Former City of Melbourne CE Kathy Alexander shares her thoughts on how to turn around a ‘donut’ city. Thirty years ago the City of Melbourne had a hole in the middle with all the people and action on the outside of it after five o’clock at night.
Kathy, who is now a board director and consultant, says Melbourne has now gained an international reputation as the world’s most liveable city and three key themes were instrumental in its turnaround.
1 Good governance and planning: “There were rocky times in the governance of the City of Melbourne and at one time state intervention to sack the government and put a commission in.”
2 Having very good people with some longevity: “That’s an interesting issue these days with people on three-year contracts.”
3 Solid community engagement: “One of my proudest moments was when the City of Melbourne won the International Association of Public Participation’s organisation of the year award last year for ‘walking the talk’ in relation to community engagement.”
During her time as CE, Kathy says she put particular emphasis on community engagement and productivity improvement: the latter largely through a lean thinking approach which looks at improving high-volume processes.
“It doesn’t say there’s anything wrong with the process, it just says let’s just have a look at it,” she says. “The idea is that if you tease apart any really high-volume process you will find enough waste in it to make a difference. So you might look at two or three of those high-volume processes a year.”
When the City of Melbourne looked closely at its processes around parking meters, for example, it found it could generate a further A$3.5 million in revenue.
Kathy says the city’s resident population rose 23 percent from 2009 to 2014. “During that time the number of rateable properties went up by 20 percent, so that’s a big demand on service, but our FTEs rose by only 16 percent and at the same time we had two new libraries full of new staff, two new recreation centres, two new major events and larger existing major events. And rate rises were always well below CPI.”
Kathy quotes Danish architect and urban design consultant Jan Gehl: “A good city is like a party: people stay longer than really necessary because they’re enjoying themselves.”
Kathy was speaking at the 2015 SOLGM Summit in Palmerston North.
This article was first published in the December 2015 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.