Ethics Take Centre Stage at Australia's Urban Thinkers Campus

Last month, over 250 experts participated in the first Australian Urban Thinkers Campus, themed “Ethical Cities: Locking in Liveability”, co-hosted by World Vision International and the UN Global Compact - Cities Programme at RMIT University in Melbourne.

Featuring speeches from the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Mayor of Rotorua Lakes Council (New Zealand), UN-Habitat, World Vision Australia, Habitat for Humanity Australia, and 100 Resilient Cities – Resilient Melbourne, the event proposed different mechanisms in which city planning and urban development strategies can advance social and economic inclusion, where the most vulnerable are regarded as key contributors to a city’s sustainable development. 

The general consensus amongst participants was that we need a moral compass to guide cities towards just, sustainable and well-governed futures – ones that create shared value for all its dwellers, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalised.  

Martin Bean, RMIT University’s Vice-Chancellor and President stated “We like labelling our cities as liveable, healthy, sustainable, smart, and so on. Yet we rarely hear the term ethical city. I would like to suggest that the liveability that we associate with Melbourne has been shaped by people making good decisions in the past.”

Professor Ralph Horne, Director of UN Global Compact – Cities Programme said, “We need to tackle the critical ethical challenges in city development and living, and draw out new thinking, approaches and partnerships for sustainable urban development. We need to look at what ethical frameworks can guide city-shaping actions to lock in liveability for our future cities.” 

The Campus discussions focused on the roles that city stakeholders play in advancing social inclusion and economic integration pathways for vulnerable groups, such as newly arrived migrants and refugees of all ages, who often face challenges in accessing their rights and entitlements to services and employment opportunities.

Discussions reinforced how cities must demonstrate transparency and accountability in government, open and accessible data, ethical business practices, multi-sectoral engagement, and integrated planning that engages local communities in the design, implementation and monitoring of local and city-wide projects. 

Participants agreed that an ethical city builds social capital within its local communities, which supports their resilience to prepare for, withstand and recover from acute shocks and chronic stresses. Local governments should focus their efforts towards building the skills and capacities of communities to co-design and monitor policies and projects addressing resilience.

The Campus recommended a new principle for the city we need – “The city we need is ethical and just. It promotes free and open access to information, transparency and accountability in government, and active and inclusive community engagement. It advocates and monitors ethical behaviour at all levels and across different sectors in the city. It places emphasis upon the rule of law and administration of justice.”

During his keynote address, Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia, called upon leaders to promote equity and liveability for all urban dwellers, supporting an ethical city. “There is no development approach more effective than one that involves the most marginalised and vulnerable as critical players in their development journey. Ethical cities provide opportunities for social and economic inclusion for all city dwellers, including children and youth. Everyone has the right to the city.”