8 wonders of a switched on city
Why is Silicon Valley a birthplace for modern tech companies? Why is London’s banking district so world-renowned? And what can earthquake riddled Christchurch teach us about attracting top architectural talent? Each city’s fame offers important lessons about attracting knowledge workers and the creative class.
There’s no one factor that makes a city start up friendly, but rather, a rich and complex layering of physical and digital systems. Start-ups attract talent and capital. Once you attract talent, capital and a community – the industry and consumers follow. Breakthrough cities such as San Francisco, Austin, Copenhagen, Berlin and Oslo all show a rich overlap of characteristics. But where does Sydney fit in the mix?
Access to international airports has long been touted as important to start ups. Entrepreneurs need to be able to travel easily and within a reasonable time zone in order to acquire and entertain investors. The life of an entrepreneur might include attending industry seminars or providing an international road show for investors. San Francisco and Copenhagen both have great access to Northern Hemisphere countries and good airports. Sydney’s access to the growing economies of Asia makes it well poised to cash in on the rapidly modernizing BRIIC countries like Indonesia and China. There are also good business vibes in the potential development at the Badgery Creek site, for a second international airport for Sydney.
Multiple world-class universities located in a close geographical distance from each other boosts the chances of innovation. Educational science shows that if you get a whole lot of really smart people together from different backgrounds and disciplines, they can all riff off each other and invent new ways of approaching old problems. Helsinki, Boston and California are great examples.
Some of Sydney’s new courses offer cross-disciplinary thinking and more women are being encouraged to undertake MBAs thanks to Macquarie University. Macquarie recently launched the $8 million Women in MBA program which aims to boost the number of women achieving their MBAs through financial assistance and mentoring.
Breakthrough cities normally offer some savings in terms of affordable housing, easy transport and good access to large workspaces. Spacious, warehouse style offices where many types of businesses co-exist are productive for invention generation. At a street level, pop-up and experimental retail cultures also pay dividends for showcasing new talent.
Sydney is starting to see some improvement in this with the introduction of new satellite warehouse districts (Kingsford, Roseberry & Marrickville) and mixed-use developments like Kensington Street by Greencliff; Griffiths Tea, Kippax Sreet and 1 Lacey Street by Cornerstone.
Fast and efficient transport help bring people together, rather than keep them apart. Access to late night transport also determines how often you go out and meet people you don’t know. Creative spaces in easy reach of the city help to mix more people in the one spot.
While having an underground rail system, a smart phone and good Wi-Fi are certainly not the only virtues of a switched on city –physical flat, open plan, communal spaces also breed a culture of collaboration. Sydney is making headway with the introduction of the light rail to Surry Hills and slowly forging ahead with the National Broadband Network. Aspect’s development of the Goods Line in conjunction with Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority is also a step in the right direction. The Goods Line rivals New York’s famous High Line development by New York City Department of Parks, which has an interest in better connecting people to the landscape.
Diversity offers any city strength. Immigrants or the influx of new people to a place has been studied to be extremely beneficial to start up culture. This is because outsiders can easily spot opportunities that locals might miss. Often locals are too embedded in their social constructs to see an unmet need or a consumption opportunity. Here Sydney with 17% of the population under 26 born overseas, Sydney has an opportunity to outshine other states.
Sydney also demonstrates high social tolerance for all nationalities and types of people. A night out in Sydney can lead you into the arms of anybody including hippies, trannies, punks, rockers, jazz crooners and yuppies.
6. Dynamic Leaders
Another aspect of great cities is urban leadership. In California and in London, dynamic leadership has had a vital effect on voting, political engagement, resilience and the pride of its citizens. Where dynamic leaders are in place, they can inspire the urban populace to make great things happen.
This comes back to trust and accountability. By contrast, when governments in Asia or Africa are plagued by corruption, it is more difficult for small business and sustainable economies to flourish. Where leaders are empowered to make changes and given the ability to open up cities, connect people and innovate – this leadership style is shown to trickle down to the locals.
Photogenic Clover Moore has been a champion of gay rights and bikeways in Sydney. However you feel about her leadership choices, strong, visible leadership dramatically improves the city’s sense of direction and unity. Similarly our new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, the Liberal Member for Wentworth has a great sense of charisma.
7. Crisis & Occasion
According to the Young Foundation, crisis is a ‘key driver within the innovation process’. Why? Because crisis helps galvanise the need for change and align key agents to bring it about. Crisis communicates a forceful and acute message for the need for innovation, which in turn legitimises the need for change, and creates the sense of urgency. In Sydney the 2000 Olympics became a watershed moment for the city to finally mature and present itself on the world stage. In this case occasion rather than crisis was the call to action.
In this sense both crisis and occasion brings people together. Take Christchurch for example, which has become a magnet for architectural talent to build quakeproof buildings.
This is also the case in Greater New Orleans, Louisiana where communities returning after the Hurricane Katrina are adopting their home with renewed sense of patriotism, loyalty and nostalgia. This is because they have been given a choice of returning to the site of their old homes or starting afresh somewhere else. The choice brings with it accountability and responsibility to embracing the future with positivity.
8. Green Spaces
Spending time in nature is scientifically proven to boost your memory and improve you vision. Exposure to clean air is also good for your brain and your ability to think laterally and innovate.
Sydney has ample green and blue spaces that promote blue-sky thinking and a healthy lifestyle. With approximately 29,000 trees covering more than 120 different species Sydney is both beautiful and well-oxygenated. The protest over lock out law in mid September 2015 underline the need to Sydney to relax many of the local laws which inhibit nightlife and enjoyment of outdoor spaces.