Planning for the future

Global experts share the big ideas that transformed their cities

At our CityTalks event, we asked national and international figures to share the bold ideas that have transformed their cities.

Jay Wetherill

Global urbanisation is increasing with over half the world’s population living in towns and cities. And with over 75% of Australians living in cities, our nation is one of the most urbanised in the world.

So how can we transform our cities for the better to ensure they’re sustainable, prosperous and vibrant?

As Sydney creates a new vision for 2050, we asked national and international figures to share the bold ideas that have transformed their cities.

Here’s what they told us when they took to the stage at our CityTalks event.

‘Citizens should be the centre of administration and policy’

When Mayor Park Won Soon was elected, he famously declared citizens were the real mayor of Seoul.

Delivering his keynote speech with 3D technology from Seoul, Mayor Park shared how a continued focus on citizen participation has led to many successful initiatives.

“Through collaboration, governance and innovation, the citizens have become the real driving force behind city administration and policies,” Mayor Park said.

For Mayor Park, battling the trend for rapid growth in favour of people-centred projects has been key to the city’s regeneration.

Speaking about Seoullo 7017, a project that transformed a derelict 1970s overpass into a kilometre-long skygarden, Mayor Park said they “chose to preserve the depth of history instead of focusing on the height of skyscrapers”.

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‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’

The South Australia blackout of 2016 triggered widespread public debate about renewable energy. Critics blamed the power outage on the state’s “reckless” use of renewables.

However, former premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill said his government “refused to back down” on its pursuit of renewables. Instead, it used the opportunity to engage people in their renewable energy policies.

“When you’re in the middle of a red hot crisis, it gives you the opportunity to focus people’s attention,” he said.

Jay’s government attempted to turn the public debate by developing a clear, simple vision that people could get behind.

“This almost crowd-sourcing of the policy solutions and the technological answers was a critical part of our process,” he said.

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‘What if we allocate space in a different way?’

As partner and managing director of Gehl Copenhagen, Henriette Vamberg leads Gehl’s work on city transformations.

In 2009, she was involved in the Times Square project that closed a section of Broadway to cars, converting it into a space for people who walk and cycle.

Henriette said they saw the area change as people started to enjoy the city in different ways. “Like Star Trek, people came from everywhere,” she said.

After closing Broadway, traffic accidents decreased, quality of life improved and there was even a positive impact on property value in the area.

This new layout was trialled for 6 months.

“There was an overwhelming vote in favour of keeping the changes of 75%,” Henriette said.

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‘Trust, good governance and relationships’

The City of Sydney’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan came to life after we asked our communities what kind of city they wanted.

One of the strongest responses was for greater recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This led to the development of the Eora Journey.

“In order to become a great nation, we need to tell the story of our First Peoples,” David Beaumont said, senior community engagement coordinator.

The Eora Journey’s achievements so far have been supported by “trust, good governance and relationships”.

“Mythology, ideology, wisdom, systems and values are the sacred geometry that underpins our living cultures,” David said.

“When we respect these, everything we do will have great meaning.”

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Our CityTalks series inspires, educates and engages the people of Sydney about global, national and local city issues.

Watch all of the speeches from this event or hear from other speakers who are passionate about enhancing life in our cities.

Published 4 June 2019