Inside the mind of the citizen

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Lucille Halloran
EY Oceania Government & Public Sector Leader

As urbanization gathers pace across the world, many countries are rethinking the way in which their cities are planned, built and managed.

Australia is one place in which this debate is well and truly under way.

In the coming years, as the country’s population grows, its cities must overcome numerous challenges to accommodate the millions of expected new residents.
Engaging with citizens is a crucial part of addressing these challenges. A new EY report explores opinion among Australia’s citizens.

What citizens want

New Australian research by EY Sweeney has found that citizens are inspired by the built environment, a city’s atmosphere and its status. They value the stimulation of an active and evolving city.

Citizens who are most positive about their city have a strong emotional connection to it. They don’t just speak of the physical environment, but rather the qualities that make them feel part of the city.

But they also talk about their mounting frustrations with issues such as the affordability of housing and public transport. They fear that some new developments aren’t adding the infrastructure needed to keep their cities livable.

If these problems are not addressed, the strength of citizen loyalty and pride, which currently give city leaders a cache of goodwill, will be undermined.

The research identified six qualities that establish a sense of belonging, community and genuine connection with a city: affordability, agility, amenity, safety, spaces and opportunity.

Looking for leadership

The report shows that citizens are equally clear about what they expect from the people who run their cities.

They want city leaders who understand that and make decisions that uphold city values and qualities — and they want to be part of the decision-making process.

People want leaders with the capacity to make bold decisions; leaders who will inspire and drive progress, who are accountable for investment decisions — and whose actions are not dictated by the short-term political agenda.

Civic action

So what does all this mean for today’s city leaders? Here are some questions for decision-makers to consider as they begin unravelling what these new ways could be.

What do you want your city to be? Defining and articulating its purpose engages a city’s people.

What will you do differently to engage people? People want to be connected to other people, to experiences, to culture, opportunities and to the people who make decisions about their city.

How do we improve the way citizens are part of the governance process? Cities need a governance structure that will allow the strengths of different parties to come to the fore.


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This article is excerpted from the November 2016 edition of Citizen Today. See also these featured articles: