Tom Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh, speaks about making good cities great and presents a vision for Sydney

27th July, 2012

Last night The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering and The US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney hosted a public lecture by Tom Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh and now a senior resident fellow of the US Urban Land Institute, who spoke about making good cities great, with some specific and tailored recommendations for Sydney and its people.

The transformation of Pittsburgh from a rust-belt steel town wasteland of just a few decades ago to one of the world most liveable cities is a remarkable story of leadership and vision.  It was a vision presided over by Tom and implemented through the collaborative efforts of the three “C”s … Civic leaders, Corporate leaders and Citizens working together.

In a passionate, enthusiastic and entertaining talk Tom explored the foundations of Pittsburgh’s transformation and the lessons that we can draw on in our own efforts to revitalise Sydney.

The ability to harness the energy of our people in pursuit of a better city, to build a vibrant place where people want to live, work and play, can only be built on leadership and a shared vision for that future.  Importantly it is leadership from both our elected Civic representatives and our Corporate leaders.  It is recognising the need for and finding ways to include “we not me”.  About rising above personal gain in pursuit of community benefit.

We, the people, collectively, have to imagine the future and explicitly choose to create that future.  It doesn’t happen by accident.

As Tom explained in the talk last night, his Pittsburgh experiences have lead to tangible lessons for  transforming cities into world-class places, in 6 key areas:

  • Leadership,
  • Strategy,
  • Institutional Capacity,
  • Finance Infrastructure,
  • Education,
  • Design Excellence.

Each attribute was explored in some detail, especially Leadership and the need for a vision, an imagined future, articulated through long term strategy.  Some interesting and novel financing options (novel in our local context) that were used in Pittsburgh and are being used constantly right across the US today to fund major infrastructure and urban renewal projects.  These ideas left many people in the audience wondering just why we have obstacles preventing that being used here. It became clear that there is a very important need for our civic leaders to talk to the community as adults, to explain clearly and have a rational dialog about their visions, strategies and ways to implement, including  funding.  Spoken to as adults, communities are clearly capable of explicitly choosing a better future, of working together for net community benefit, of rising above short term personal gain, of choosing “we not me” for well reasoned long term strategic improvement.

Sydney is a global city and has an exceptionally strong foundation on which to build a resilient and vibrant future.  To compete globally we need to speak with one voice and put internal squabbling behind us, imagine a future that we want and reach for it. We need to see the woods for the trees, for it is up to us to make our tomorrow today.  It is our choice.

Tom ended his talk last night with a simple lesson for us all:  “‘Good enough’ is NOT good enough!”  He implored the citizens of this city, we the people, to reach up and demand world class. It is there for us to take, to make. Mediocrity has no place in making a good city great.

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