World Cities Day 2020

Valuing Our Cities and Communities

Mo Wyse
Jessica Neira
December 20, 2020
12 minute read

As we emerge from the disruption of COVID-19, our urban environments are moving from being reactive to being in a state of recovery. This gives us a unique window and opportunity to shape the types of cities and communities where everyone can find the space to not only live but flourish. On Friday, October 30, 2020, CBBC hosted a three-hour online workshop, which explored where we find ourselves as inhabitants of cities and communities in the wake of the pandemic. During the event, speakers and participants visualised practical pathways forward, to not only re-imagine a positive new future, but proactively move towards it.

According to UN Habitat:

"World Cities Day seeks to promote global interest in urbanization and engender international cooperation to address the challenges of urbanization, thereby contributing to sustainable urban development. This World Cities Day is a moment to reflect on our cities and consider their future. In the last 12 months, city life has changed dramatically. The health impact of COVID-19 alongside the social, political and financial upheavals, is reshaping urban life around the world in an unprecedented manner.

Urbanization has the potential to create opportunities for a better life, provide pathways out of poverty and act as an engine of economic growth, but the contribution of diverse communities within cities is often only recognized to a limited extent if at all. Yet it is increasingly clear that communities are the lifeblood for cities and are part of the essential building blocks providing the economic, environmental and social value that leads to an improved quality of life for all."

CBBC’s connection with the United Nations began before CBBC existed, when our managing director, Andre Van Eymeren, attended Habitat 3 in Quito, Ecuador in 2016. At the event he saw first-hand the incredible opportunities urbanisation and cities create as well as the incredible need if we do not take all people into account in their development. We have since been a part of organizing Urban Thinkers Campuses around the world and attending the World Urban Forum 10 in Abu Dhabi in February, all as part of the World Urban Campaign. Our WCD event explored the essential building blocks of our communities and cities, especially by defining pathways through COVID-19. Our five esteemed speakers shed light on their work, guided our workshop sessions, and with the participants, explored solutions to our own communities and cities.

Due to the pandemic, our event was virtual, but that had its advantages, as it actually enabled us to include a geographically diverse range of speakers and participants. Using Zoom meant the event flowed smoothly with the inclusion of all voices, participants asking questions and comments via the chat feature, and guests expressly cheering on speakers using hand clap and thumbs up emojis. While the speakers were presenting, there was a mix of feelings. Some stories caused joy, some made people feel nostalgic, and others overwhelmed. It was enriching to see people's reactions, despite watching the conference on a virtual platform. The public was very active and reactive; all responses were genuine. In particular, participants reacted positively when speakers presented ideas that were translated into actions; motivating them to understand how they can contribute and be a better community. All the ideas and outcomes were inspiring.

Like so many other events in 2020, our World Cities Day celebration needed to meet in the virtual space of a Zoom call.

The Speakers

Our speakers for the event spanned a range of governmental leaders, grassroots organisation leaders, lawyers, and indigenous leaders. Throughout the presentations we found points of intersection within the diverse experiences of our speakers, and we were able to envision pathways beyond COVID-19 through their inspiring stories. Our event was emceed by CBBC member, Suiyin Cheah. Suiyin is a consultant, facilitator, and researcher, with 20 years’ experience in business operations, stakeholder engagement and people management. She is passionate about individual and community health and wellbeing, and human-centred approaches to change.  

Speaker presentations ranged from focussing on local stories to commenting on broader systemic issues. Equity, inclusion, sustainability, resilience, ingenuity, imagination, collaboration, and the importance of listening were each highlighted by multiple speakers.

Andre Van Eymeren

Andre Van Eymeren - Managing Director, Centre for Building Better Community  

Andre is a sought-after international consultant, trainer and practitioner in community development. For the past 20 years he has worked with communities around Australia and in the UK, USA, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Cameroon.

Presentation themes:  Valuing our cities and communities. Changed perceptions as a result of COVID-19.

Andre began his keynote by stating, “urbanization today is 55% and in 2050 it will reach 65%,” meaning more people will be living in cities and there will be a larger urban environment. An interesting analogy used by Andre is that you could buy a Coke in the middle of the desert, showing the impact this will have everywhere. Andre asked the question, “In the face of rapid urbanisation, what will be the quality of life we experience?” Cities need to be places of sustainability. (The UN even proposed Sustainable Cities and Communities as goal number 11 of the 17 sustainability goals.) It is important to realise that we should all have the opportunity to make equitable use and enjoyment of cities and human settlement. Everything we do will impact, in one way or another, the people around us and their quality of life.

