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We the People stirred at Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland 18

There is something almost magical about some events.

You can get so much information online, you can research and, if you’re well connected, you can talk to the best people one-on-one and come up with a pretty serious cache of good insights. But bring an array of talented, interesting and inspired people together and something quite different takes hold.

In this sustainability industry of ours it is particularly special – as if an entity of its own is created. It zeroes in on the inspiration, seeks out the biggest energy nodes in the room, and then takes a shape all of its own. Then out it goes into the world to see what it can cook up in the 12 months to come.

On Thursday, we could feel the built environment stir from its sleepy sojourn over recent years and start to rise like a giant refreshed, energised and ready to make a powerful mark upon the world of sustainability, more conscious than ever of its potential. The mainstream media has noticed. So many of the issues that ordinary people in the street now talk about come back to the built environment: liveable cities, transport, density, congestion, quality housing, affordable housing, “The War on Waste”, healthy happy offices, how people in offices relate to and inspire each other to go more sustainable because they have cobbled up a community of like minded people.

Jefa Greenaway speaking at Tomorrowland 18

Keynote speaker Jefa Greenaway.

Resilience will be next on the tip of the daily news. Watch. Especially in how we manage the extreme heat that will be felt by the masses of people on our city fringes, where we send those who can’t afford a friendlier natural climate.

These are all pretty much the big challenges of human existence on this planet and the built environment has them all on its agenda. Perfect is not a thing. But that’s no reason not to do the very best we can. And it was that desire to reach out and challenge ourselves through new technology, science, our workplaces, the politics in Canberra and in our own backyards, that was jumping out of Tomorrowland.

Several people complained of extreme brain buzz by lunchtime – nope, by morning tea. But the fabulous conversations kept going.

Greenaway Architects’ Jefa Greenaway, architect, convenor of the first international symposium for Indigenous design, and a rising voice of influence, made a powerful first impression in his keynote presentation, with motifs that unfolded and kept circulating right through the day. The best ideas are like that.

He talked about the way an Indigenous inspired sense of “place” can feed into ourselves and back out again, and the way designers and planners at Fishermans Bend in Melbourne, University of Melbourne and now Sydney are starting to integrate some of that sensitivity into their work. Interesting, Greenaway noted, that the MCG, the holy altar of Melbourne’s great love affair with AFL, is on the site of a great traditional meeting ground for Indigenous people.

He also mentioned that the fires in Victoria had unearthed evidence of sophisticated structures built from volcanic rock in Western Victoria 7000 years ago – before the pyramids – and sophisticated systems of agriculture and permanent settlements. Some people during the breaks mentioned they had read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe; one woman saying it brought her to tears of regret of what we owe our First Peoples.

But not a whiff of this from Greenaway. Just a strong, quiet and wholly self contained presentation of his case – underpinned by a generosity of spirit. What he wants, you sensed, is not to recreate the past but to capture the potential of the future.

Another major brain drain came from trying to take in all physicist James Murray-Parkes from Brookfield Scientific Solutions was sharing. In a highly pared down version of what we know he’s got up his sleeve (see our extended feature on him here) Murray-Parkes touched on the power of nature and any pre-existing systems to offer solutions to design. What’s needed was to creatively apply solutions, he said – not so much bio-mimicry as mimicry.

Murray-Parkes’ t-shirt made a big point: “Science doesn’t care what you believe”.

James Murray Parkes tomorrowland 2018

James Murray-Parkes, Brookfield Scientific Solutions

We heard that John Alexander, Member for Bennelong, better known as JA, was a politician unusually well liked by most, and his appearance on our big We the People panel, proved his generosity of spirit. He was patient and collaborative in discussing his ideas on population and transport. It was no mean feat amid a huge panel that attempted to split feelings and sensitivities between stakeholders of the urban future and the development industry that would deliver it. There was a sense the panel would take on a life of its own and it did but the feedback was positive , with the “hard hitting questions” particularly appreciated by some.

JA was not only positive that there was good will on both sides of politics to deal with the big city agenda but that Canberra itself might now be set for healing and constructive action rather than the destructive conflict of the past 10 years (driven we must add, all of it, by the determination to stop serious climate change action.) The new PM Scott Morrison, JA said, was likely to calm the shattered sensibilities of the populace with a new “contest of ideas”.

We hope and wish.

The big theme for Morrison’s commemorative Menzies speech at Albury this week riffed off Menzies’ big promise to the Australian people to lift home ownership. And he did, with the rate rising from 40 per cent to 70 per cent.

Good call ScoMo.

In coverage of the speech came news of what might be seen as a surprising turnabout on sentiment out of Canberra with Morrison signalling had gone sweet on all the things We the People might want: good Medicare, the ABC, environmental protection, referencing the immense popularity of the ABC’s War on Waste.  “I hear you Australia”, was the message.

Get set for a populist election, starting now.

We’re glad and we hope JA is right and we also hope that Morrison’s listening extends to the nearly 80 per cent of Australians that want our government to take serious action on climate.

In the end that’s what Tomorrowland and all our efforts are about.

Thank you sponsors!!

Massive thanks to our co-lead sponsors for Tomorrowland, Arup and Landcom, supporting sponsors Bates Smart and Flow Systems, and venue sponsor Baker McKenzie for a fantastic room and wonderful catering that included delicious bush tucker (and the rest), plus an absolutely gracious team to help us.

More coverage of Tomorrowland2018 in coming weeks and in the Tomorrowland ebook.

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