“How are we as a society investing, stepping up and stepping forward to these disruptions that will continually impact on the world?”

N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs, Senior Elder Boon Wurrung & Regen Melbourne board member

When the smoke arrived along the Birrarung Yarra River, so did the beginnings of Regen Melbourne.

In the final days of 2019, Melbourne was confronted with the devastating impacts of climate change in the form of thick smoke that blanketed our city – the result of unprecedented bushfires raging across large parts of the continent, including East Gippsland.

This apocalyptic experience of the Black Summer bushfires shook our understanding of Melbourne as a safe place, and brought the climate emergency directly to our doorsteps. 

Weeks later, news of a deadly novel virus began to emerge, amplifying the sense that our ecological systems were breaking down and our social and economic systems were no longer able to keep us safe. Local responses were urgently needed. 

As metropolitan Melbourne went into its first COVID-19 lockdown, a series of forums were convened by Small Giants Academy to explore the impact of the pandemic from all angles, recognising this moment as the biggest social and economic disruption since the Great Depression.

These conversations included a workshop featuring participants from around Australia, led by English economist Kate Raworth and her husband, philosopher Roman Krznaric. Kate is best known for creating the Doughnut Economics model, which seeks to find a balance between essential human needs and planetary boundaries. From that session, attendees committed to going back to their communities to explore ways to apply the model to Australian cities. 

On the traditional lands of the Kulin Peoples, a diverse group of five organisations emerged to drive the local effort: Circular Economy Victoria, the City of Melbourne, the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Coalition of Everyone and Small Giants Academy. Along with a growing community who had been engaged in the discussions, the group formed Regen Melbourne – conceived as a network and a community platform that could support the regeneration of the city. 

Despite its profile as one of the world’s most liveable cities, Melbourne is an unsustainable city, using vast amounts of resources and material flows to generate economic activity. This extractive and exploitative model urgently needs reimagining to ensure safety and security not just for the people of Melbourne, but also the ecosystems, communities and regions that are in relationship with the city.

Melbourne  also faces challenges such as  homelessness, housing unaffordability, social injustice, income inequality and inequitable access to education, food, jobs and services. This requires us to think about how our city and its economy is designed, and for whom.

And of course, COVID-19 has demonstrated on a global scale how fragile our interconnected systems are. In the context of our climate and ecological crisis, the task of strengthening these systems has never been greater and the need has never been more urgent.

It can be overwhelming to consider what comes next. Yes, we are in crisis. But history tells us that a crisis can catalyse positive change. Our current system will never return to what it was. It will transition. It’s just a question of what it transitions to.   

So, what can Regen Melbourne bring to the table?

Our first move, in late 2020, was to explore how the Doughnut Economics model could connect with our culture and place. Doughnut Economics is a deceptively simple model, with an ecological ceiling based on the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s planetary boundaries and a social foundation based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It equips us with a 21st Century compass for meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet. 

The analysis of our context and our community engagement process revealed that a local version of the Doughnut can serve as a powerful new compass for our city. Hence, we began the process of augmenting the original model to include several new elements, rename others and add both dynamism and texture. These changes included the addition of “Art & Culture” as a key element of our social foundation, alongside the expansion of the segment known as “Networks” to its component parts, “Mobility” and “Access to Information”. 

Throughout our workshops it also became clear that the precursor to reaching the social foundation for all citizens of Melbourne was a strong and vibrant community. Melbourne prides itself on the strength of our community and yet isolation and loneliness are rising. As such, we have included “Community & Relationships” as an important description underpinning all aspects of our social foundation. 

Similarly, the achievement of Melbourne operating within our ecological ceiling can only be reached if we reconnect with nature in a fundamental way. Human beings are not separate from nature. We are a part of our ecology and our ecosystem. Hence, we have included “Reconnecting to Nature” as a critical addition describing our ecological ceiling. Finally, we had many conversations about the need for a Melbourne Doughnut to feel dynamic, organic and alive. This was often in the context of our need to heal and reconnect, both to Country and to each other. Hence, we included a dynamic element, holding our Doughnut together, entitled “Healing & Reconnecting to Country and Each Other.”

Utilising the Melbourne Doughnut as our compass and measure of progress, Regen Melbourne has developed a roadmap for protecting and enhancing our, and has grown into an operating network of individuals and organisations who are committed to working together. 

Work has begun on collective impact projects like making the Birrarung Yarra River swimmable by 2030, and projects around food security and mobility in our city. We are also collectively contributing to research that pushes us to imagine the edges of what is possible in our city, and we are passionate about telling collective stories of regeneration to define a new narrative for Melbourne and our recovery.

“How can we provide a society as a place of radical abundance, not artificial scarcity? There’s a lot out there for everyone in terms of physical, psychological, spiritual, social, economic resources.”

Professor Yin Paradies, Chair of Race Relations, Deakin University

Regen Melbourne is a community platform where everyone, no matter their background or experience, can come together, listen and become actors in the regeneration of our local ecosystems, neighbourhoods and organisations.

Our community is asking a simple question: how can we serve Melbourne? The answer to this question obviously varies greatly depending on our work and life circumstances. But one thing is clear, we can all start from where we are. If you’re a young parent, start there. If you’re an entrepreneur, start there. If you’ve just left school and are exploring your options, start there. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a new normal for our city, one that is regenerative, safe and just. We can all play a role. 

Yes, we are busy, and the challenges ahead can seem overwhelming. But we also know that when we work together with others on something meaningful, we feel energised, and seeds of hope sprout. Importantly, this energy and active hope starts to transform daunting challenges into adaptive and creative journeys where the impossible seems possible once more.

We welcome anyone looking to take positive action, whatever your story. Because, no matter how polarised things might seem sometimes, we all love our city, and we all want young generations to know that we’re actively caring for their future.

Our collective vision at Regen Melbourne is a city that thrives within the ecological boundaries and provides social, cultural and economic prosperity for all. What happens next is up to us. 

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