Archive for August, 2014


Blog No 19. Creating A Liveable Society in the 21st Century

August 20, 2014

Today Melbourne my home city became the world most liveable city for the fourth year in a row. I am really interested in using liveability as an organising framework for planning the future.

Here is a chapter on liveability that I wrote that is included in that in a book ‘Melbourne Subjective’ that was launched on 14 August.

Marvellous/Liveable Melbourne, 2050

Peter Ellyard

 Today is 13 April 2050. Melbourne is still the world’s most liveable city. We are celebrating because we have now held this ranking for 39 years.

Melbourne first won this award in 2011. We were very surprised for we certainly didn’t aspire to be this. Who thought then about liveability? An idea, however, came to some of us. Could we consciously turn this into a long-term advantage? Could we build our future around liveability?

Yes, in 2011 we lived in a clean and basically safe and harmonious city of friendly and hospitable people. We had quite good schools and hospitals: okay but not the best. We did have the magnificent Botanical Gardens and some lovely parks in the inner city, and a way-ahead-of its-time sewage treatment facility at Werribee. This was the legacy left to us by public-spirited visionaries in the late 19th century when Melbourne was the world’s wealthiest city.

Regrettably, after World War One this bold, visionary culture vanished. In the space of a half-century, we shrank from being Marvellous Melbourne to Mediocre Melbourne. We were ‘led’ by timid managers who thought within-the-square and of business-as-usual. They only considered changing direction if supported by public opinion polling and cost-benefit analysis, and when they tried to be bold (which was rare), were stupid and short-sighted. We had to, for instance, fight very hard to resist their determined efforts to remove trams from our streets to make way for more cars.

In the 1980s things begin to improve somewhat. Existing sporting and cultural precincts were significantly improved by Victorian governments in the eighties, nineties and noughties; and we discovered Melbourne’s previously neglected laneways and put effort into making them attractive and convivial places. We built some fine bicycle paths. We upgraded our regional rail network and created a marvellous Southern Cross Station, and we made some modest extensions to our light-rail system.

However, major investments to improve both our urban heavy and light rail systems remained on the never-never. Cars stayed part of our transport problem rather than part of the solution. In the first two decades of this century we continued with some misguided motor vehicle tollways. We sought to build them east-west when the big transport challenges were north-south, like the mess that was Punt Road between 1980 and 2015. We were evolving in the wrong direction. Melbourne kept expanding across the rural landscape with many low-density suburbs: becoming, despite an investment boom in high-rise apartment blocks in the noughties, ever more car dependent as it did so.

We did, however, do two visionary things. Although many condemned these, in the first years of this century we built a desalination plant and a north-south pipeline. We did this during a ten-year drought. Two big droughts later we are glad we showed this foresight even though our financial planning should have been more creative and less financially stressful.

   With hindsight, in 2011 we needed more self-belief. We were surprised that others saw Melbourne as being so liveable. And what we did then was almost unAustralian. We decided to consciously transform our home into the world’s exemplar liveable city. We asked what ‘liveability heaven’ would look like. We imagined Melbourne in 2050 as a seven-star icon of liveability and set out to build it. In doing so, we were inspired not just by the idea of creating a better place for ourselves but by the thought that liveability could be used as an organising principle to help us shape the future of all cities and towns and realise a liveable planet.

This concept of liveability broadened our focus away from the physical structure of Melbourne. Liveability is about a safe and healthy Melbourne, a convivial Melbourne, a Melbourne replete with fulfilled lives, an harmonious Melbourne, a Melbourne of fruitful relationships, an emotionally supportive Melbourne, an inclusive Melbourne, a Melbourne of opportunity and a sustainable Melbourne. The concept of liveability encouraged us to concentrate on the interaction between the human Melbourne and the physical Melbourne. And, of course, we needed to create a prosperous Melbourne so we could afford to achieve all these things.

