Shaping our City | Conversations

On Wednesday 18 February 2015, the fifth forum in the Shaping our City series focused on the Conversations that shape Melbourne. Arup’s Joan Ko moderated a lively discussion from the panel of five leading voices from industry, journalism, NGOs, and the arts.

The debate was sparked by questions from the audience, which collectively covered the topics that are key to deciding where we are and the next steps needed to effectively Shape our City.

What is Melbourne to you? Can we deliver successful high density living through community collaboration? How will social media and increased access to data change our decision making? Can we use those tools to drive better long-term policy making? Craig Rowley, CEO of LeadWest, kicked off the conversation, asking: “When we talk about Melbourne, are we talking about the whole city? Or only the central areas?”

On the panel, Fiona Collis, Director at Ipsos Australia said, ‘There is a whole world outside Melbourne’s CBD, we need to understand what the people and community want versus what we think they want.’

While panellists agreed that Melbourne’s central city laneways and cafes are iconic, Michael Bleby, Business Journalist at the Australian Financial Review noted that the business community thinks of Melbourne as an integrated economic unit beyond the CBD.

Kristoff Lajoie, Lawyer at Kabo Lawyers introduced the topical discussion: ‘Are people ready for higher density living?’

TV and radio presenter and producer Fenella Kernebone reflected on the potential of collaborative consumption – shared spaces, tools, cars available on demand – to empower communities to live closely together. ‘We need to be ready for it – because it is coming.’

Alan Davies, Editor of The Urbanist, noted that a diverse housing sector is what is needed for Melbourne to be socially and economically inclusive – for young and old Melbournians, new immigrants, and people who work all over the city.

Curator of TedX Melbourne Jon Yeo asked how we need to respond as public conversations shift towards Twitter and Facebook. ‘How will governments and the media distinguish the real sentiment of the community over the vocal few?’

Michael Bleby identified the power of social media to distribute news – but we still need trained journalists and experts – including those in the room – to create the content worth sharing.

‘Don’t make policy or decisions based only on what you hear from Twitter!’ the Panel implored the audience. While the Twitterverse is noisy, it is rarely representative.

Mark Vassarotti, Arup’s Australasia Leader for Economics, also had a question on the impact of a technological change on society. ‘Elections are too blunt an instrument for change. When people have access to data, how do they take change into their own hands?’

Editor of Urban Melbourne, Alastair Taylor, called for data to be available and transparent. ‘Who is stepping in to make data accessible and useful, if not the government?’ Even if data is public – such as planning applications on each Council’s website – it can be made more accessible by bringing it together. Then raw data is transformed into a resource for real conversations between the development industry, buyers, neighbourhoods and government.

Perhaps the most difficult question of the night came from David Evans, General Manager at Bombardier Transport. In order to invest in public infrastructure, ‘How can we persuade the public to demand long term thinking from our politicians?’

Alan Davies reflected that every model of infrastructure delivery – government-led or through an arms-length agency – had its flaws. Alan drew the night’s conversation together by saying, ‘We need transparency – through public access to data and via the media.’ he said. With right checks and balances these delivery systems can work more efficiently with better outcomes for all

So now we have it. Do observers shape the city? They do, because they inform the community, deliver community and individual’s concerns to decision makers, and enlighten their audience with thoughtful and engaging debate,as they did at Shaping our City.