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In Conversation with Eamon Waterford

Author of ‘Does COVID-19 Spell the Death of the City?

Interview and article by Alice Stafford

Eamon Waterford is the Deputy CEO and Director of Policy at the Committee For Sydney. Eamon has extensive experience in the areas of urban and social policy and is passionate about shaping future cities to address emerging civic issues. His publications have been featured by the Sydney Morning Herald, the Today Show, ABC The Drum, The Daily Telegraph and The Newcastle Herald. 

Eamon’s article, Does COVID-19 Spell the Death of the City?, is featured in the 2020 edition of the Evatt Journal. 

How has your work throughout your career aligned with the Evatt Foundation?

I have worked across the not-for profit sector throughout my career and I have always been passionate about making cities that work for everyone. This distinctly aligns with the focus the Evatt Foundation places on social equality. 

What is the crux of your argument in this article?

We have been very reactive to COVID-19 in responding to a set of circumstances outside of our control. Yet, there are still many more decisions we must make. And how we make those decisions will shape what our cities will look like in the future. Do we want Australian cities to be dominated by cars? Or, do we want to transition away from this and take the opportunity to create a city where people can walk, cycle and catch public transport more easily?

Embracing a greener future is at the forefront of much discussion surrounding the post-COVID recovery. As it stands, do you think our cities would be equipped for this type of future?  

Fundamentally cities are going to have to pick up a lot of  the slack as we transition to a greener economy and society. There are two major ways this will happen. Firstly, we have to generate jobs to replace pre-existing ‘dirty jobs’ – primarily those in the coal industry. Currently 15% of our exports are in coal and so we must find a green alternative. It's entirely likely that these replacement jobs will start in cities rather than coal communities, and then will expand from there. 

Secondly, 20% of our carbon emissions come from transportation – comprising mainly day to day private vehicle usage. So, while the transition to electric vehicles is important, we also need to be transitioning away from needing to use a private car if we want to seriously tackle climate change. The reality is that people won't drive as much as they do now in a net zero city. 

Coming out of the pandemic, what are some individual actions that people can take to revitalise and restore vibrancy to our cities?

One of the biggest trends we are seeing during COVID-19 is the increase in popularity of public spaces. For a long time, up until around the 1990s, people avoided public spaces – they wanted to have a private backyard rather than a public park. Cities reflected this trend – public parks became disused and funding was stripped from them. Over the last couple of decades, we have really struggled to capture the imagination of people when it comes to public space. 

However, all of a sudden during the pandemic everybody has fallen in love with public space. Some of the most vital things people have been doing for their mental and physical health have taken place in a public space – going for a walk in the park, seeing friends in outdoor settings, or going down to the local high street instead of driving to the CBD. 

To do more, people need to convert this love of public spaces into a vision of what they want for the future. Identifying funding solutions is integral to this. 

Looking to Australia’s future, what are your predictions? Will there be a transition to greener cities?

There will be a transition because cities that don't do this will be left behind. This future transition won't be evenly spread – but a greener future is coming, nonetheless. To get there we should be advocating for funding for better public space and public transport. Shared resources play a really important role in our cities. In the same way that we have public health and public education, we need to prioritise public space and public transport. 

Eamon’s full article can be found here.


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