City of Sydney CEO calls out “ideology” in city planning 

The CEO of Australia’s fastest growing city is urging city makers to abandon ideology and herald a “new era of stewardship” in sustainable development by leading with a focus on the community.

Monica Barone

With growing urban populations, scarce resources and the challenges of climate change, city makers need to strategically lead Australia’s cities with a focus on the community, inclusion, economic sustainability and people-centred leadership, the CEO of the City of Sydney told a CEDA event on Thursday.

Vibrant, sustainable and resilient cities embrace their differences and lead by putting people before ideology, Monica Barone, who leads a council which manages $11.6 billion in net assets, told CEDA’s Sustainability and Resilience in Urban Development event.

Sustainable development, or the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, must be built into cities as they rapidly expand, the event was told.

Communities are frustrated by the undue focus on ideology in urban planning, and a new generation of community-centric leaders is called for, Ms Barone said.

“Despite many committed intelligent people [in our cities] and our relative wealth and resources, we are not tackling the key issues that will make us sustainable. We know it and our communities know it,” she said.              

The absence of values and accountability in leadership are the biggest stumbling blocks to sustainable and resilient urban development, Ms Barone said.

“The leadership challenge has been exacerbated because the way we govern our city has been largely absent of the bookends of values and accountability and definitely absent of a clear line of sight or narrative to connect the two,” she said.

City planners need to move into a “new era of stewardship,” she argued, by focusing on four pillars of sustainable development that are centered on values and accountability.

Four pillars of sustainable development

Social inclusion

City planners need to promote social inclusion in order to integrate sustainability and resilience into urban development, Ms Barone argued.

Urban planners can do this by telling the stories of the city, Ms Barone said, and ensuring that the story is representative of all segments of the community.

The City of Sydney’s Eora Journey portfolio, a series of works commissioned by the city to signify the path to reconciliation, is one example Ms Barone pointed to.

“A respectful and inclusive city is one where citizens have the confidence and capacity to look at the world through others’ eyes and commit to honour the full humanity of all,” she said.

People-centred decision-making

People-centred decision-making achieves values-focus outcomes, and diminishes the power of ideology, Ms Barone said.

“Every day we hear people within our community express their growing dissatisfaction with the way decisions are being made by elected representatives. The belief government is driven by ideology rather than the public interest is leading to high levels of distrust,” she said.

Community discontent requires leaders to put their communities first in every element of sustainable development, she said.

Developing a sustainable finance roadmap

Sustainable development must be underpinned by a commitment to achieving a sustainable finance roadmap, Ms Barone said.

This means bringing government and business together to get behind sustainable development priorities.

“We cannot continue to derive our income, turn a blind eye to how it’s generated, and sneer at those who guarantee it,” she said.

A new era of stewardship

Finally, to achieve a sustainable and resilient city, cities need leaders that engender social harmony and inclusion while also acting as stewards of the environment and economy.

This means leading with the willingness to embrace pluralism, Ms Barone says.

“It is the skill of revealing what our underlying values are in the community and focusing on our commonalities. It is the skill of finding an honest but coherent narrative when everything feels insecure and inconstant,” she said.

True leaders understand the concept of stewardship, she argued, and are able to achieve sustainable and resilient cities while understanding that taking care of the planet is a prerequisite to this.

These value-measures should be statutorily mandated for ministers, Ms Barone argued, to ensure that accountability is enshrined into sustainable development.

“I think it’s time that values were converted into duties and duties became legislated and assigned to leaders such as ministers who then in turn become required to report back against how they are going against those values,” she said.

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2 thoughts on “City of Sydney CEO calls out “ideology” in city planning 

  1. Three cheers for Monica Barone I am glad you have come out and stated what has been plainly obvious in what is required for many many years but has been obstructed by a blinkered view of the world and no real strategic thinking by Governments and Government entities. All that has been thought about was the here and now. Well we are now in the “here” and have been for 30-40 years and look where we are now. Public entities have a duty of care to swing the pendulum back a bit from private, political and individual influences in policy and decision making and look at the bigger picture including the environment.Communities of Australia deserve nothing less. All power to you and I truly hope that the City of Sydney can become a lead entity for the rest of government to follow.

  2. What a bold and visionary concept, yet practical too. Said with eloquence. Well done, Perth could use you if you’d like a chance to try and help us avoid your mistakes!

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