What is liveability? We deduced it had six key ingredients: prosperity, sustainability, harmony, wellness, inclusion and security. All of these could be objectively assessed and improved. We also recognised that liveability was destroyed by the presence of their opposites: being poor; living in unsustainable, uncomfortable and toxic environments; being excluded or treated badly by others because of one’s poverty, disability, gender, culture or race; being acutely or chronically ill with no route back to wellness; and being fearful or anxious because of perceived or real threats.

All these negatives killed liveability. But simply lessening a negative—unliveable Melbourne—does not mean one has created a positive: liveable Melbourne. There are also subjective and aesthetic elements in the concept of liveability. A conversation about a liveable Melbourne must also consider these perspectives.

So our first action was to establish Liveable Melbourne Inc as a not-for-profit organization in 2016. We weren’t going to lobby governments. We were going to do this ourselves by creating a bandwagon so joyfully loud and robust that even the most retarded government would be embarrassed not to jump on board. Liveable Melbourne (LM) was established to be a futures-shaping organisation, a think tank to develop and implement visions and strategies to realize an exemplary liveable Melbourne. It became a public advocate of, an investor in, and an innovation broker for, liveability. By 2018 LM was already funded by three philanthropies.

In the same year we established Designers, Innovators, Planners and Educators for a Liveable Melbourne (DIPELM). All the design-based professions were invited to join—engineers, architects, designers and planners of every kind. Those who accepted committed to ensuring their professional practice would progress the arrival of a truly Liveable Melbourne. They also took part in the liveability workshops that commenced in 2018. As a result, we formed alliances with key professional organizations. These included social and physical planners; design professionals such as architects, engineers and precinct and indoor designers; social and community planners; recreation planners and operators; urban foresters and urban ecologists; and organizations and individuals dedicated to building harmonious relationships and resolving conflict. Because of this, users of the outdoors like recreation specialists, personal trainers and sporting associations, and cultural professionals such as art gallery owners, music venue managers, museum managers and artists of all kinds also bought into our dream. All these people, each in their own way, began to embed liveability into their work.

We also started a public education program in our schools in 2019 to raise public awareness of what we were doing and promote liveability. Our Year 9 initiation programs emphasised liveability as a focus for showing our young how to live fruitful, considerate and happy lives.

On our website we listed the tasks we wanted accomplished; anybody in the world could propose the means to accomplish them. Many of these suggestions subsequently led to the establishment of new commercial ventures for producing liveability products and services, first for our own city and then for export.

In 2017 LM conducted a community wide program to imagine and describe Melbourne as liveability heaven in terms of its six key elements. We then developed a strategic plan to realize our aspirations using the six futures-shaping tools: leadership, management, planning, design, innovation and learning. We collected our ideas into what we call a future history, an historic narrative written in the past tense, from the perspective of 2050, and published it the same year. This imagined the events, the actors and the actions that constituted our program of transformation. We described each strategic action in terms of its what, why, who, when, where and how. And we committed ourselves to lifting liveability across its six key elements. Imagination is the primary route to the future just as memory is our primary route to the past. From 2017, we consciously promoted imagination in all its forms. We wanted more outside-the-square thinking. We reminded everyone that today’s ratbag is tomorrow’s prophet.

Liveability as a concept enabled us to envision new industrial panoramas. It appealed to many would-be entrepreneurs. We knew the market for liveability innovations was potentially huge. If we could construct liveability heaven in Melbourne then we could also build an industrial future for ourselves around this. We imagined, developed and marketed hundreds of liveability-enhancing innovations: liveability ways and wares. Liveability ways are the social innovations, behavioural changes, and changes to what we do to create a more liveable future. Liveability wares are the physical innovations, goods and services, infrastructures, and changes to what we use to create a more liveable future. We determined from the outset that Melbourne would become a laboratory for the creation of liveability ways and wares.

By 2020 we were also being supported by government grants and investments by the many new entrepreneurs and businesses constituting the budding liveability industry. These formed what could be called an emerging liveability alliance. We helped each other become better practitioners in liveability.

