Cities are complex, with lots of people and opposing forces, yet likely there are a few simple ingredients to make one flourish and another flounder. As we emerge from a pandemic into an inflation led recession it is a good time to reflect on how we build flourishing cities moving forward. A month post a trip abroad, and a couple decades researching and pondering the cities in which we live, I think I may have the answer.
Here are my five ingredients …
Nurture a diverse population!
A flourishing city needs people, lots of people. They set the confidence which guides spending and the mood of a city. Behaviours and norms, from attending arts, culture and sporting events, to dinning out and supporting local businesses. The people of a city collectively have the ability to embrace the history of the city, while ever evolving it.
Different cultures, allow for different perspectives, new ideas, diverse business and food. Australia is a country in which around half were either born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas, and a further 3% of Australians identify to be of Aboriginal origin, we are indeed a melting pot of diversity and all that this offers. Australia is far from homogenous, yet our media and urban environment often appears so. In 2021, compared with a decade earlier in 2011, the countries of birth (excluding Australian-born) with the largest increases in Australia’s population were India with an increase of 373,000 people; China 208,000; and Philippines 118,000.
Create entrepreneurial bouyancy!
Cities flourish when local small businesses flourish, those bringing all the things that make cities worth living – restaurants, bars, cafes and cute little shops that make meandering an enjoyable past time. Something new and quirky around every corner. Unlike big businesses that have wealthy benefactors, willing to dominate the market, small businesses willing to take a relatively HUGE risk require local support in order to survive, avoid costly bankruptcy and hopefully, eventually with the right support, to flourish.
Australia is a small business country with statistics illustrating 93% of businesses with revenue less than $2Million per annum. Three in five businesses (62%) are non-employing, with 98% of all Australian businesses employing less than 20 people. The most common size for an employing business is to employ between 1 – 4 employees which makes up 71% of employing businesses in Australia.
Shift dream to population density!
The great Australian dream is a sizeable suburban block, to own one’s home. And, while housing affordability is an escalating concern and stress in Australia, we are also a country that loves its urban sprawl, and with this a globally comparatively micro population density of just 3 persons/km2 (United States 35.71, New Zealand’s 18 persons/ km2, France 119, UK 275). Lower population density means a smaller potential customer base for small businesses to flourish from, making survival harder.
In a city like Adelaide only 26,120 live in the actual City of Adelaide, the total 1.3 population is sprawled over a wide geographic area, unlike many more concentrated thriving global cities .
Build cities embracing youth!
With youth comes new ideas, entrepreneurial bravery, a hunger for new experiences, and a desire to spend. Flourishing cities thrive from youthful populations, strong university cultures, with students living in the city centre. Creating cities young people wish to live creates economic buoyancy.
Education is one of Australia’s biggest exports, with international students making a $26 Billion + contribution to our economy, and far more to our cultural diversity and inner city population. Prior to COVID, Australia was the second most popular education destination in the world.
Culture is everything
Double-down on arts and culture!
Flourishing cities offer eclectic experiences, offline, all the time. Always a show to see or something to see. Galleries, street art, and an active night-time economy. A buoyant city centre, and a city that makes walking and riding the default and public transport and easy back-up to travel nearby and other experiences with ease. It takes time to build a flourishing cultural environment, and with this can come significant economic and cultural contribution.
Analysis shows cultural and creative activities contributed $122.3 billion to the Australian national economy in 2019–20, with the economic impact increasing by 27.1 per cent over this time (More >). The pandemic had a dire impact, and there is now a return to the new normal, with signs of increased emphasis, which can only be good.
There are many other ingredients that allow cities (and towns) to flourish. In many ways Australia is in a fabulous position to continue to flourish, with a strong and changing economic base. Our small population size (26 Million) and comparatively stable government makes it easy to guide and nurture our future.
We also have many complexities, from a changing economic base to low population density. Post COVID dive, then boom, inflation is impacting confidence. Now is the time to remain level headed, and focus on the basic ingredients to a to flourishing cities and towns.