From Grey to Green Infrastructure: How Local Governments are Re-Making Melbourne

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Kirsten Bauer: What’s interesting is that all three of you are in a sense “embedded” in the system. Often we talk about fighting the system. How do you think you’ve been most effective in that environment, in a sense not speaking to the converted?

Ian Shears (City of Melbourne): There have been a couple of aspects to why the City of Melbourne has been so successful in the body of work that it’s produced. At the heart of it, we’ve taken the long term view and recognised that our intention is to make 100-year decisions. So it’s about leaving a legacy and it’s about getting your organisation to ask, “How do you get those politicians into a 100-year legacy?” It makes them look good… put the Lord Mayor on a stage in New York with Michael Bloomberg and he’s fairly happy.

What we needed to think about was the future rather than just the present, taking people away from short term and often selfish thinking. Instead of a 12-month financial cycle or a three-year political term, we moved to one of “future generations”, which we managed to get both bureaucracy and the community to buy into.

KB: And also having photo montages showing the death of all Melbourne’s elms in the boulevards would’ve helped.

IS: It was also demonstrating the value of it. What we said is that if you invest in green infrastructure, that’s the best response. We did international reviews which said the smartest thing you do to respond to the heat island, which is also the cheapest and most effective, is to plant trees. New York worked out that for every dollar they invested in their urban forests they got a return of $5.60.

KB: So some of that messaging turned into metrics?

IS: Yes, but you also had to embed community values in decisions. When the community wants something, it’s very hard to go against. While you can produce a really fantastic piece of work, it might just sit on a shelf. The question then becomes: how do you stop it just sitting on the shelf?

KB: Adrian, I was reminded of the way you reframed Brimbank’s typical “we need more open space” narrative. Instead, you started talking about why people don’t use parks. So you flipped the narrative I suspect.

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