We built a shared vision and strong and purposeful relationships amongst those who were part of our liveability alliance. By 2020 there was no stopping us. Dozens of new liveability companies were established to form an emerging liveability industry and many existing companies added a liveability focus to their existing business. Two of our universities established liveability programs. The liveability theme began to permeate our whole culture. Talented entrepreneurs and creative people came to live here because they wanted to be part of creating liveability heaven. Many were tall-poppy knowledge workers and entrepreneurs who wanted to live in a place that nourished them and did not pull them down.

When the automotive industry began to turn sour in Melbourne and Adelaide early this century we established a number of robotics design and manufacturing companies in the old motor vehicle premises, which gave work to many retrenched motor vehicle workers. We began to grow an industrial base in robotics and artificial intelligence.

   A major project was Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Liveability (RAIL). Our liveability robots reduced drudgery and inconvenience in our lives. We manufactured robotic pets for the young, very old and infirm, robots for children’s learning and games, and robots for exercise and fitness. Intelligent machines now add to our comfort and happiness and assist us to improve our skills through practice in virtual environments. These days, our cars, trams and trains are actually intelligent robots: they can all be self-guiding and managing. Our water is conserved, restored, reused and delivered by intelligent machines. The result is that we all have more reflective time and less stress.

Another major project was stopping the further sprawl of Melbourne. We minimised Melbourne’s population growth by assisting towns and cities in Regional Victoria within two hours of Melbourne to also become more liveable. While not totally successful, since 2020 we have persuaded one million people to live outside Melbourne in Geelong/Bellarine, Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Daylesford, Ballan, Wonthaggi and Warragul.

We designated some areas near railway stations medium/high density zones with height limits subject to local approval. We reminded those who wanted to keep everything at low density that in the old days the most liveable parts of Melbourne were actually medium-density precincts like South Yarra and Carlton. Liveability is more a design-related than a density-related issue. We froze all land sales in these zones for five years, sold the land on behalf of the owners, and kept some for ourselves, so that the increasing rise in land values accrued into a public fund rather than being siphoned off by land speculators and developers. This fund paid for new community infrastructure and development.

As we stabilised the urban fringe, we redesigned it to be beautiful and welcoming. Cities tend to have their most ugly precincts on their fringes. We changed this. Three welcoming gates greet and farewell people entering and leaving Melbourne. The countryside outside the gate is an attractive intensive permaculture, horticulture and aquaculture precinct producing food for the world. The nearby rural communities to the northwest, northeast, east and south are magnets for ‘tree-change’ and ‘sea-change’ people.

Making work more mobile has also helped our cause. Because we have enjoyed free wi-fi across the whole city since 2021 many Melbournians now use cafés as offices. Many people don’t have designated work areas at all. Their work travels with them, and when they do go to work they have ‘hot desks’, enabling office space to be used more efficiently. Office buildings are also more flexible and convivial places. There is barely an office anywhere that does not have a café and multi-purpose wellness facilities for activities such as exercise, yoga and meditation. So although our population has increased by 50% since 2015, our office space has barely increased at all. Hospitality is a thriving industry and a mainstay of Liveable Melbourne. The CBD’s famous laneways have been emulated throughout the metropolitan area, and they are genial and funky places indeed.

   Liveable Melbourne without comfortable, regular and reliable public transport was unthinkable. Our trains and trams have both superb connectivity and hot desks. Many also offer quiet places where phone calls and conversations are banned and study and meditation is supported. We also have many long double-decker trains with long platforms to accommodate them. There are more buses, all of them electrically driven through either the use of overhead wiring or using solar-electric or solar-hydrogen driven hybrid vehicles.

It took until 2020 to raise the necessary community and political support for major investment in public transport, but it was worth the struggle. We now have trains to Tullamarine and Avalon airports. The Melbourne Metro was finally built between 2018-2023. Car expressways will never again be built through the inner city and the CBD. We learned that lesson after we finally abandoned a very controversial east–west road link in 2016.

We abolished peak hours. We did this by encouraging different workplaces to have different working hours and stage their employees’ times at work. So journeys to work are staggered. Peak hours disappeared just as, for the same reason, the six o’clock swill vanished in the 1960s.

