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Mission Fit Cities

James Tuma, Group Director with Urbis Future State, presented the May seminar for PedBikeTrans. The seminar was called 'Mission Fit Cities' and it examined the factors that position a city for success within a post-Covid reality. James' presentation comes from the Urbis Future State initiative where they have gathered their international visionary thinkers and leaders to look at fresh ideas for our complex urban challenges.

The presentation was not specifically focussed on active transport, or physical fitness for that matter. Instead it was looking at how cities can be 'tuned' for success within a global market for investment. This work is not specific to the Covid crisis, but the rapid change that was possible from the crisis has shown how public perceptions and behaviours can change rapidly.

The future of Australian cities will be determined by how well they respond to the key issues that have come to the fore for cities. A strong factor in the future success of cities will be the ability of cities to create an environment that supports citizen wellbeing, health and happiness. The five themes that will facilitate seccess relate to:

  • People: how do cities resond to the shifts in behaviour and values of the next generation of citizens. Strong elements of this include the importance of health and wellbeing, and the need for equity.

  • Performance: cities need to create an environment that increases productivity of their citizens through supporting innovation and specialisation that differentiates from others.

  • Positivity: people choose to visit or live in a city because they identify with its vision and purpose. Positivity in the city-brand and a common purpose and vision between government and civil society creates this positivity that will underpin competitiveness.

  • Power: this is about connecting people powerfully. A key aspect is the importance of social equity through affordability and access - quality active transport serving people-centred development will be important to this.

  • Place: cities need 'place' to create a unique identity that attracts visitors, businesses and residents to want to be there. The experience people have in the city is increasing in importance when people choose where to settle down.

The importance of 'Place' was a thread that was woven through many aspecs of the presentation. An interesting thing James raised was the post-Covid city is likely to shift its emphasis from the CBD to amenity-rich local centres. Working from home is now proving to be very viable and the 5-day commute to the office may become extinct for many people. This is expected to place greater emphasis on local centres as places for working, collaboration, and relaxation. Centres within close proximity to central Brisbane have potential to capitalise on this move to smaller, local centres with great amenity value.

In discussion it was pointed out that there is a high risk that these centres will become victims of their own success with parking becoming a major problem. There is a need to make these centres very accessible to residents living (and working from home) close to the centres. Provididing high quality cycle and pedestrian connections to, through and between these local centres will be critical to getting people to choose to walk and cycle there. This will help in maintaining the amenity of these centres and minimising negative impacts on (and resulting backlash from) surrounding communities and centre users due to parking issues.

Another aspect discussed was how cities need to recognise the increasing importance of the environment and health. Creating a positive culture towards active lifestyles and building the infrastructure to support this is not just good for active transport, it can give a city a competitive edge. In the post-Covid world where there is less trust in the safety of crowded public transport, a high quality active transport network serving centres will be critical to creating fit cities (and fit citizens) that can compete in a global stage.

Another point noted was the importance of street trees in creating an environment that is comfortable and attractive - especially in our Queensland environment. The value of quality urban landscaping is that it can really differentiate a city street as a place with an environment that attracts people. This fits quite nicely with the theme for our June seminar where we will be looking at the importance of trees in the urban landscape.

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