Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

REPORT | Scale and Scope

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks with attendance at forums and seminars that highlighted a range of regional issues and opportunities. Recently, Linda worked at the ISUF2013 Conference at QUT which drew together international experts and researchers in urban morpology, spatial analysis and urban development. We also attended the CEDA Queensland Economic Development Forum, Regional Development Australia’s South East Queensland Forum and a CCIQ webinar, Exploring the Future of Business in Queensland, with futurist Dr Sohail Inayatullah. These events have provided rich fodder and inspiration for developing our approach and our relationships.

ISUF2013 started with a guided walk through the city with QUT’s Dr Mirko Guaralda where we discussed the history, geography and built form of the city, recognising its unique attributes and changing form since colonisation. The conference included a number of presenters from China and Brazil who provided insights into the urban challenges facing these countries and, in some instances, the role Australian researchers are playing in addressing those challenges. In China, urbanisation is occuring rapidly with new cities in planning and development, while older cities experience decline, gentrification and renewal. Brazil continues to address issues of urban and spatial inequality with several presenters addressing fragmentation, informal settlement and slums.

A couple of presentations were of particular interest including Teresa Marat-Mendes’ paper on New Urban Conditions for a Sustainable Urban Future in which she discussed the role of urban form in the creation of a better and sustainable environment with particular emphasis on urban metabolism. She proposes urban form as a tool to transform the present industrial productive model to a new social and participatory one with sustainable development at its heart. She demonstrated that there were lessons – particularly in terms of a city’s territorial footprint and use of natural resources – from pre-industrial cities. In this respect she charted a relationship between city and territory that demonstrated the scale of sustainability.

Carlos Dias Coelho presented his research on the form and fabric of suburban areas arguing that the tools used for reading the traditional city be used to read the sprawling parts of the city. Suburban areas tended to be comprised of disconnected neighbourhoods which could, at times, have distinct forms e.g. some could be cul de sac type developments or others could be public housing towers. He demonstrated the ways in which morphological analysis can be used to inform planning to reconnect the neighbourhoods along urban seams and inform decisions about social and transport infrastructure. This rehabilitation of the interstitial tissue created more connection between neighbourhoods rather than reinforced the connection to the city. In part, this could establish a hierarchy of roads with potential for the emergence of neighbourhood and regional centres. However, a more interesting perspective could emerge from undertaking a network analysis of the infrastructural and spatial dynamics that emerge.

Howard Davis spoke about Portland’s experience of an eastside inner urban manufacturing precinct. His presentation demonstrated what can happen when economies are restructuring, planning regulations preserve (compact) light industrial uses/urban form in inner urban locales near gentrifying localities with a ready workforce. In protecting the lower value uses, new possibilities for inner urban economies emerged, particularly in relation to shared space, niche manufacturing, innovation and emerging enterprise. Davis said that had the real estate market been left to its own devices, niche commercial and manufacturing activity would have been pushed to the fringes of the city and the area gentrified and redeveloped. The Portland experience highlighted the role restrictive zoning can play in sustaining dynamic and diverse local enterprise.

The CEDA Queensland Economic Development Forum presented a snapshot of the opportunities and challenges for the state. This included commentaries about economic performance in relation to the economic restructuring, infrastructure, food, energy and tourism. While most of the presentations were focused issues harder economic issues and addressed the need to raise capital, one comment from the floor addressed the changing nature capital and noted that raising capital must include community capital, trust and social licence to operate. A highlight was when Economist Michael Knox stressed the need to have a conversation about what Australia is really good at. He noted that we failed to recognise our strengths in areas like storytelling, acccess to information and media, and medical services. He said that we often don’t acknowledge our competitive advantages and capacities – including our geographic and timezone linkages to Asia – and that a national conversation was warranted.

The SEQ Regional Forum presented a series of briefings drawn from regional development work underway through the Regional Development Australia network. While affirming some of the messages of the CEDA Forum about opportunities and challenges, there was more of a problem solving and forward looking approach here. This included some address of ‘smart infrastructure’ and the use of data analytics, optimisation and control in enhancing infrastructure performance, cost savings and emissions reduction. Roy Green from the UTS Business School highlighted considerations about micro-manufacturing (note the Portland experience) and stressed the need for design thinking and integrative thinking to ensure leadership, communication, innovation and collaboration. With reference to the Asian Century White Paper, AusTrade also mapped key Asian markets and smart specialisations that SEQ businesses could tap into, such as urbanisation and development, rising middle class and creative industries.

Taking more of a macro-view, futurist Dr Sohail Inayatullah’s webinar Exploring the Future of Business in Queensland outlined related trends and themes as presented in the other conversations. However, when Inayatullah speaks of transformative futures thinking, there is clearly a call to think and do differently – much like Roy Green’s appeal to design thinking and integrative thinking. What appealed most was the linkage of story, metaphor and strategy: “create your future by finding your story”. He also pointed to six waves of change, as opportunities for transformative business activity:

  • Repricing of nature and providing solutions and efficiencies associated with climate change – recognising stresses and risks for Asian cities
  • Peer-to-peer and user value creation – user provided data as the basis for new products and services
  • Artificial intelligence – knowledge that changes us
  • Transparent and flexible brains, mind and spirit – recognising the best way to be productive can be to slow down and mediate or practice mindfulness
  • Demographic and workforce challenges including aging society and digital natives
  • Rise of Asia

Principally, however, this webinar focused participant attention on being future oriented and changing the future. This means scanning for emerging issues, challenging the ‘used future’ and changing the story. We often hear that ‘business as usual’ or ‘more of the same’ is not an option, but we don’t often hear that small businesses can drive change and be more future oriented. It’s a good message – transforming business means transforming the future.


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