The old planning zones separating work and residential living have vanished. After all, we used to separate them because work was once dirty and polluting. Sustainable practice involves doing things in ways that avoids net collateral damage to others. All our workplaces are exemplars of this principle. Our air, already pretty clean, and our water supply, always good, are now better than ever. You would never know that most new buildings have cutting-edge waterless toilets and two or three separate grey water systems. Our water savings have been immense.

We designated community conviviality zones (CCZ) in both Melbourne and in regional cities: places for convivial living, restaurants, cafes, pubs, theatres, cinemas and small shops. These are never highrise because keeping them human scale is important. We stopped at four floors in CCZs.

Our late night drinking spots are no longer threatening places. We put an end to alcohol-fuelled violence not by more police and bouncers, but by more and different education. Our youth are thankfully now less destructive, both to themselves and to each other. We used the middle years of secondary school to introduce initiation programs that, like all initiation throughout the centuries, prepared our children for successful and responsible adulthood. Year 9 used to be nightmare for teachers, and a few years later their former students created mayhem in the small hours. Now we don’t have violent, drunken boys staggering around in men’s bodies. Our youth have even more fun today, but not at the cost of their own or others’ health and safety.

The 21st century bioinspiration movement had a large influence on us. We have embedded in our planning culture two major subsets of bioinspiration: biophilic design— designing with nature; and biomimicry—innovating by learning from nature. Our traffic flows are designed using algorithms based on how ants move in heavy traffic and deal with clogged pathways. We have robots that collaborate to construct whole buildings mimicking how termites build their homes. We don’t clean windows as much because since 2020 our new windows are self-cleaning: using a technology developed from noticing how lotus flowers stay clean when surrounded by mud. All our buildings and public spaces are intelligent in how they manage energy use, temperature, water and light. They are programmed—tuned—to maximize all the parameters required for human comfort, with the quietness needed for conversation in some places, and music in others. Chairs and tables are always adjustable and chairs can provide massages on demand.

Liveable Melbourne is a convivial, event-packed Melbourne. In these events we celebrate and focus on the things we care about and want to promote. We have events awards at Moomba that reward event excellence! Most parts of Melbourne conduct an event every month. Our fantastic White Night occurs in four places as well as in the CBD. To our grand sporting galas—the AFL Grand Final, Boxing Day Test, Melbourne Cup and the Australian Open—we have added countless celebratory events. Our cultural and sporting precincts have significantly expanded in size and in options offered, and Federation Square hosts a huge number of our events.

Thirty percent of our population is now of Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Japanese and Korean origin. They have connected us with some of the most booming markets in the world. Our economic prosperity has come because we culturally customised our liveability ways and wares, indeed all our innovations, for them to export to their home countries.

We set a goal of becoming a solar city by 2050. Now all our electrical energy is sun powered, directly or indirectly, from solar electric, wind, solar thermal, terrestrial hydro-power and marine hydro-power. Many of our homes and buildings are energy autonomous and no longer on the grid. We started using solar-driven marine currents in the Bass Strait as a source of electricity by doing deals with Tasmania. We also acted on a promise to deliver lunar hydro-tidal and wave power, commencing with the tides entering and leaving Port Philip daily. Motor transport is also 80% solar, and carbon-emitting vehicles have been unregisterable since 2027.

To ensure Melbourne is a liveable place for all, we needed to become more inclusive. Among the initiatives we took was to appoint a Commissioner for Inclusion. Her job was to ensure that people who are excluded because of disadvantage or disability can nonetheless plan and walk their life and career path equally. Nobody is denied the opportunity to become the best person they can be.

There is shopping we like to do and shopping we have to do. In Liveable Melbourne we do the former and have alternatives for the latter. Shops have learned that if they want customers to visit and buy from them, they must make shopping enjoyable. Supermarkets are not so dominant in our lives now because most of their sales are remotely ordered and home delivered by solar electric vehicles. In large part, we now only do chores we dislike when necessary for personal or professional development.

