In many places it seems citizens are “flexing their muscles” and disagreeing with some plans being made for them. Things are no different here.
We have a Participatory Democracy, but commonsense also says we need a strong Public Service to carry through the delivery of agreed plans. The technical and complex nature of many problems today – and the means of solving them – require a competent team for implementation. That is what we’ve hired our specialist Council staff to handle and achieve for us.
Construction of the newly opened airport was complicated, and future management even more so if the Federal Government imposes expensive extra security measures. The airport is Council’s financial responsibility and – under the direction of our elected Mayor and Councillors – it’s Council staff who have the challenging task of wrangling such situations. But even they can’t easily fix the apparent overnight pilot shortage that can currently leave us stranded with virtually no notice from Qantas. It seems ridiculous this under/over supply cycles so quickly from one to the other – bad forward planning by our major airlines.
In current free-ranging discussions about the future of the Armidale Central Mall, I’ve found Peter Denniss, CEO of the Armidale Regional Council, both sensible and sensitive, and he’s made it clear that plans for the Mall were always to reflect the views of the community. Everybody rarely gets everything they want, but there seems a very clear preference to keep the Central Mall car-free while instituting every possible measure to aid businesses and use the area to its full potential. Peter Denniss states, “Council is working to transform Armidale into a vibrant and nationally significant economic hub which is a great place to live … We have an incredibly exciting future”.
According to Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History at the ANU, we also have a “vigorous local and regional historical culture”. In reviewing Ian Johnstone’s recently published Armidale and the Great War, he is very complimentary to Ian and to the Armidale and District Historical Society. We value those stories, buildings and monuments that make the past so immediate to us.
But many of us have to learn to be open to good new ideas more readily. In today’s world people needn’t serve long apprenticeships in civic service before they can offer important contributions. And the “gig” economy is with us, it seems, ready or not. Marketing is vital across the board. Tyler McDonald, new Executive Officer of the Armidale Business Chamber, could have new generational approaches to offer.
Domain Real Estate recently headlined “Why it’s tempting for Sydneysiders to move to Armidale”. And indeed it is. Regional areas like ours offer professional services – educational, medical, cultural etc. – as well as more affordable housing, natural surroundings and sport. These are increasingly attractive to young city families in expensive, choking Sydney. We should spend to differentiate ourselves. I congratulate Albury on their large Sydney Airport signs: Expanding our Thinking: think Albury – think strategic location – competitive land prices – red carpet not red tape. That’s a direct appeal, and we should match and surpass it. Hopefully the Armidale Regional Council is moving in just that direction. And a “different” new small bar in the West Mall is promising to “reinvigorate Armidale’s nightlife”.
Interesting to see that at Australian universities only UNE “actively supports free speech on campus and is among a handful of institutions with a policy upholding intellectual freedom. The University of Sydney has been named as the most hostile”. (The Australian10-12-17). UNE is also proud it’s had the maximum stars for overall student satisfaction for each of 12 years. The Conversation’s 8-12-17 article was “Looking beyond the sandstone: universities reinvent campuses to bring together town and gown”, offering more inclusive engaging experiences. UNE’s presence in the old Courthouse would provide multiple opportunities for more fruitful engagement with the community.
In a challenging world where political, environmental, national and international issues dominate, we still have a chance here to stand back a little from the relentless noise and consider our options.