Five great ideas to improve the city

As Melbourne enters a new post-lockdown chapter, there is a palpable reluctance to fully plunge back into the pre-pandemic situation. age thought it was time to ask some of our most innovative minds how they would improve our city.

This week, five under 35s in various fields – from creative arts to urban planning – shared their vision of the future they would like to see for Melbourne, headlining their ‘big idea’ to make the better city.

Respondents brought their range of skills and life experiences to offer original, unexpected yet practical suggestions for changing the way we live.

Gillian Cosgriff: the arts can kick-start the engine of the city

Having recently played Delphi Diggory in the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theater production, Gillian Cosgriff thinks Melbourne’s heart – its arts and entertainment scene – needs a boost.

This would take the form of a universal basic income.

“A monthly stipend to cover basic expenses — things like rent and a grocery bill here or there — would allow creatives to focus on their art without the immediate pressure of paying for housing,” she says.

Ireland announced a UBI program for artists in January. Ms Cosgriff says a similar payment here would help create more art in public spaces, performances in venues and a pipeline of young artists.

Artist Gillian Cosgriff says injecting proper funding for artists would “restart the engine of the city.”Credit:Chris Hopkins.

Ms. Cosgriff proposes a closer link between tourism and the arts, especially for regional and socio-economically disadvantaged audiences.

She would also like the newly available office spaces to be used as creative hubs and studio spaces.

“The early stages of writing or creating can be quite lonely, especially if you’re at home. So those unstructured interactions are invaluable,” she said.

Keaton Okkonen: AI data can light the way

Keenly interested in how to use technology to improve our quality of life, Okkonen says artificial intelligence similar to that used to track what customers put in their shopping carts could improve the way we live.

Artificial intelligence gathers data – in this case, camera footage – and processes it through a programmed algorithm to answer certain questions. The algorithm then improves by learning from itself.

Using sensors and camera technology that already exist, metrics such as the areas most visited by Melburnians, group sizes and what times of day they go could be assessed objectively and quickly, Mr. Okkonen.

Keaton Okkonen, the co-founder of the artificial intelligence start-up

Keaton Okkonen, the co-founder of the artificial intelligence start-up Hopkins.

“And that data can be used for all sorts of things – where to direct your money, your employees or other resources. If we can get a clear measure of Melburnians liking different parts of their town, why not continue to work on them to make them even more likable?

“By collecting data through AI, we could test initiatives, such as removing cars completely from the city.”

Similar benefits can be found in the health sector. Okkonen cites a situation where AI can improve the quality of life for elderly residents by programming sensors to detect when an elderly person falls out of bed.

“Nurses can’t be everywhere all the time, and this is a scenario where it’s so important that a nurse arrives as soon as possible,” he says.

Nafisa Anvar: a guide for newcomers

Inspired by the lessons she’s learned during the pandemic, Nafisa Anvar has a simple but practical suggestion on how to help migrants and refugees settle in Melbourne.

The 23-year-old says the pandemic has shown Melburnians a side of their city they didn’t know – and perhaps didn’t want to know – existed: deep-seated inequalities, particularly in the northern suburbs where she works as a contact tracer.

“The migrant experience can be very isolating,” says Ms Anvar, who moved to Melbourne from India with her family 15 years ago.

Her big idea is to train regular members of the community to help vulnerable newcomers overseas, such as single mothers and the elderly, acclimatize to the city.

Nafisa Anvar, contact finder and community volunteer, wants to help people settle in Melbourne.

Nafisa Anvar, contact finder and community volunteer, wants to help people settle in Melbourne. Credit:Eddie Jim

Inspired by the “accompaniment model” of public health dean Paul Farmer, it would involve training members of various communities to become familiar with local health and social systems. Think of Centrelink, hospitals and the mental health system.

“It has to be done within the migrant community, because they are the ones who know their culture best. I recognize there are initiatives run by local councils, for example, but they can feel very imposed and bureaucratic,” she says.

Nathaniel Diong: A smarter way to learn

Nathaniel Diong wishes to radically reorient the orientation of our school program.

He believes schools should equip students with practical skills to prepare them for the changing employment landscape and the expectation of a future dominated by jobs that don’t yet exist.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the instability of the workforce in Australia and, in particular, in Victoria,” Mr Diong said. “While tens of thousands of people lost their jobs, tens of thousands of new graduates couldn’t find any.”

He suggests that entrepreneurship courses become mandatory in all schools, teaching communication skills, the ability to identify a problem and solve it and how to sharpen your creativity.

Nathaniel Diong wants to prepare young people for a future dominated by professions that do not yet exist.

Nathaniel Diong wants to prepare young people for a future dominated by professions that do not yet exist.Credit:penny stephens

As part of the program, each year Victoria students would build a project solving a problem in their local community. If the question was how to reduce food waste, they would go talk to local grocers, come up with a campaign or business idea, design and market it, then present it to their local council or MP.

This would be supercharged by enticing more teachers to join the already stretched workforce.

“The beauty of teaching practical skills is that anyone can learn them. You don’t have to be rich to learn entrepreneurship,” says Mr Diong.

Alex Faure: “DIY urban planning” can lead to change

According to urban planner Alex Faure, Melburnians have never been more engaged in their local neighborhoods after the five-kilometre limits of lockdown.

She wants to harness this new interest by creating exciting planning forums that everyday Melburnians can participate in.

The first is to accelerate temporary, low-cost measures aimed at responding quickly to community needs – so-called “tactical urbanism” or “do-it-yourself urbanism”.

“Think of temporary cycle paths, pop-up parks and planting vegetable gardens in natural strips,” says Faure.

“There is flexibility to explore and err. If that doesn’t work, move on to the next solution.

Melbourne CBD-based urban planner Alex Faure wants to tap into the newfound interest people have in their local neighborhoods.

Melbourne CBD-based urban planner Alex Faure wants to tap into the newfound interest people have in their local neighborhoods.Credit:Chris Hopkins.

The second is to take advantage of technology. Interactive maps, for example, can capture real-time experiences of the city, allowing users to add “points” that share their stories, knowledge or concerns about a place.

“Statements such as ‘I was riding my bike and felt unsafe at this exact intersection’ or ‘This is my favorite place to hang out in town because of X, Y and Z’ can help inform the how we use the city,” she says.

Ms Faure also cites decentralization, similar to global cities such as Paris (where she lived before coming to Melbourne) and London, as a priority, and supports more cycle routes in and around the CBD.

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