We had to deal with the issue of global warming in two key areas, urban heat and sea rise. Urban nightmares are caused by a combination of pollution and extreme temperature: either dirty hot or dirty cold air. Our air was clean but we needed to deal with the evolving problem of longer and more severe summer heat waves and urban heat islands. Heat islands are avoidable: they are caused by dark roofs, roads and pavements, and loss of vegetation. In summer we were increasingly being baked because of bad urban design and heat waves caused big spikes in cardiac arrests.

We consciously sought to create a Melbourne cooler in summer and warmer in winter. We created a Melbourne full of cool, green water-wise streets and precincts. To achieve this we needed to increase the albedo—the reflectivity—of our roads and streets, and massively reduce the amount of solar energy absorbed by the dark surfaces that dominated our streets and pavements and then fried us when it was later re-radiated. We also needed to reduce the heat entering and being retained in the urban canyons we built from the 1990s on.

In 2018 we decided on a new Cool Melbourne Code: we focused on urban colouring, shade, and on the spacing and setbacks of tall buildings. Our streets are now light coloured. A large amount of previously retained solar energy is now reflected back and not trapped in the city. Our streets used to be ten degrees warmer than our parklands but we have now eliminated this differential. Our urban rooftops, walls and open spaces generally are now light coloured as well and many have natural covers and plants and gardens on and in them. From the air Melbourne looks very different, with green and off-white being the predominating colours. We use only half the electricity for street lighting that we used before because our current streetscapes are much more reflective, and also brighter and safer. We live in an urban forest and many of our plants attract birds into the city (though to protect these we needed to get community agreement to control cats).

   We accompanied all this with another innovation. We created permeable pavements and streets so rain could directly nourish our trees and shrubs and be retained in underground tanks. These tanks enabled automatic irrigation in the summer and were used in the many new water features we built. We no longer need to manually water any of our trees except when we have droughts lasting more than five years. Consequently our urban stormwater runoff has been reduced by 50% and our Bay side precincts are benefitting. And all of this stormwater is clean because rubbish is trapped and then pyrolyzed or composted. Our gardens are mulched by compost and biochar produced from our organic waste. We have planted shade trees and built trellises with deciduous plants everywhere possible as part of our urban cooling and warming policies. Deciduous plants, grown as trees and trellised plants, shade us in summer and enable the sun to reach our streets and footpaths in winter. We have become a city of fountains and water features and much of our urban art cools and warms us as well as pleasing us. And we now export urban cooling ways and wares to an appreciative world.

   Global warming threatened to drown much of the city. For a considerable period there was resistance to doing anything significant about climate change. But we knew that unless we reduced the carbon dioxide levels in the global atmosphere to 350ppm by 2060 we were going to have to deal with a sea level rise. And along the shoreline in Port Philip there were many communities that would be endangered. We examined possible solutions such as constructing sea walls, lifting buildings, or relocating people inland, but these responses would have been both very expensive and socially and politically divisive.            

   One very controversial engineering solution was proposed in 2016: to build a barrier across the sea entrance to Port Phillip Bay, turning it into a lake. A Lake Phillip would become a managed environment like Lake Alexandrina at the Murray Mouth. This meant that all our bay side communities would be protected from sea level rise caused by climate change, but it also meant that the Ports of Melbourne and Geelong would have to be transferred to Westernport. It was also proposed to build a railway and road across the barrage and build a great Melbourne regional circular railway. We could then go by car or train from Geelong to Portsea and the eastern bay side suburbs in fifteen to thirty minutes. The private cost of protecting our shoreline would be reduced but the public cost to taxpayers would be immense.

Fortunately, concern about sea level rise grew. Many people in port and seaside cities around the world joined the movement for climate-change abatement. The cheapest option by far was to keep a price on carbon sufficient to drive down the level of carbon dioxide to 350 ppm by 2060. A global agreement was finally made in 2021 and the world committed itself to this course. Now twenty-nine years later we are just about there. We were able to keep the ports where they were and save our bay side communities as well. However, we thought that the circular railway and roadway such a good idea that we went ahead and built these. So in 2032 we opened the Melbourne Gateway Bridge, a high level bridge spanning the entrance to Port Philip that ships pass under when they enter and leave our port.

