Part of our human nature is to put ideas into neat categories. Cups go in the top cupboard, cutlery in the first drawer and the sifter goes in the corner cupboard where nothing fits nicely. We particularly enjoy binaries because they seemingly make life easier to understand. Yes/No. Good/Bad. Right/Wrong. Left/Right. Conservative/Progressive. Masculine/Feminine. Passive/Active. Socialist/Capitalist.
Dissent against this way of thinking has been around for a while, but more recently we have seen waves of social politics and popular culture leading the charge on this issue. It makes talking about some topics more difficult (what do you mean there is never going to be a ‘right’ answer?), but that is ultimately the point: life is complicated and dichotomies are more often a hindrance rather than helpful when it comes to the stuff that really matters.
Why am I getting philosophical about categories? One binary that I think we really need to reconsider is the separation of Public/Private. We have heard it all before. The public sector is ideological and inefficient. The private sector is focused only on the bottom line. The public sector leads the way with sustainability. The private sector only does the bare minimum. The public and private sector must remain separate to avoid conflicts of interest and that other popular ‘c’ word: corruption. False, false and false.*
The City of Melbourne has a number of strategies to increase green infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions however we only own 1.3 per cent of the buildings in the municipality. To date, that’s 279 out of 22152. It is impossible for council to deliver our ambitious sustainability initiatives on our own. We need the private sector to be as engaged on sustainability issues as we are to successfully deliver on our targets. For this very reason, City of Melbourne actively partners with the private sector to achieve these shared goals.
First is the Urban Forest Fund. Launched this year and open to property owners, managers and developers, the purpose of this fund was to provide dollar-for-dollar funding to accelerate greening projects that otherwise would not be funded. This includes projects like green spaces, tree planting, vertical greening, stormwater capture and green roofs.
The beauty behind this model is that the private sector autonomously proposes projects that are suited to their needs, while collaboratively calling on the expertise of our team to ensure a practical and successful outcome. It also gives companies and businesses that have sustainable values, but not necessarily the budget, an opportunity to begin investing in these kinds of projects.
Similarly, when it comes to new developments, the City of Melbourne is focused on working with the developers to achieve optimal results. Take the Mirvac Forge Apartments and the Wharf Club down at the Docklands, which officially opened earlier this year. Having worked closely to achieve an architectural urban design that also makes a positive contribution for the public, this site features a 2000 square metre public park, Wharf’s Landing Park. Visitors are also invited to walk up the hill-like rooftop to enjoy views of the Yarra River.
We have shared similar success with the Cbus ‘Pantscraper’ development which will also include 2000 square metres of public space on Market Street. It’s worth noting they are also targeting 5 Star NABERS Energy rating, 5 Star Green Star Office Design Rating and WELL certification.
The notion that the private sector are only ever in it for the profit is not true for all, and it’s important we don’t paint all developers with the same brush. Instead, we should be praising those who are genuinely making a difference.
A great example of this is the Lendlease refurbishment of 485 La Trobe Street, which features the largest Junglefy ‘breathing wall’ in Australia. I had the pleasure of opening this last month and it is honestly an impressive creation. As well as being aesthetically pleasing and demanding an instantly calming presence, it has the capacity for 80 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide per hour. You would otherwise need 160 large pot plants to achieve this.
The benefits of green spaces are manifold, including lifting property values and improving productivity for the tenants in the building. I hope that the more we see the private sector investing in green spaces, the more it’ll become expected, even established practice.
Finally, a game-changing example of the private and public sector working together to deliver a major project is of course, the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project (MREP). Together with 14 partners that comprises of the private and public sector, MREP will build a new renewable energy source. To give you a sense of scale on how big a deal this is, the ‘share’ of energy that our group will purchase will save more than 96,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to taking around 22,000 cars off the road and power more than 17,000 homes in Melbourne.
This is the first partnership model of its kind in Australia and possibly around the world. Its true value will be in its replicability and the City of Melbourne is already preparing a handbook so that other interested parties can gain a better understanding of how they’d execute a similar project.
It’s really important to emphasise that we would not have accomplished this on our own, and this is the case for our 13 partners. The cost alone would be outside most budgets. Instead, we have partnered together to achieve a shared goal, which is to increase investment in renewable energy and continue to shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels.
What these projects demonstrate is that we shouldn’t feel restricted to taking sides when it comes to working collaboratively; innovative and exciting new funding models are possible regardless if you happen to be from the private or public sector.
Sometimes when things get difficult we don’t realise that reverting to binaries is often taking the easy way out. When you stop and look at an issue from several angles, this is when you will find the unique opportunities that really make a difference.
*Yes conflicts of interest and corruption can occur, but this is not unique to public/private partnerships. That’s a whole other issue that I don’t have time to cover here.