Greater Melbourne
City Portrait

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A Participatory City

Imagine if living in Greater Melbourne meant joyfully participating in all aspects of life important to you- in your community, at work and in our future economy - and in doing so, you were contributing to the thriving democratic health of this place.

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An abstract representation of the complex thrum of a participatory Melbourne

How we collectively make decisions will define our ability to effectively shape and adapt to our rapidly changing world. Strengthening our collective decision making is about re-empowering publics to make their own active decisions across all aspects of their lives — including in their communities, their work and how they are governed.

But many recent micro and macro trends have created a precarious context for collective decision making. These include a rising mistrust in institutions of all kinds, ambiguity about our collective goals, a lack of agency and a common lack of connection to people and place.

Most attempts to engage individuals in collective decision making (in our businesses, communities and our politics) are perceived to lack meaning and integrity. These “below-ground” trends of course also contribute to significant “above ground” challenges, including rising loneliness, social isolation, social fragmentation, the polarisation of discourse, and mental health concerns. This set of conditions then manifest as broader civic challenges that create difficulties in navigating significant challenges like climate change and geopolitical tensions.

In Greater Melbourne, one way we are seeing this social fracturing play out is the disinformation campaigns driving resistance to 20 minute neighbourhood policies, fuelled by fears of surveillance and a conflation of accessible amenities with lockdown policies. Fears which are being fuelled by our technology platforms, increasingly the primary source of news and information, which flatten and decontextualise conversation.

Ultimately, meaningful and active participation in decision making underpins the fulfilment of the safe and just space in the Melbourne Doughnut. Without a participatory ecosystem across the city, where we are making collective decisions, rolling our sleeves up and contributing to our democratic health, we have no ability to achieve our social foundation, led by the dimension of Political Voice. And without concerted collaboration across differences we have no ability to make the shifts we need to make to bring down our ecological overshoot.

A truly participatory city connects us to each other and to the critical work that will be required to chart a successful path through our challenges ahead.

The good news is there are already many actors working in service of a healing and thriving participatory ecosystem.

What’s happening across Greater Melbourne?

Emerging democratic innovations are growing, unlocking opportunities for meaningful opportunities to shift decision making and power in how we collectively make decisions in this place. Examples include neighbourhood portals at the City of Melbourne and Metropolitan Partnerships coordinated through the State Government. Working closely alongside governments are organisations supporting the participatory democratic fabric, organisations like Foundation for Young Australians, the Coalition of Everyone and Centre for Public Impact are all creating alternative spaces for policymakers, citizens, politicians and practitioners to come together and enact their shared goals for a more robust and resilient participatory city.

Greater Melbourne already has a rich DNA of meaningful, collective participation in our shared spaces. There are countless community initiatives weaving together our social fabric like neighbourhood houses, Hot House Projects and Network West. There are networks like the Community Collaborative for Resilience which recognise the interconnectedness of climate, social and economic impacts and the need to enable community-led resilience, community-led leadership and the connective tissue that makes working together possible. There are direct interventions like Endling Loneliness Together, focusing on how to create belonging and trust to enable agency. There are organisations using food as the most delicious and shared form of participation in our place with the likes of Moving Feast, bringing people from across cultural divides together, over a shared plate. And of course, in Greater Melbourne, the great cultural traditions of bringing people together through sports with organisations like The Huddle and Footy for Climate.

Outside of our democratic and community spaces in the city, there are many actors exploring forms of value that are created by enabling greater participation. Organisations like Our Community are trialling a 4-day work week, unlocking capacity for greater community participation and involvement in civic life. Movements likeBCorporation are creating a global conversation about purpose-led business, including how staff and stakeholders become active participants and shared decision makers. And these conversations build on the robust tradition of cooperatives and mutuals, includingEarth Worker and Bank Australia.

What all of this stacks up to is that Melbourne has the ingredients to continue the deep, effortful work of supporting the capabilities and infrastructures we need to to invite people in to participate in a way that is meaningful for them. We can already see the new wave of leadership we will require in the turbulent years ahead, a leadership that brings us together to walk side by side into the future even if we don’t see eye to eye.

And in order to continue supporting the agency and participation of everyone, for a robust and resilient participatory city, we need to recognise and support the many actors working towards this goal, across all layers — as well as recognising that these diverse actors are part of one ecosystem. The opportunity is to strengthen this participatory ecosystem; the interconnected, interlocking projects and activities that work towards collective decision making in urgent times. It is not enough to have a plethora of siloed and segmented activities. We need to move towards a more coherent ecosystem of activity, acting in concert, with both power and precision. Regen Melbourne is supporting this shift, through our wildly ambitious project, Participatory Melbourne, with the aim to create a more robust and resilient participatory city.