Wednesday, April 29, 2015

National and local - putting arts and culture upfront

In many ways getting a strategic, broad and visionary framework accepted across government is more important than funding. If the case is successful, then over time funding of various kinds will be more likely.

Arts and cultural policy is an important way out spelling out why and how arts and culture are important to both Australia as a whole and to specific states and regions. The ACT Government is in the middle of a review of its Arts Policy Framework adopted in 2012. The revised Framework will be in operation from the middle of 2015 so it’s important not to waste this opportunity to get it right.

The review raises many strategic issues about arts and culture – issues of much broader relevance than only the ACT. Many of these arose during the development of the National Cultural Policy and it's interesting to see them appear again in a more local and regional context.

'Wide brown land', sculpture above the marvellous Arboretum, by a superb Tasmanian design team, is a symbol of the links Canberra has to many parts of the diverse nation of which it is the capital

Developing arts and cultural policy for the ACT is unique because it is both the capital of the nation – hosting most of our national cultural institutions and a strong international diplomatic presence – and at the same time, an important regional centre.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Look after pedestrians and the economy will look after itself

Since July last year I’ve been fascinated by a series of articles by ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ journalists Ross Gittins and, more recently, Matt Wade, about the central role cities play in the modern economy. The articles draw on a range of recent research including that of the Grattan Institute.

In this most recent article Matt Wade comments on the importance of navigating the city easily for economic productivity. ‘Politicians are forever talking about new roads and, sometimes, new railway lines. But what about footpaths? Walking is by far the most important mode of transport in our most valuable economic locations – especially the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne. But not nearly enough attention is given to how efficiently pedestrians can make their way around these key business hubs.'

Pedestrians cross Rushcutters Bay Park, Sydney

Changes in the nature of the economy, particularly the increased and increasing importance of companies based on knowledge, has made the ability to walk around business centres even more important than before. Exchanging of information at the most basic and, at a higher level, of ideas is central to the productivity of knowledge industries.

Travelling together through the city

Public transport is such a central element in a modern city. It has fundamental implications for how productive a city is, how culturally active and just how personally pleasant it is to live and work in.

Public transport is a functional necessity but it also has a symbolic importance in terms of establishing a shared public space that is not privately owned. I’ve been trying to pin down why #Illridewithyou took off so spectacularly as it caught the popular imagination after the Lindt Cafe siege.

Sydney train crosses the Harbour Bridge

It’s partly because it showed so clearly that the cesspools of racist bigotry are just that – isolated pools. It’s partly because of nuances – it doesn’t say I’ll walk with you, which was the original phrase it sprung from. It says ‘ride’. In a city which flourishes on a troubled public transport system, which is a leveller between people of different incomes, it says ‘ride’, that is on public transport.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sydney - Australia's most valuable location but public transport its greatest weakness

Economist Ross Gittins has been reporting on the way in which cities are critical to modern economies, particularly to the knowledge economy with it’s emphasis on interconnectedness, networking and innovative business relationships and processes.

A pair of articles by Matt Wade in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald in April 2015 looks at how this is playing out in Australia’s largest city, Sydney.

In the first article, he lays out what has been happening to this mega-city, as different sub-regions in the city develop their own distinct economic strengths and paths. ‘The CBD is slowly becoming less important to Sydney. The city's economic centre of gravity – the point around which all economic output is evenly balanced – is at Concord, nine kilometres west of the CBD. And it has been drifting north-west for more than a decade. That's because emerging economic hubs such as Macquarie Park, Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta have been dragging the city's economic centre of gravity away from the CBD.’

Sydney skyline - base of Centrepoint Tower with tower crane

What this means is all too apparent. ‘The upshot? The influence of Sydney's alternative business centres is rising and the city needs much better transport connections between them if it is to thrive.’

Our capital cities are growing and produce most of our income

In an article from early 2015, economist Ross Gittins picks up a theme he has been following about the growing importance of cities and urban life. It's clear from his comments that we ignore our cities at our peril.

As he notes succinctly ‘We are a nation of city-dwellers. Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world. Our capital cities are growing and most of our income is being generated in them, notwithstanding the big expansion in mining, which is more about additional structures and capital equipment than workers.’

Sydney skyline - largest city in Australia

He continues ‘For at least the past 40 years, all the net increase in employment has been in the services sector, and the services sector exists mainly in cities. The arrival of the knowledge economy will only heighten this trend.’