A city waves goodbye to ‘business as usual’

Dr Kathy Alexander, Chair of Administrators, City of Greater Geelong

During the next decades, the Geelong city and region is going to transform itself to become a ‘clever and creative city’ if things go as decided by an assembly of 350 local residents who gathered on 6 May 2017 to choose between four proposed future scenarios.

If you live in Geelong, you probably think you’ve heard something like that before. You’d certainly have heard about Geelong’s aspirations to become a ‘smart’ city. For instance, in 2014 the Geelong city council adopted an ‘Action Plan’ which over the following 15 years would create “a smart, vibrant, thriving, liveable and successful 21st century city centre with a strong sense of identity and community.”

Those were in the days when Geelong’s mayor was a colourful personality by the name Darryn Lyons who didn’t go quiet about spreading the ‘smart’ and vibrant 21st century vibrations. Even after he was dismissed, along with the rest of the council, the city again started talking about becoming a ‘smart city’ role model when the federal government launched its Smart Cities Plan in June 2016.

The reality, however, for Geelong has been that it is actually not going all that great on the being-clever-and-smart front. Out of 500 cities, Geelong was ranked 328 in the 2015 Global Innovation Cities Index, sliding down 20 points since the previous year, and considerably lower ranked than other Australian cities – even lower than its neighbouring city Ballarat, which was ranked 317.

So, what’s new?

Well, one thing that is new and significantly different is that sustainability, renewable energy and climate change are now embedded and even at the forefront of the thinking around what it means to be clever and creative as a city. In the new 30 year vision built on a nine-month consultation with the community, Geelong’s residents have replied that they want to see a future which is not only thriving and smart, but also inclusive, caring and sustainable.

The process

Prior to the Our Future assembly, a nine-month process, where the municipality had asked more than 15,000 local residents what they would like their city to look like 30 years from now, had been distilled down to four future scenarios:

‘The Caring City-Region’ where people look after each other and the environment, where cycling and walking tracks are used for transport and living healthily, and where new jobs are created in the services sector

‘The Trading City-Region’ where the emphasis is on export, trade and business investments, producing globally desired products and services, while looking after the environment because it makes good business sense.

‘The Clever and Creative City-Region’ where forward-thinking, pushing the boundaries and stepping out of the ordinary is linked to the needs of industry and jobs, and where the environment is at the forefront, particularly innovative approaches to reducing carbon emissions and adopting renewable energy

‘The Lifestyle City-Region’ where there is a stronger focus on ‘life’ and the lifestyle qualities in our area with a strong sports culture and a sense of community, attracting visitors and tourists that create local jobs, and with a strong connection with the outdoors and the natural environment


In the first voting round, there was a clear majority of votes for the clever-creative model:

After choosing the ‘clever and creative’ scenario as their favourite, the assembly was then asked to prioritise between the three remaining scenarios. The ‘trading city’ scenario came out as the second most popular scenario, though in a very close run with the other two.

A quickly summarised vision statement for ‘Our Future’ in Geelong was captured by ‘graphic recorder’ Sarah Firth as a prioritised mix of the four scenarios:

“A [1] clever and creative city-region  [2] with a trading base  [3] that cares for our people and  [4] ensures we have a vibrant and well cared for environment.”


“The final Our Future Vision will be a community-owned document, outlining our collective aspirations for Greater Geelong. Turning that vision into reality will involve our whole community, and include partnerships between all three levels of government and collaborations with local business,” said Dr Kathy Alexander, Chair of Administrators at City of Greater Geelong. She concluded the six and half hour long meeting with these words:

“This is a very clear set of messages to the incoming council. I would be very very happy if I was a new councillor coming in – with a political clarity that will unite me with my other councillors, that will unite me across the various communities within this town, and which will unite us with the rest of Victoria, because though we are differentiated, we are using the rest of Victoria.

I think it is a fabulous vision. It has come from nearly 16,000 people. It is a solid platform.

There has been a number of people walking around and saying, “Yes, but what if the new council gets in and just chucks it out?”

16,000 people can hold that council to account. And that is what is required. It has required fabulous participation all the way through this process.

