Aiming for the Good Life

The Bendigo Weekly have been running a great series on Bendigo in 2020. This is the original extended version of my piece in that series (which can be found here).

In 1996 I ran from Bendigo to Melbourne for deeper conversations, cultural diversity and positive thinking. In 2007 Claire and I bought our first child back to Bendigo for fresh air, community and a childhood without a million traffic jams. And ever since we have enjoyed the deeper conversations and positive thinking that has flowed in to Bendigo since 1996. We helped to establish the Bendigo Sustainability Group and we loved watching the establishment of the Farmers Market, the Trove Market, the Night Market, cycling infrastructure, the gallery, the food scene, the cafes, Ulumburra theatre and more. The Age even called us the coolest town in Bendigo. Take that Castlemaine!

On the back of this innovation and change we can look with confidence to 2020 and beyond. Great and exciting changes are afoot. A new economy is rising and it is about localisation. Around the world, local people and local place are being put back into the local economy, enriching everyone. Councils role is to encourage, enable and embrace the localisation of energy, food, work and transport systems and Bendigo will benefit from this for decades.

So what is this new economy? It has three main elements. The first is local renewable energy, the second is electric vehicles and the third is high speed internet. Jeremy Rifkin calls the convergence of these three elements “the third industrial revolution” because it is the convergence of new energy, new transport and new communications systems, like the first two industrial revolutions. It has profound implications for the way our local economy will be structured. Lets think about it. 

Energy - Renewable energy is local. The solar and wind and energy efficiency and sustainable design and battery storage and distribution projects will create local work, local ownership, local investment and local revenue. We’ve never had that here before. Our $80 million annual household energy spend largely leaves Bendigo and mostly leaves the country.   The big idea however, is that once installed, renewable energy is basically free. In the mid 2020s this new energy system will go online in real time allowing everyone to both produce and consume energy, including households, businesses and surrounding towns, so that we can match energy flow with demand. 

Transport - Our local energy system will combine with the global push for electric vehicles. Council can begin to plan for a transport revolution as internet platforms will allow vehicles to become shared, driverless and autonomous, removing 90% of all cars from the roads. Everyone will be able to travel where they want when they want, without the road toll, without foreign petrol and without air and noise pollution. We wont need any public or private parking and at least half the roads will be repurposed for trade, nature, community or all three. Bendigo homes used to spend $280 million on transport each year, which left our city. That can stay here.  We will all pay for the bits of transport we need, rather than a whole vehicle. Council can increase its investment and planning for electric vehicle charging, walkability, cycling, public places, public transport, urban greening and housing and land use projects that encourage these. The 2015 Integrated Land Use and Transport Strategy has already positioned us for these changes and I think it will win us international planning awards. 

The localisation of energy and transport will create a revolution across the rest of the economy. Heres a taste …

Food - Our food system is already beginning to relocalise with local niche brands and Farmers Markets, Food Fossickers, backyard veggie gardens and fruit trees flourishing. Web platforms will allow food swapping and redistribution and mapping to occur in real time. The cooperatively owned Food Hub is the next piece, encouraging local and regional food growing and distribution to thrive.

Work - Fluid collections of talented local entrepreneurs and micro businesses will combine to deliver great work, replacing larger organisations. Our Synergize co working hub is an early example of this change. Council can adapt local planning and policy to suit this vast growth of mobile workers, creating local places of economic value, connection and creativity. People won't want or need ‘jobs’, but there will be lots of exciting work to do as we transition energy, transport and food systems and tackle homelessness, loneliness, intergenerational poverty, obesity and disadvantage, all of which cost our local economy millions of dollars each year.  As transport and energy systems localise, global products will become more cost effective to manufacture, assemble or print locally. Council can begin to plan for a new local manufacturing boom. 

Participation - Online platforms are already popping up to reenergise citizen participation. Crowd writing, shared decision making, crowdsourced opinion, encrypted electronic voting and more are reenergising participation in local democracy. We wont have to go to the town hall: we will participate online where we happen to be at the time. This jump in participation will enlivened and improve how our Council operates and delivers services, with the old top down model becoming obsolete.  Councillors and Council staff will be much more adaptive, responsive and open to encouraging new thinking.

Retail - Retail will move towards life and away from stuff. Morleys Emporium with its social enterprise model, Food Fossickers and niche products like local brewing and breads are all thriving.  Around the world, sharing stores and fixing stores and meet up and skill sharing cafes are popping up. Council will begin to remove vehicle infrastructure in the city, planning for the return of the local walkable shopping strip, pop up trade, local markets and public places for people to be together.  Council is in deep planning phase for real time freight for the city that runs on a local electric autonomous fleet.

Sharing - I’m currently working on bringing the sharing economy to Bendigo, providing real time access to goods and services from lifts, stuff, money, time, skills, spaces and more. We will move beyond ownership of stuff to shared access. This will be cost effective, convenient and if the tech is owned by local cooperatives, the value will stay local. Council can changing the design of streets, buildings, public places and services to reflect this new sharing focus. 

Health - These big systematic changes will make us healthier, happier, more diverse and more connected. Council will focus on place making, community connection, walkability, ten minute neighbourhoods, cycling, parks, access to nature, quality aged and child care and the child friendly city. Children and the aged will reclaiming streets and public places. The return of local biodiversity to our waterways, parks, streets, gardens, walls and roofs will have a big impact on local health, wellbeing and sense of place. With a fast warming climate, this greening of the city will help keep the city cooler.

Youth - The new local access economy will mean students will come back to Bendigo in droves. Their vibrancy will be our vibrancy. Council is planning for the ten thousand people that will live in the city centre by 2030. This will be safer, more fun, more alive, will open up new markets and create a more edgy city. 

Transition - As our economy transitions from cars, rubbish, disposable stuff, fossil fuels, foreign ownership, big business, “trickle down economics”, social breakdown and cultural sameness we will have a few trip ups. We have already seen this in Bendigo. These are big global changes and we don't like change. Trump is the clearest example of the political reaction to this change. The old economy is dead and people know it, but salvation does not come from fear or clinging to the past. Bendigo is no different. Fear of cultural diversity has already caused outbreaks of bigotry. Fear of a new economic system creates longing for an imaginary past. Fear of the speed of change creates disfunction amongst elected officials and our Council is currently being investigated by the state for disfunction. This is expected in times of great change. But we must rise above our fears and learn together and if we can we will thrive.

Local - The key to our future strength as a city is to take the best and most brilliant ideas from around the world and localise them: local money, local trade, local making, local services, local energy, local transport, local food, local places, local people, local fast internet, local ownership, local work and local democracy. 

Put simply, our spending and our work need to relocalise, circulating locally and enriching us all.  Roads, rates and rubbish is so 1950s. The Council mantra from 2020 needs to be local people, local places, local economy. 

Claire and I chose Bendigo to raise our family and make a good life here. We can create that good life together. I’m with social researcher Hugh Mackay, who in his book The Good Life asks: 

“What makes a life worth living? His conclusion, drawn from his research, is provocative and passionately argued. A good life is not measured by security, wealth, status, achievement or levels of happiness. A good life is determined by our capacity for selflessness and our willingness to connect with those around us in a meaningful and useful way.”