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Building back Melbourne, but not as you know it


20 January 2021 at 5:26 pm
Maggie Coggan
“As the economic machine starts up again… we need to ask the question of how do we make sure that some of those weaknesses and inequalities in our society can be addressed”


Maggie Coggan | 20 January 2021 at 5:26 pm


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Building back Melbourne, but not as you know it
20 January 2021 at 5:26 pm

“As the economic machine starts up again… we need to ask the question of how do we make sure that some of those weaknesses and inequalities in our society can be addressed”   

Prior to 2020 you couldn’t have a conversation with a Melbournian without them dropping in the fact that they were living in one of the world’s most livable cities. 

But when coronavirus hit, it exposed some serious pre-existing social and economic weaknesses and inequalities.   

Vulnerable families and individuals were hit hardest by the virus, and an 112-day lockdown (one of the longest and strictest in the world) left community organisations and small and medium businesses struggling to survive. 

Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about building back better. But what does that actually look like?

Enter, Regen Melbourne 

Led by Small Giants Academy, Circular Economy Victoria, and Coalition of Everyone, the Regen Melbourne project is on a mission to not only restore Melbourne back to its pre-COVID state, but to build it up to being more regenerative and sustainable than it ever was before. 

Kaj Lofgren, head of strategy at Small Giants, told Pro Bono News that the forced shutdown provided a rare opportunity to look inward at how a city such as Melbourne could be run better. 

“This is the first time ever that the economic machine that started 250 years ago, stopped,” Lofgren said.  

“So as the [economic] machine starts up again, which we all want it to, we need to ask the question of how do we make sure that some of those weaknesses and inequalities in our society can be addressed… in a really systemic and structural way so that they don’t keep being a challenge for our communities.”

A new way of thinking 

Working in partnership with a broad cross section of organisations including City of Melbourne, MinterEllison, The Difference Incubator, Spark Strategy, and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, the group’s first project is to use Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economic framework to redesign the way we think about the economy in relation to society. 

The framework is modelled on a cinnamon doughnut, where the outer edge of the doughnut represents environmental limits such as climate change and biodiversity loss, and the inside is the things that make up the foundation of society such as food, water, political voice and gender equality.  

Instead of focusing on growing GDP or relying on a self-contained market, the framework challenges society to meet the needs of people within our planetary boundaries.

“Raworth hypothesizes that the goal of society, the goal of our politics, the goal of our economics, should be to bring society between those two layers to what she calls a safe and just space for humanity,” Lofgren said. 

The theory is being localised by cities including Amsterdam, Portland and Philadelphia to develop a “City Portrait” which combines local aspirations with social and ecological global responsibility. This requires every place to consider its many complex interconnections with the world in which it is embedded.   

Lofgren said that Regen Melbourne will be exploring different aspects of Melbourne’s recovery through the doughnut framework via a series of workshops, held in partnership with the Sustainable Living Festival in February. 

“It’ll be about exploring things like housing, food, water and health to see what a healthy Melbourne means to us,” he said. 

A report will then be produced and delivered to relevant stakeholders on how the doughnut model can be adopted for Melbourne. 

A different kind of world 

Lofgren said that if this hyper-localised way of thinking was adopted to rebuild the city, the impacts would be far-reaching and long-lasting. 

“We would be living in a world where we are taking care of our own,” he said. 

“We would have much lower levels of inequality, a stronger sense of what a social foundation is for our city. And in a more practical sense, things like homelessness, domestic violence, access to political voice for our societies would all be things that we would all feel like we have a sense of community around.” 

He added that he didn’t believe Melbourne was far off from achieving these goals, and said there was a moral responsibility to act while we could.  

“We just have to all consider that while there are some who live below the social foundation, we can’t rest, and while our environmental limits are being breached, we have a moral responsibility not only to ourselves here in Melbourne, but also to the world,” he said. 

Regen Melbourne will be hosting a series of online workshops throughout February and March 2021, in partnership with the Sustainable Living Festival. Find out more here.   


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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