You can do this, Geelong. Look around you. Look to history. This ‘Creative-Clever’ vision is in your blood. It is who you are. And you absolutely have to hold your leaders to account to implement this vision. This is the community’s vision.

This must be the first time ever I have been to one of those things all day long and actually felt just as excited in the end as I did in the beginning. I’ve got a beginning here. The council has got a beginning here. And you’ve got a beginning here.”


The Our Future Vision will be going out for public comment on 7 July 2017, prior to a decision by City Administrators at the 25 July Council meeting.   Photos: by Mik Aidt




Media coverage


Negative press

Geelong’s main newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, apparently wasn’t pleased with the vision. It chose to focus on that there are costs related to creating a high-quality, genuine 30-year community vision for a city, indicating that this was seen as a waste of ratepayers’ money, rather than focusing on the content, the outcome, the possibilities and the exciting perspectives of this new vision. ‘Vision forum cost the City $500k’, stated the headline on the paper’s first report from the assembly.

Why so negative, Geelong Advertiser? What is your agenda with that, really?

» Geelong Advertiser – 7 May 2017:
Geelong Future Vision: city leaders vote for a “Clever and Creative City-Region” [Subscriber only]
“The City of Greater Geelong is drawing closer to completing consultation on its Our Future Vision project, but the price tag on the process has now reached more than $500,000.” Article by Claire Martin


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Kathy Alexander: “Successful cities are also sustainable”

“Cities around the world are embracing innovative solutions to address sustainability.

Copenhagen, Denmark, now has more bikes than cars in its central business district, a reflection of the city’s extensive cycling network and promotion.

In Lidköping, Sweden, a collaborative effort has seen waste transformed into clean-burning fuel for trucks, providing an environmentally-friendly alternative to diesel.

Singapore is leading the way in water sustainability, using the high-grade treatment system NEWater, expanding water catchment areas and embracing desalination to meet future demands, expected to double by 2060.

In Oslo, Norway, a bioliquefaction plant produces biomethane from household food waste to be used as biofuel for buses.

Can we use similar innovative solutions in Geelong to facilitate our own future sustainability, while also adding to the diversification of our economy?

Unless we build on our solid foundation, while also shoring ourselves up to be resilient to climate change, we’re not going to be a successful city in the future.”
~ Dr Kathy Alexander, Chair of Administrators, City of Greater Geelong


» Geelong Advertiser – 3 January 2017:
Kathy Alexander: Sustainability will help set up Geelong’s future [Subscriber only]


“To prosper in a 21st century world that is complex and competitive we must be connected to the world. Everything I saw in Silicon Valley confirmed for me that the key to Geelong’s future is planning now for the next two decades. The three necessary ingredients of that plan are infrastructure, connectivity and smart people.

For Geelong this means an excellent public transport system, led by world-class freight and logistic capabilities, access to affordable and secure water and high intensity agriculture for our primary producers, along with excellent art and sport facilities for our community.
~ Jane den Hollander, vice-chancellor of Deakin University


» Geelong Advertiser – 24 January 2017:
Jane den Hollander: Planning in the present will map Geelong’s future direction [Subscriber only]


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Keith Fagg: “Council candidates should unite under ticket”

“Those citizens we elect in October must possess the time, energy and capacity to drive the imperatives in the Our Future plan as they address the issues facing our complex community. In doing so, they need to know how to effectively collaborate with their peers.
In that context, it would seem inevitable — and eminently sensible — that ‘tickets’ emerge in the coming election. Like-minded candidates with shared values and a clear vision for Geelong, possibly with complementary life experiences and skills, may choose to stand on a ticket which articulates their common intended direction for our city.
Tickets could be run both within and across Geelong’s four multi-councillor wards.

Such collaborations between local government candidates are common in other Australian states. In City of Melbourne elections, tickets have become the norm.
Clearly, there is a risk of political parties becoming involved — totally inappropriate in local government in my view — but the chance to elect a team of people who are committed to a common vision and have capacity to work together effectively may well create an excellent governance outcome for Greater Geelong.”
~ Keith Fagg, former Geelong mayor – in Geelong Advertiser






What is a ‘clever and creative city’?

A ‘clever and creative city’ is characterised by its approach to problem solving: “It addresses its challenges by avoiding a business-as-usual approach and adapts quickly to global shifts so it can continue to thrive economically, culturally and socially.”

