In the last 10 years, the population of the Cairns region has grown on average 1.9 per cent annually. Predictions are that two thirds of future population growth in Tropical North Queensland will be in the Cairns region, presenting unique challenges for urban and economic development. JCU’s Dr Taha Chaiechi, Australian Director of the Centre for International Trade and Business in Asia (CITBA), is spearheading a collaborative approach to these challenges with the 2019 Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC).
Introduced by the United Nations Habitat Committee in 2014, UTC’s are spaces for the local community to come together to explore the issues unique to the place they live in. While each UTC event is unique, they share concerns about the future of their local habitats. “The issue was that megacities were on the rise, small cities were growing fast, and we were losing rural population due to lack of economic opportunities. So, cities are becoming bigger and bigger and more congested and in many instances there was no proper design and planning around how these cities are sprawling and expanding.”
For the Cairns UTC event, Urban Design, Economic Growth, and the Jobs of the Future in the Tropics, Taha, an applied economist, says she has one clear goal. “My ultimate goal is that we understand a framework, or develop a toolkit, that we can use for the future in order to create climate resilient cities. Cities that are not only a place to live but places that are business destinations, and social destinations, so everything together.”
The difference of the UTC model is the required inclusion of a diverse cross-section of the population in the discussion of issues and the formulation of solutions. “You have to involve the local authorities, you have to involve academia, private organisations, women, children, youth, and older persons, professionals, businesses, farmers, Indigenous peoples, so it has to be participatory and inclusive.”
While the Cairns UTC event formulates solutions to local issues, it will contribute to a constellation of events that create change on a global scale. “The report [from the Cairns UTC] goes back to the United Nations Habitat and everybody can see it becomes a learning tool as well for other areas and regions, so it’s a dialogue that starts at a small scale and becomes really huge and global.”
For Taha, this small scale done large approach makes the events even more valuable. Every UTC event is given a home page on the Urban World Campaign Website that is accessible to anyone who wants to take a look. “If you click on the location you want on the interactive map you can see everything about that event including participation, teams, presentations, and the final report. So imagine, you might be in the most remote area in the world but having access to the internet gives you access to this fascinating brainstorming and conversation that is taking pace globally… It’s like a huge human knowledge library about our habitat.”
Have your say on the future of our urban spaces and economic development at the Cairns UTC.
Feature image: Shutterstock