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Professor Ed Blakely. Professor Ed Blakely.
15 February 2017 Posted by 

Cityscapes: a new column for a new year

By Professor Edward Blakely

THE well-known American journalist Thomas Friedman proclaimed the world is flat. For those of us who live down under this is a surprise.

Of course, Friedman was talking about the new technological era. An era where news spreads too fast and everyone has access to the same communications gadgets. In this way, the world is flat. Australia and its cities are no longer isolated from the rest of the world. We are in a level world with every city and town everywhere.

What we say and do in Australia is known all over the world very quickly. The other side of that coin is what goes on in the rest of the world affects us quickly and deeply.

This column will be about cities because the most important ingredient in the New World is the growth of cities. And as Friedman has pointed out, information is making our cities around the world more similar than different. We can still have an intriguing and interesting holiday in a new place with different people celebrating customs and traditions we don’t know.

But the people we encounter have the same urban smart phone that we utilize here at home. Thus, while we see a little more we find fewer differences. Because the urban world is developing new ways of doing things very fast, almost too fast, I thought it would be good to begin a conversation about what is new and what impacts it might have on our cities towns and communities in Western Sydney. We are a rich variety of people and places sharing a common geography.

I want to focus on how cities are changing because I have spent more than 50 years working in cities around the world. At last count, I have worked in 98 countries and twice as many cities providing strategic advice while engaging making urban systems work better for the people in them. I begin this first column telling you a little bit about me.

How I started

Originally from the US I started out in the Peace Corps as a village worker in the Reggio Emilia region of Italy. This was after I completed my degree and my compulsory military service in the early 1960s.

I didn’t know at the time I started working to build a new school in the town square that I was learning and doing work that would form the core of my professional life.

After working in Italy, I came home to Los Angeles to work on putting in new housing estate telephone systems. From those experiences, I learned a great deal about the intersection of urban infrastructure and community quality.

While working on the newest wave of digital communications, I completed another degree in business administration which consolidated my Italian village building experience with my new knowledge of city information systems. While completing my degree, I was asked to work with low-income people in rural and low income areas of California.

These areas were in decline and were not adjusting to modernisation. This also was a transformative experience. From it I became interested in more studies of town planning.

A few years later I had a degree from the University of California at Los Angeles better-known as UCLA with a doctorate that merged my previous experiences and new interests in city planning. I wanted to know how to make better places work effectively for their residents while they dealt with enormous change. No matter how big or small the forces I was observing the new process changed places faster than most people could adapt.

Fast-forward almost a decade later I worked at the White House on urban issues. Since then I have been devoting my time and career to the intersection of changing technology and institutions on people and places locally and globally from small communities in California facing extinction, to the rise of China’s cities and the drama of recovering New Orleans.

This is why I want to write a column about the changes that are coming and where Western Sydney might fit. I am a new Australian since 2003 working in Western Sydney most of that time so I feel passionate about what we should offer Greater Sydney and the nation. Not every community will move in the same direction.  

So this column will deal with issues that are coming toward us. We may, if we think and act, have options to deal with these changes effectively. One option is to resist or challenge whatever technologies or techniques come our way. 

Another position is to adapt or embrace the new ideas or technologies that emerge. I am agnostic about the various technologies, but I am interested in how we, all of us, deal with the futures presented for Western Sydney. How we understand and deal with whatever faces us will make all the difference to us.

Therefore, in this column, I will present ideas and challenges that we will be facing. Among these challenges will be: the future of work; unmanned transport; drone delivery; wood re-emerging as a high-rise building platform and many other ideas. I present all these for us to know what is transpiring so that we’re better prepared on how to act and react. Stay tune to futire editons of WSBA!

Professor Edward Blakely holds acting and emeritus professorships at Universities in Australia, the US and Africa. He is the Greater Sydney Commissioner for West Central, which covers the Cumberland, Parramatta, Blacktown and The Hills local government areas. He is an active advisor for many cities and international organizations including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. These are my views, not those of the Greater Sydney Commission or any organisation that I am affiliated with. Let’s make a conversation!



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