We have ‘bicyclized’ Melbourne. Bicycle paths interlink the whole metropolitan region. Bicycles are either pedal powered or renewable electricity powered. Eighty percent are still pedal powered because as part of our liveability program we have a big project promoting fitness and wellness in all its forms. Just as sustainable behaviour is acting with zero net collateral damage to others, healthy behaviour is acting with zero net collateral damage to self. Wellness is a major building block of our Liveable Melbourne. Sport is still a primary passion. Our liveability health agenda mandated creating environments that promote healthy behaviours, that avoid collateral damage to ourselves or others and that do not deeply disturb or endanger us. We have done this well.

We also sought to maximize wellness and minimize illness. We now have a buoyant wellness industry contributing to a liveable Melbourne. Wellness has two elements: wellbeing, which is being and remaining well; and wellbecoming, which is healing and becoming well. Wellbecoming is now a major focus of our medical research. Wellbecoming is being guided by a combination of medical and biosciences such as proteomics, neuroscience and immunology, and many allied sciences; and health is being supported by practices which include Tai Chi Chuan, yoga, shiatsu and pilates. We instituted programs promoting and supporting these, and now there are very few people who are not regular practitioners of at least one of them. Tai Chi Chuan practitioners are everywhere in our public spaces during the day, particularly near the fountains and other water features that are part of our cooler Melbourne program. We have twenty community choirs who convivially sing their way to wellness. We have community dancing in our cool precincts so that we can dance our way to wellness. And we have several festival events in both singing and dancing including at Moomba. We have made Melbourne into a healing city, and we won our first global wellness award in 2026.

In the eighties, nineties and noughties, too much of our big development was shaped by developers who thought it natural to prosper by creating barely liveable communities. They built a sterile Docklands that only became really liveable in the second decade of this century. We almost let the developers repeat this at Fisherman’s Bend as well. But Liveable Melbourne generated public support to put liveability at the forefront of their planning, rather than as an afterthought. We already had all the designers and planners on side. And of course we knew the developers would eventually learn that setting out to consciously create liveable communities by design increases their return on investment. They now naturally want to do economically well by doing social, cultural and ecological good—a 45 year change in consciousness between 1980 and 2025.

From 2017, we made more efforts to fulfil our long-held aspiration to bring the city to fully embrace the Yarra River. The railway tracks east of Flinders Street Station are now covered all the way to the MCG. The river is connected to the city via a host of new spaces. Some are high-density developments but one-third of the riverine environs is beautiful cool open space. Two new footbridges cross the river east of Princes Bridge. They have made the Domain and the Botanic Gardens more accessible to those north of the river.

We have also changed how we govern ourselves. Having finally moved from monarchy to republic two years after Queen Elizabeth’s long reign ended, Australia has a President. The states were abolished in 2027 and we now have just two tiers of government. Around the nation we have 30 regions, our model for regional governance being the ACT.

Melbourne’s four regions occupy the central-southern, eastern, western and northern parts of the urban area, with each urban region including the adjacent rural areas. There is a greater metropolitan planning system covering the whole of Melbourne and all our major services are managed and developed by organisations that service the whole of Melbourne. The Chief Ministers of the four metropolitan regions take turns to head our Melbourne Planning Organization (MPO). Liveability is now a major assessment mechanism to evaluate outcomes of all planning and development decisions across the nation. If a decision impoverishes us culturally, socially or ecologically, if liveability is lessened, it simply will not be permitted.

That is a part of what we wrote in 2017 and then realised in the years since then. We became disciples of Ralph Waldo Emerson who said Do not follow where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. In 2050 we can look back with pride on two generations of conscious transformative change. We are now a truly 21st century city. We live in an exemplary Marvellous Melbourne.