CFI co-founders Glenn and Essence Wilson were both selected as Next City Vanguards for 2017. They recently attended the conference held in Newcastle, Australia. The program brings together 50 of the top urban leaders from across the world to address challenges faced in the host city.
CFI co-founders Glenn and Essence Wilson were both selected as Next City Vanguards for 2017. They recently attended the conference held in Newcastle, Australia. The program brings together 50 of the top urban leaders from across the world to address challenges faced in the host city. The festivities included a visit to the Sydney Parliament House, a reception with Newcastle's Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, tours of the city, and several presentations about urban development. There were Vanguards from the United States (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Singapore and elsewhere.
A culminating event called the "Big Idea Challenge" brought together multidisciplinary teams to conceptualize new uses for vacant buildings. Six teams were deployed to tour, assess and make recommendations to the Newcastle community about innovative uses for a former post office and vacant train station. In just six hours, the teams put together a plan for redevelopment and pitched their ideas to more than 100 people. Glenn's team worked on the post office and came up with an idea they called "24". This concept caused attendees to consider what could happen in the space in 24 seconds, 24 minutes, 24 hours, and 24 months. The possibilities were numerous, but they focused on ways to activate the space immediately while waiting for the long term development plan to be complete. Essence's team was charged with conceptualizing a future use for the former train station. Their ideas centered around a mixed use facility that would bring tourism and stimulate the local economy. Dubbed "The Platform", the building would host an indigenous culture center for the native Awabakal tribe, a maker's space, a food depot and outdoor recreation that appeals to all five senses. The Platform concept was one of two winners of the Big Idea Challenge and the event was covered by the Newcastle Herald - Tour, Newcastle Herald - Winning Teams and NBN News.
There were many profound lessons learned from the experience. Those insights include:
1. The tremendous respect that Australia has developed for the native people of their land. While everyone is not yet living in perfect harmony, nearly every meeting began with an acknowledgement of the native people and their contributions to the country and in some instances there was an elder who spoke or offered a prayer.
2. Although they traveled nearly 24 hours to reach Australia, the urban issues that were experienced in every country and community represented were similar. The levels of concern about each issue was different, but everyone was concerned about gentrification, poverty, affordable housing, education and job opportunities.
3. Some international cities are doing some amazing work that we should be more aware of in our own communities. For example, there was a Vanguard from Singapore who is working on the creation of a driverless on demand bussing system to serve the transportation needs of their citizens. In Australia, smart cities are emerging that will allow municipalities to better serve constituents. In one case, trash cans are being used that can both compact garbage and send a message to sanitation workers when the bin is full.