Fastbreak Breakfast Talk - Stuffed

(7.45am 29 June 2012, Powerhouse Museum, Turbine Hall)

Thank you. Hello, everyone. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nationalities who live in our city.

I want to turn this around and argue that we will only be truly stuffed as a civilisation if we're not stuffed. Or more positively, that dense, engaging, innovative cities - cities stuffed with people and ideas - are our only rational hope for the future.

The evidence is all around you. It's here in this terrific event. It spreads beyond these walls in the research going on in universities, in the start-ups and creative businesses popping up and thriving in nooks and crannies across the city.

It's there in the energy and optimism of the countless people drawn - from Australia and around the world - to find a better life in Sydney.

Cities provide ready access to specialised knowledge and technologies, to suppliers and to finance, and cities link to global markets - they are the exchange point not only for goods but - and this is increasingly important - for ideas.

If cities are the problem, they are also the solution and as the challenges posed by global warming become ever more acute, cities are finding ways to forge a sustainable future. Density is the key.

It allows for the introduction of new green infrastructure, such as locally produced energy from tri-generation, to power, heat and cool whole city neighbourhoods. We're working now on installing Sydney's first tri-gen plants.

Many other benefits can flow from dense urban concentrations. But as Chris Anderson, the founder of TED, said in our recent City Talk, we need to think - carefully and cleverly - about how we create our cities for the future.

As he said, the extraordinary speed of urbanisation world-wide makes the question of what we want our future city to be the most urgent facing us.

Density - stuffing, if you like - is going to happen anyway. What we have is this precious historic moment to ensure that we build and manage our cities so that everyone - not just the corporate high-fliers or the privileged few - is accommodated. That they are accommodated with housing and not relegated to the far fringes if they happen to be in lower-paid if still essential jobs like nursing or teaching or policing.

That they are provided with resources such as libraries and sporting facilities that are affordable and accessible. That a rich cultural life - from sessions such as this to theatre, music, public art, galleries, museums and festivals - is there for all to sample and enjoy. That the city is safe, welcoming and accessible for all - including families, the elderly and the disabled.

That people are given a voice in the city, an opportunity to have their say as well as to be stimulated by the ideas of others. That the city makes sure young, innovative and creative people have places to work and access to the financial backers they need.

And let's not leave beauty out of the equation: the city should be a beautiful and inspiring place to be, with generous parks and public spaces, trees, and great public architecture.

For all the constraints and limitations on cities in the Australian, three-tier system of government, there is one big plus: that city governments can actually achieve many of those things.

We can address climate change through our tri-generation on the large scale, through to micro-scale services such as bike-repair kits in our libraries.

We can collaborate with others to reduce our emissions: by banding together with the handful of owners who control the city's commercial building stock to reduce greenhouse emissions or by devoting numerous spaces around the city for car-share parking.

We can take a run-down, unsafe urban area like Redfern, and by renewing existing parks, widening and paving streets, and actively collaborating with social change agencies help restore a sense of community and civic pride that has in turn boosted an about-turn in its commercial fortunes and given some of the most marginalised people in our city a new sense of belonging.

If we get the skeleton of the city right - the streets and transport systems, the open spaces and public facilities - right, if we protect them against encroachment, if we get the building regulations right so that denser living is an enriching experience and not a torture, then we can all lead stimulating, rich and rewarding lives, without ever feeling stuffed.

And when we do need a little sustenance, we can wander out to a mobile food truck that can give us the healthy, tasty snack we crave!

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