Event- John McTernan for the Grattan Institute

It was really interesting to go last night and overhear conversations about workplaces while waiting for the talk to start. The talk itself was not that useful for my purposes, but it was interesting to see the audience writing down various ‘sound bite’ phrases. I wrote a lot of them down because they sounded very amusing, I wonder if the rest of the audience were doing the same thing or if they found them particularly useful.

While John McTernan spoke about the significance of a ‘good listening’, his ideas were very much more about leadership, being able to adapt to economic realities and having a city which can attract the “weightless economy”. Leadership seemed to rely on personal investment in the place, and in question time he suggested that the ideal situation would be to map government onto “natural communities”. Twice he referred to ‘fetishisation’, namely of infrastructure and of ‘a big Australia’. He was very clear that cities will stop growing and the population will age.

I think underlying it all was a message I would agree with. Life is messy and cities change. There is no single template to achieve or assess a great city, but to head in that direction governments need to be able to mobilise people and capital and sometimes make decisions of which the significance is emergent. Authenticity is essential, because people notice if there is dissonance between the promotion and the experience and will be much less likely to give you ‘the benefit of the doubt’. The way to get good leadership and good services is to have those in power and delivering services embedded in the community, so they feel the costs.

An interesting line coming out of his talk that I am not sure what I think of is that ‘cities are machines for civilising people’.


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