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TEDxMelbourne: Re-imagine the future

Farah attends the TedxMelbourne conference to gain insight into what the future of Melbourne could be with a little bit of creativity

Words by: Farah Beaini
Photography by: RedSecret PhotographyPeter HalaszJulie GozaliMark Russell Dean

As any Melbournian will tell you, Melbourne has been named – for the third year in a row – as the world’s most liveable city. How gleeful these patriots are, as they give Sydney the royal “courtesy”, ordering a round of applause for the table, and a sunny side up of Carpe Diem!

Well, I will be their Hermes and herald the warning that no city can afford to be enamored by the successes of its past– just ask Detroit. By 2030, those very same Melbournians will be sharing their city with 1.6 million new residents. That translates to 800,000 new homes needing to be built and God knows how many more cafes be opened to cope with the burgeoning, latte sipping masses!

Now, there is no need to wave your hands in uproar and order yourself a dozen NIMBY t-shirts. If there’s one thing that Melbourne does well, it is to come up with and adapt to innovative ideas that revitalise its future.

Don’t believe me? Then you clearly were not in attendance at TEDxMelbourne’s TEDX City 2.0! Held on 22 September 2013, the event challenged its local and international speakers to dream, build and make real their city of the future.

What might surprise you is that there was no mention of robots or an over-reliance by these speakers on technology to save their cities. Rather, the focus was on re-imagining their streets– hidden in plain sight – to steer the ship of their city towards a more prosperous horizon.

In designing our future city, Christopher Downey, a world renowned blind architect and planner, urged us to use the disabled as the prototypical city dweller. By doing so, we could create a city with a rich walkable network, an accessible mass-transit system that connects all parts of the city. Who knows, we might also eliminate the need for cars!

New York’s ‘Sustainable Streets’ projects proved that you don’t have to spend big to achieve big. By using paint and other inexpensive material, New York quickly transformed some of its busiest streets into public spaces that were shared by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Not only did this lead to a marked increase in safety, but was great for business, and counter-intuitively, led to a 17 per cent decrease in overall travel time through the space.

You might at this point say that Melbourne already has a wide variety of public spaces. It is not a New York, a Brooklyn or Detroit. What you might not know is that Melbourne was also once ringed by orchards and veggie patches that have now been taken over by urban sprawl. Kate Dundas, senior Landscape Architect and Urban Designer at Planisphere, wants to unlock Melbourne’s vast underutilised public land to create urban gardens and food production, and reconnect Melbourne to its food system. Through her 3000 acres start-up, Kate has signed up the Royal Botanical Gardens, two inner city councils, social enterprisers and developers to transform underutilised sites into fresh food hubs in Fitzroy.

Greg More’s dream Melbourne city is built on a better understanding and visualising of our city’s data. Greg believes that data can shape better, more sustainable, connected and even more memorable cities, but it can’t do all this by itself. It needs participation of the city’s citizens and the knowledge of the data stewards – city organisations that have the data – to be able to imagine a better future.

Greg pointed to a number of data visualisation projects that are offering this very platform. Melbourne’s Urban Forest project looks at every single tree in the city and offers visual ways of communicating the lifetime and other characteristics of the urban forests. Through data visualisation, local residents, councils and planners can develop a richer understanding of the diversity (by the shape of the data) and lifespans of our tree stocks (the colour of the data points), and make a much more informed decision when developing Melbourne’s urban planning strategies. It allows us to answer challenging questions, like what do we have to do now to have more shade, not less, in the future.

We often think of cities as needing ‘big’ ideas to transform them into the cities of the future. But really, the only ‘big’ ideas coming out of these talks is their ‘small’ focus on the needs of locals. We don’t always need to expand our city’s boundaries or spend billions of dollars to cope with its growth. Sometimes, the best idea is simply for Melbournians to close their eyes and re-imagine what their local streets can do for them. I guarantee that the answer won’t be found in another coffee cup!

TEDxMelbourne is an independently organised TED-like experience under license from TED.com. Like TED, TEDxMelbourne is about ideas worth sharing. At TEDxMelbourne event, live speakers, performers, and the famous TED Talks videos combine to spark deep discussion and connection. Subscribe for email updates to find out when the next big TEDxMelbourne event is on can be found here.

Food in pictures

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