“Curiosity, imagination and innovation are the foundations of a clever and creative city, because they harness the community’s potential and highlight what is special and distinctive about a region and its people,” the organisers explained at the meeting.

Greater Geelong’s existing assets as a clever and creative city-region include that it has internationally recognised education facilities, established capabilities in advanced manufacturing, industrial design and emerging technology (e.g. carbon fibre), scientific facilities and expertise in animal health and infectious disease, existing tech-based regional food production and agribusiness, and an emerging cluster of start-up businesses.

According to Dr Kathy Alexander, a clever and creative city-region thinks creatively about “how to minimise our impact on the things around us”, it promotes quality education and applied research, it encourages people to up-skill and creates new opportunities – and employment – in teaching and tutoring.


Discussion points around the tables
“Young people today are scared, risk averse and unwilling to innovate. We need to take risks to move forward. We need People for Change, not against change,” one assembly participant said.

Another mentioned that “Environment is a big opportunity space.”

“This is about harnessing the community’s imagination and turn new ideas into reality, like its happening in cities such as Barcelona or Glasgow.”

It could also be about creating ‘digital centres of excellence’, about designing our houses, machinery and infrastructure much better, about using data to create real-life lifestyle changes, enhancing ‘the caring community’ by innovating the ways we look after each other.

A vision of establishing ‘community sheds’ where adults could find education and get assistance with repairing things was shared at our table. Coming from Denmark and knowing the huge and very successful impact the Danish ‘Højskole’-idea – built on adult learning for life principles – has had on culture and economic development there, I suggested that such elements from the Danish ‘Højskole’ could be integrated with new ways of connecting and up-skilling the local community.

There were voices of warning that this clever-creative vision could increase the ‘digital divide’ and inequity in society. “Inclusion is the real challenge in this vision.”

It was also pointed out that the approach needs to be more in alignment with the climate science, which tells us we need to rapidly transition to a zero carbon society and that we must prepare for environmental and climatic changes much faster than this vision outlines. “How do you keep people’s dignity when their properties and life savings have become valueless overnight because of water rise?”

“What will happen to the huge amount of people who make their living as drivers when the self-driving car enters?” asked one, and another replied, “This is exactly why business-as-usual thinking doesn’t work any longer. We really need to think out of the box now. We have to move our thinking process and education towards a future view.”

True! Because in all the uncertainty, one thing is certain: the future is coming – and it doesn’t look anything like what it used to. The rate of change also keeps going faster and faster. Just to keep up with things is not enough. We need to get on top of things, ahead of things. To do that, we need a more connected and agreeing community.

In that regard, the Our Future process has been a real eyeopener. It has given the overall discussion about our future an important new direction and created a more unified voice in this region. I don’t thing Geelong will ever learn to “move forward as one”, as someone suggested at the assembly, but I do think we’ll be a majority of residents who are ready to roll up our sleeves and get better prepared for what is ahead of us.


Tim Orton was an excellent assembly facilitator



What all successful communities have in common

The initial framework for the ‘Our Future’ project in Geelong was that the way we live is going to be impacted by four global shifts: Technological developments
, climate change
, global economic uncertainty
, and demographic change. The project had researched into what it is makes a community great – and they found that the best communities in the world are:

Connected (locally, regionally, nationally and internationally through paths, roads and public transport infrastructure, social networks and communication technologies)



Prosperous (strong and diverse businesses and employment across all community groups)



Creative (innovative, entertaining and vibrant)    

Sustainable and resilient (environmentally, economically and socially)
   

Designed for people (easy and safe for all community groups to access the services, amenities and comfort they need)

“All of these components collectively contribute to making a community great. Communities can turn global shifts into opportunities by ranking well in each of the above successful community indicators,” wrote Our Future.

Three out of those five bullet points are areas which groups such as Geelong Sustainability, bicycle groups, Transition Town groups, and The Sustainable Hour are already advocating for and working on. This gave the ‘Our Future’ project a special relevance for the city’s environmental and sustainability groups right from the start, and in The Sustainable Hour we have been following and reporting extensively about the process over the period of nine months.

