not yet Mayor, along with the entire Christchurch City Council, participated in a broad city-planning process that became the Central City Recovery Plan.

“Over a weekend, we invited people to come and share their ideas around what they wanted for the future of their city. Ten thousand people came and what emerged was a powerful picture of a better Christchurch.”

“It’s important, at times like these, to identify your strengths."

Lianne Dalziel, Mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand

“It’s important, at times like these, to identify your strengths. But at the same time, you don’t want to reinstate weaknesses that already exist. For us that meant building a better economy, a better society, a better environment and a better way to live,” states Ms Dalziel.

Christchurch took the community on a journey that engaged them in a meaningful exchange. In terms of creating citizen confidence – people felt they were going to have a say in the future of their city.

“This blueprint for the redevelopment of the central city was a demonstration of confidence from the public sector in order to attract private sector investment – ironically, the private sector came to the party before some of the government and council projects even began.”

“The benefit of our experience is that we now know the significance and importance of partnerships and relationships with others. We’re seeking a collective response to plan for the future. It’s more than a recovery, we’re repositioning the city,” says Ms Dalziel.

City of Melbourne Mayor, Sally Capp is seeing citizen confidence build in different stages. “Early on, our continued delivery of essential services created a sense of confidence and trust, and now as the city starts to open up, we’re showing confidence that it’s safe to do so.”

“The $100 million city recovery fund for the City of Melbourne, in terms of reactivation, is a joint effort between the state and local government and the biggest fund of its kind we’ve had to invest in the city. We’re also talking with the federal government about direct investments.”

We’re re-organising ourselves as a ‘city of yes’

Sally Capp, City of Melbourne Mayor

“At the same time, we have to be able to show we’re willing to look at our own systems and processes – to move through any red tape. There can’t be any barriers, unless of course, they’re reasonable. We’re re-organising ourselves as a ‘city of yes’,” states Ms Capp.

In Madrid, they’re also reducing the burden of red tape.

Madrid City Councillor for International Affairs and Cooperation, Santiago Saura states: “In Madrid, five political parties, including government and the opposition, have come together to discuss and agree on a set of 350 measures.”

While now experiencing a challenging second wave of the pandemic, Mr Saura’s hopes remain high. “We introduced the largest increase in social resources and social staff in the history of Madrid, so nobody is left behind and everyone feels supported.”

The Council has also allowed more than 250 bars and restaurants to use street parking for its outdoor activities, to boost economic and cultural outcomes for businesses and attract and innovate economic activity in the city.

Culture plays a significant role in Melbourne too. This sector drives our vibrancy and our identity, it’s also a huge economic driver for the city. Here, like in many cities, the arts sector was one of the most impacted and significantly hampered by COVID-19

It’s remarkable, that there’s already a plan to revive live performance in the ‘new normal’.

"People in the creative industries are creative and courageous"

Claire Spencer, Arts Centre Melbourne CEO

According to Arts Centre Melbourne CEO, Claire Spencer, “People in the creative industries are creative and courageous but we’re also determined, tenacious and strategic collaborators – so we have the people, the assets, the audiences and the appetite.”

“Live performance is a key mechanism to draw people out of their homes, to rebuild a sense of confidence that we can return to some kind of normal in a way that feels safe. We have an important role to play in signalling hope and optimism for the city and broader community.”

From the discussions I’ve had, it is clear that Melbourne’s leaders and senior stakeholders are ready to steer the city towards a new and better normal. Insights from our international peers, including Christchurch and Madrid, should continue to inform the path we embark on, ensuring we enhance our city’s Mission Fit score while maintaining a global mindset.

Matthew Cleary View Profile