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Why every city needs a champion

Catherine Carter

Every city needs a champion.

City champions are passionate about their place on the planet, and want to galvanise their community to make it the best it can be. They bring people together around a common goal or collective idea. They make things happen.

New York has been lucky to have a succession of champions who have transformed it from dirty and dangerous to downright delightful. Rudy Giuliani cleaned up the Big Apple, slashing crime statistics and making the streets safe again. Michael Bloomberg attracted businesses and investment after September 11, and was a loud international voice on the need to take action on climate change.

In Bogotá, mayor Enrique Peñalosa has just been re-elected to continue the work he started in 1998 – implementing a mass public transport system, restricting traffic during peak hour and rolling out a 300 kilometre bike network. He has famously declared that “an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.”

Closer to home, Clover Moore is championing beautiful public spaces and community facilities, arts, culture and public transport that are changing the shape of Sydney’s city. Light rail will soon run down the spine of George Street, laneways are becoming secret spots for wining and dining, investment in public art is enlivening dead spaces and there’s a palpable buzz on the streets.

Perhaps the most famous city champion is London’s mayor Boris Johnson. He’s been a driving force behind transformational projects from the 2012 Olympics – during which he famously got stuck on a zip wire – to the city’s cycle rental scheme, which is now a popular way to get around the congested city. London recently knocked Paris and New York off the top of the list of most visited cities, with 18.8 million globetrotters taking the sights last year. Johnson recently declared that more people wandered through the British Museum last year than visited the whole of Belgium.

Meanwhile, our own city’s centre continues to limp along, despite clear desire from the community to see Civic revived. Transforming Canberra’s City Centre, a research project commissioned by Canberra CBD Limited and conducted by KREAB Research in 2015, found strong support from the community in three areas: refurbishing the Sydney and Melbourne buildings, adapting under-used buildings and revitalising Garema Place.

While London, New York, Sydney and Bogota are very different cities, each has benefited from the drive and determination of individuals who wanted to make a difference – champions who have inspired and connected their communities and encouraged people to think about their surroundings in new ways.

While there are many passionate advocates for our city, in Canberra it’s not evident who that one single champion – that one single dynamic individual – might be for our city. But, of course, we don’t need to be just the same as other cities to create our own success. Given our highly articulate and passionate population my view is that when it comes to our city centre, we don’t need a single champion – we need lots of champions. We need champions with big ideas, and the determination to make things happen.

I’m prepared to be a champion for Civic. Who else is with me?

Feature image by Martin Ollman

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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