» Our Future interviews in The Sustainable Hour


Cities100 – PDF, 168 pages

To find out how cities all around the world are stepping up to become leaders in clean energy and sustainable development, download the Cities100 illustrated guide.



Tim Orton
Anthony Gleeson, The Sustainable Hour

Read and learn more about the ‘Our Future’ project

» City of Greater Geelong – 6 May 2017:
Greater Geelong decides at Our Future Assembly

» City of Greater Geelong’s ‘Our Future’ project home page:
www.geelongaustralia.com.au/ourfuture

» Our Future ‘inspiration wall’:
www.geelongaustralia.com.au/ourfuture/inspiration


Latest social media posts and updates on this topic
» See posts with the #OurFutureGeelong hashtag on Twitter

» See posts with the #OurFutureGeelong hashtag on Facebook

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Read and learn more about cities’ climate action

Adelaide and Byron Bay have zero carbon plans, Darebin Council has declared a climate emergency and is finalising strategies, and a bunch of other local councils are doing good things too.


Geelong Council adopted a Zero Carbon Emissions Strategy two weeks ago, and Ballarat City Council is heading for the zero-mark before 2027. That’s just the Councils themselves, though, not the entire cities. But these are signals in the right direction. Allegedly more than a fifth of all Australian councils are set to become carbon neutral before 2050.

» Article about Geelong Council’s new Zero Carbon Emissions Strategy:
www.climatesafety.info/geelongzerocarbon2017

» Hear what they are doing in Darebin Council and other councils:
www.climatesafety.info/councilclimateaction

Leave a comment below and tell us what your city is doing.

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Where nations fail, cities rise to the challenge

“It can’t be left to dysfunctional nation states to tackle – but as Oslo and Seoul have shown, metropolitan centres can rise to the challenge of global warming.”
Benjamin Barber

“The plan is to make Oslo the most electric vehicle-friendly city in the world – one in four new cars sold in Norway are electric – and a champion of green housing and architecture: its new opera house is set in a neighbourhood that gleams with green infrastructure.

Asia also has exemplary green-leaning cities, including Hong Kong and Seoul. The greater Seoul region has a population of almost 25 million, and in 2015 it was ranked the continent’s most sustainable city. Seoul has made a massive investment in electric-powered buses. It already has the world’s third largest subway system, but its carbon fuel bus fleet of 120,000 vehicles has been a massive source of pollution. Current plans are to convert half this fleet to electric by 2020, which would be the world’s most ambitious achievement of this kind.

Such approaches can be undertaken to great effect one city at a time, but they are also mutually reinforcing: networks of collaborating cities can amplify their global impact. They can also make it more difficult for courts or governments to oppose environmental initiatives, standing firm on common approaches to sustainability and decarbonisation.”

» The Guardian – 8 May 2017:
How to fix climate change: put cities, not countries, in charge


Cities across USA continue to commit to 100% renewable electricity

» Hello Solar – 2 May 2017:
Communities committed to 100% renewable energy

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Re: A sustainable mindset in Geelong





Re: Trading in Geelong

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Taking climate action to the national level

New Zealand is doing it: a united parliament has agreed to take action on climate change and transform the country to a zero carbon society.

» Listen how politicians in New Zealand talk about nonpartisan climate change solutions:
www.climatesafety.info/newzealand

Australia can do this just as well. If you haven’t already, then please sign and share our emergency declaration and climate mobilisation petition at www.climateemergencydeclaration.org/sign

One goal of the Climate Emergency Declaration campaign is to build public awareness that we are in a climate emergency which threatens life as we know it. We can’t take appropriate action if we don’t recognise we are in an emergency. So we must demand that our national government declares a climate emergency as a public signal indicating that governments and society will be mobilised in emergency mode until the emergency passes.

Demanding a climate mobilisation of sufficient scale and speed to protect everything we want to protect. War-time mobilisation examples indicate how quickly and thoroughly ‘business-as-usual’ and ‘reform-as-usual’ can change when we rise to the challenge of dealing with an existential threat.


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2 comments

  1. The message for the Victorian Parliamentarians is that Geelong has been consulted over the way forward with the returning Councillors in October. The new Council from October has also been given a clear direction from the Our Future strategy. Note “the People have spoken”. Hands off and allow the process to happen

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