Box Hill Neighbourhood Project website

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Photograph: Supplied by Resilient Melbourne

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Abbotsford, VIC. Project by CoDesign Studio

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Box Hill Neighbourhood Project website

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Melbourne is a vibrant and proudly multicultural city of approximately 4.3 million residents, originating from more than 180 different countries – a proudly diverse city. Being a ‘city of cities’, Melbourne is made up of 32 local government councils (authorities) and is spread across 10,000 square kilometres of Port Phillip Bay – comprising hundreds of diverse local neighbourhoods, each with its own character, cultural mix, and a set of advantages and problems.

Today, the scale and pace of the demographic change in Melbourne are unprecedented. Projections suggest that by 2051 Melbourne will be home to approximately 7.7 million people, and is likely to be Australia’s largest city. Globalisation continues to disrupt the economy and society, while climate change is increasing the risk of extreme events and undermining many of the assumptions used to plan and develop the city.  Some of these circumstances are Melbourne-specific but they reflect a set of challenges witnessed around the world. So, what can be done?

As part of marking its centenary, the US-headquartered Rockefeller Foundation created “100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation (100RC)”. 100RC is dedicated to helping cities around the world to meet the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st Century. From the first round of 372 applicant cities, Melbourne was among the first wave of 33 cities to be selected to join the 100RC network.

After more than a year’s collaboration across metropolitan councils, Resilient Melbourne marks an important point in Melbourne’s development. It presents the city’s first resilience strategy: a starting point that brings together individuals and organisations critical to the resilience of Melbourne and its diverse communities. It offers a new way to address the chronic stresses and acute shocks likely to be experienced as well as achieve the vision of a city that is viable, sustainable, liveable, and prosperous – today and long into the future.

"This collaborative effort marks a significant milestone for greater Melbourne, making it the first time in 180 years that we have come together to create a strategy for the whole city, led by local government."

In a city administered by 32 local governments, these shocks and stresses cannot be dealt with comprehensively by a single agency, or by each local council acting independently. Resilient Melbourne offers the opportunity to tackle these challenges in new collaborative ways. This collaborative effort marks a significant milestone for greater Melbourne, making it the first time in 180 years that we have come together to create a strategy for the whole city, led by local government. As Tracey Slatter Chief Executive Officer of the City of Port Phillip has stated: “This is a rare and unique opportunity to think and act collectively. The impact of our decisions will be seen in decades to come.”


Shocks, stresses, and community cohesion are profoundly connected.  This is well characterised by the experience of two communities in Chicago during a 1995 heatwave. Auburn Gresham and Eaglemont are neighbourhoods with almost identical demographics. Both were exposed to similar temperatures, but a built environment that fostered community connections meant that residents of Auburn Gresham were more likely to check on each other – particular on the vulnerable and the elderly. Englewood, approximately three miles away, was experiencing a prolonged period of economic and physical decline, and lower levels of social cohesion. Following the heatwave, the death rates calculated in these two neighbourhoods were dramatically different – Englewood suffered 33 deaths per 100,000 people whereas Auburn Gresham had just 3 deaths per 100,000.

"fostering strong, connected communities can reduce harm from shock events that will inevitably affect cities. "


In positive light, this means that fostering strong, connected communities can reduce harm from shock events that will inevitably affect cities. The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission found that 97 percent of disaster funding is spent on response activities, yet the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilient and Safer Communities suggests that investing in disaster preparedness and resilience-building could reduce government disaster response budgets by 50%.  

One of four Resilience Objectives highlighted in the Resilient Melbourne strategy, is “creating and sustaining buildings, infrastructure, and activities that promote social cohesion, equality of opportunity, and health”. This is both to achieve the kinds of outcomes witnessed in Auburn Gresham in Chicago as well as to address situations detailed in the strategy. Many Melburnians lack easy access to basic community infrastructures, such as parks and playgrounds, which build social cohesion.  This correlates with lower levels of community connectedness, as well as weakened health and wellbeing of individuals within those communities.

Resilient Melbourne contains within it a number of actions designed to start addressing such situations. They have been purposefully created to operate at a range of different scales to achieve diverse, but ultimately aligned outcomes.  For example, The Neighbourhood Project is an action being delivered by the award winning social enterprise design consultancy CoDesign Studio. Three Melbourne councils - Cardinia Shire, the City of Hobsons Bay and the City of Whitehorse – have recently been successful in being selected for the first round of the Project. The project aims to equip the councils and communities within them to activate underutilised public spaces through a year-long program of mentoring, training, and funding, designed to empower and inspire communities in ways that simultaneously encourage greater connections within neighbourhoods.  

Other actions include: working in partnership with the international procurement specialist, Citymart, to run an open source challenge to identify innovative ways to reduce traffic congestion in ways that promote positive social interactions; Young and Resilient Living Labs, led by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, to help young people to develop digital solutions to their own mental health challenges, and; developing an emergency management Community Resilience Framework for Victoria - among others. More information about Resilient Melbourne and other community resilience-building actions within the strategy can be found at

The approach and actions are attracting international attention, not least from Michael Berkowitz, Chief Executive Officer and President of 100 Resilient Cities. Mr Berkowitz states:  

“We at 100 Resilient Cities commend Melbourne for the way it is taking on the challenge of working at a metropolitan scale, working with existing structures and governance models in new ways to deliver resilience dividends for its communities. Numerous 100RC cities work in similar metropolitan arrangements so learning how to address resilience issues at this scale is critical. Additionally, cities are increasingly globally interconnected, so learning alongside Melbourne about collaboration at a local scale will help us to better collaborate globally.”

Too often when developing and managing our cities, we act as though we have forgotten that cities are built by and for people. Resilient Melbourne holds close the reality that people are at the heart of all cities. A resilient Melbourne will draw on the strengths of our diverse communities and geographies, to pursue our shared interests, embrace our differences, and be stronger together. We will help communities prepare for change and whatever the future may hold. We will work today, tomorrow, and together, towards a viable, sustainable, liveable, and prosperous Melbourne.


issue 1. spring 2016