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Delight or Die: the future of our cities

Catherine Carter

“Liveable, vibrant cities are absolutely critical to our prosperity,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as he unveiled his new ministry last week. And he’s absolutely right.

More than 80 per cent of Australians live in our capital cities – and 80 per cent of our GDP is generated in them.

When the bush has an iconic status in Australian culture – and indeed, we live in the ‘Bush Capital’ – it can be easy to forget that cities are one of our most powerful economic assets.

As the Prime Minister pointed out, the most valuable capital in the world today is not financial capital. There’s plenty of that and it’s very mobile. “The most valuable capital today is human capital,” he said.

When people can choose to live anywhere, cities are in a fight for the best and brightest to ensure their ongoing productivity and prosperity.

Our cities are in fierce competition for tourist dollars, talented workers, businesses and investors. Our cities also face many challenges – population growth, congestion, sustainability and liveability to name just a few. These challenges can only be addressed if people are passionate about their cities.

If a city doesn’t inspire and delight its citizens – if it doesn’t provide them with great lifestyles – it’s easier than ever before to find a city that does.

This is why the Prime Minister has appointed Australia’s first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, Jamie Briggs, who will work alongside Environment Minister Greg Hunt to develop a new agenda for cities.

Turnbull promised that every level of government would work together – constructively and creatively – to ensure our cities progress.

In Canberra, we are poised on the cusp of a new era – but one which will require the hearts, heads and hands of many people to make our city a magnet for talent and capital.

Earlier this month, the Property Council of Australia, Canberra CBD Limited and the Canberra Business Chamber, brought together some of Australia’s greatest architects and urban planners, designers and dreamers for the Transforming Canberra’s CBD workshop. We were keen to explore how we can turn around the fortunes of our city’s failing heart.

Médy Hassan, property thought leader, innovator, CEO of Haus Holdings and moderator of the forum, argued that collaborative leadership was the “common DNA” that helped revive many cities around the world.

Malcolm Snow, Chief Executive of the National Capital Authority, agreed.

“The history of cities shows us is that the task of reimagining our city cannot belong to any one group or individual but must instead offer a shared value proposition to all of its different communities of interest,” Snow said.

Snow thinks perhaps Canberra needs a Boris Johnson or a Michael Bloomberg – a champion for the city – that can capture hearts and minds, and drive change. “From Barcelona to Bogota, lots of cities have achieved great things by having a lightning rod for change,” he said.

We must gather together what Snow calls a “coalition of the willing and able”.

“Government, business and community working together demonstrating not just the value but the power of collective urban leadership with a big injection of  ‘can do attitude’,” he says.

While Prime Minister Turnbull and his new Minister for Cities drives the agenda at the federal level, we must not waste our opportunity at the local level.

In Canberra, we’ve got the basics right – and we have the most liveable city in the OECD as a result. But we need to build on those basics to enhance our city’s character and charm and to help more people fall in love with – and invest in – our city.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia

Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and creative thinker, Catherine is passionate about Canberra. Catherine is intensely interested in how Canberrans can work together to create an amazing city, and how our built environment can provide the places our community needs to flourish. The mother of twins, Catherine is committed to diversity, and supporting and promoting the careers of women. She was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women's ACT Community and Government Award in 2010. More about the Author

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