By Benjamin Pollack | 8 Dec 2020

This year has been one like no other.

Our Australian cities and communities have been left devastated by horrific fires and floods and the world has suffered through an unprecedented global pandemic, combined with the economic aftershocks that will continue to be felt for some time. At Urbis, we know that our goal “to shape cities and communities for a better future” has never been more important.

While 2020 has undoubtedly been a challenging one, there have been many bright spots that should be celebrated. As we reflect on the year that’s been, what we have learnt and how it will inform our decisions in the future, I am personally heartened by the impact Urbis has made with our clients, and am proud to be #oneyearbolder.

In close partnership with our clients, we have continued to deliver bold impacts for our cities and communities through many extraordinary projects. While I have my highlights, I was interested to hear from our future leaders on the world they want to inherit and how they believe we can ensure it happens.

The key themes that came back from our Emerging Leaders Group were health and wellbeing, quality of life, innovation, changing lifestyle and future proofing. Some of the projects highlighted include:

  • Herston Quarter in Brisbane that aims to deliver one of the city’s largest health and wellbeing precincts;
  • The ground-breaking Atlassian Headquarters the pinnacle of Sydney’s future Central Station tech precinct;
  • One of Australia’s most significant and dynamic innovation precincts, Westmead Health and Innovation District;
  • The Victorian Government’s fast tracking of multiple projects to aid in the COVID-19 crisis including Southbank by Beulah, that plans to establish a new standard for urban regeneration, design excellence and cultural innovation;
  • The future proofing of Western Australia’s rail infrastructure with METRONET;
  • Brisbane’s Queen’s Wharf that will dramatically reshape the city and enliven and integrate the public realm; and
  • The revitalisation of Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium that will secure the venues global reputation as a central hub for sporting events, concerts and entertainment.

All these themes and responses reflect the objective of our ‘Mission Fit Cities’ white paper that our new urban strategy team, Future State released – taking a deep dive analysis of our cities’ strengths, challenges and opportunities. We know that our cities offer us the greatest potential for growth in a post-pandemic future, but we need to achieve a strategy that is globally aware as well as nationally responsive.  

Along with the Property Council of Australia, we launched ‘Planning to Prosper’ a comprehensive report demonstrating how quick planning reforms can improve the productivity of the residential development sector in the short term, aiding pandemic recovery with 39,200 additional jobs. We also launched our second Build-to-Rent paper alongside Allens that outlines the simple steps that will both accelerate the BTR sector and help safeguard a sizeable portion of the 750,000 jobs that currently rely on housing construction in Australia.

Embracing digital technology, we partnered with industry to deliver engaging webinars to our clients and peers including exploring the value of place, healthy placemaking, smart cities and digital engagement as well as hosted sessions on our COVID-19 house views and Federal and State Budget insights. Our signature event of the year was our ‘Mission Fit Melbourne’ webinar that we held as Victoria emerged from their 112-day lockdown and brought together speakers from around the world to explore the future opportunities for the city and how they can recover and thrive.

As a strong national and growing international business, Urbis has a critical role to play in proactively supporting communities. This year we launched our Give Back Framework – a plan for how and where we will direct our community giving and pro-bono efforts as a business. Through this framework, we are proud to have supported the Business Council of Australia (BCA) on assessing the broad economic impact of the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires on local businesses and communities.

We are also pleased to be providing pro-bono services to deliver temporary night-time accommodation and support services for people currently sleeping rough in inner Sydney. This innovative project seeks to repurpose spaces that are commonly used and busy during the day but at night are left vacant or empty, for pop-up accommodation. 

As part of our ongoing commitment to engaging with the First Peoples of this land and working towards common goals, our Diversity & Inclusion Board and our RAP Working Group partnered with Cox Inall Ridgeway, Australia Literacy & Numeracy Foundation and Christian Hampson of Yerrabinging to deliver a virtual series for National Reconciliation Week. In 2021 we are excited to take these partnerships even further as we progress our Diversity & Inclusion and Reconciliation agenda.

Our people are at the core of our organisation. Like many, 2020 has been tough and particularly so for our colleagues and clients in Victoria. The COVID-19 lockdown and isolation have taken a significant toll on the mental health and wellbeing of the society at large. To further support our team, we partnered with The Resilience Project to deliver a program to help build resilience and positive mental health at work and home. This is an important initiative and an area of focus that Urbis are passionate about maintaining going forward.  

The transition to agile working has only further enhanced our culture of collaboration and collegiality, and as a leader in the business, it was great to see how quickly our staff adapted, banded together and supported their clients and each other. Through investment in technology, our team has remained connected to our valued clients and each other to deliver extraordinary projects.

I am glad to see all our staff able to return to the office in some capacity. For many, this is to a new location, after we finished our latest office roll out in July with the relocation of our Brisbane, Melbourne and Cistri Singapore offices and the expansion of our footprint into Geelong.

As we look towards the coming year, and the task we have ahead of us to guarantee our cities and communities recover and thrive, we must all take the time to reflect on the achievements we have made throughout a challenging 2020 and be proud of our efforts.

I am extremely proud of the efforts of Urbis, our clients and our community at large and I look forward to making bolder city shaping decisions with you in 2021.