Taking this into account, Andre considers that the concept of "shalom" is needed, which refers to everything needed for a healthful life. Based on this, Andre presented a framework developed for CBBC to help communities flourish, which includes basic needs, belonging, contribution, purpose, lament and celebration, and meaning or spirituality.  

Through the example of the government hard lockdown of the Flemington and North Melbourne housing towers in Victoria, Andre highlighted the importance of making a difference in our communities.  Andre stressed the importance of people-centric solutions; that the people in our communities are the experts. We truly need to work together and roll up our sleeves. Specifically, with the towers example, Andre showed how some organisations came together to create initiatives to support people in this situation, and he shared stories of resilience during these hard times. “We need to focus on how the small things can help us to think bigger.[…] Seeing, recognising the good things, working to build on existing strengths, dreaming together, then working together.”  

"We work with people who have inherent worth, skills, abilities, perspectives and agency- they are the experts about their community."

The most important pathways out of COVID-19, according to Andre, are sustainable ones, especially for vulnerable communities. These pathways include asset mapping with COVID-19 mitigation focus, training and capacity building using people-centred approaches to community building, and community-led initiatives. The most important thing is “working out the strengths of the community, bringing people together who share the same ideas and building relationships with them.” Especially now, Andre urges us to focus on “little acts of kindness and compassion.” And asks the question “Why are [these little acts] only coming out when there’s some kind of disaster? [This is] the simple stuff that can begin to change the system.”

"Believe together the best is yet to come."

Kylie Smith

Kylie Smith - Neighbourhood Justice Centre, Senior Koori Justice Worker  

Kylie works with the aim of addressing underlying causes of offending through providing a variety of support services to the local Aboriginal Community in Yarra, and to Aboriginal visitors of those with a strong connection to the area. Kylie works to provide court support, make referrals, case- manage, and support Aboriginal clients on community corrections orders.

Presentation themes:  Resilience and ingenuity of the indigenous community.

Kylie spoke about a self-determination process to establish indigenous voices in important conversations. She also raised the importance of creating a system that is specific to the needs of her community, and how she is looking forward to a world of equity, where voices can be heard loud, strong, and proud. The architecture of our cities needs to include a connection to country. Kylie emphasises, “We must take care of our birth ground and burial ground.” She believes the indigenous community will make it through this pandemic by embracing the connection beyond isolation through equity and strengthening of spirit.

“We are looking forward to meeting with our mobs and allies without suspicion or fear. Looking forward to the healing of our land and waterways, and strengthening of our spirit. And looking forward to embracing our country.”

Daniel Nguyen

Daniel Nguyen – Former Yarra City Councillor; current lawyer and race discrimination advocacy coordinator for the Police Accountability Project  

Daniel is the former mayor and councillor of Yarra City. He is a lawyer and the Executive Officer of Tarwirri, a membership body for Indigenous law students and lawyers. Daniel volunteers in a number of other legal capacities, including working with victims of sex abuse/violence. He is also a lawyer for the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre.  

Presentation themes: Imagination, community, self-determination, and trust.

Using our current situation as an example, Daniel highlighted that we never imagined that we would be where we are, having experienced a global pandemic, but this shows anything is possible. The level of frustration of the community is high, especially for those who live in the housing towers. However, the communities of people in the towers were not surprised by their strength, rather, it was normal for them to support one another. Daniel pointed out that

“the only way out of COVID is with a real strong community effort.” “We have to trust our communities” and “give people a platform to strive and continue.”

Daniel specified that it is very important to create spaces for people to have more conversations, such as the WCD conference.  

He highlighted the importance for every person to be listened to and heard; local power is reflected in community participation and involvement. Daniel specified that we cannot simply rely on the government response and for people to follow, we must “turn to our community, trust that our community will deliver, and if we can imagine and push the boundaries, we will discover the existence of new opportunities.” And really, that “the government should bring people along in their journey.”  

Daniel also briefly spoke about how the Black Lives Matter movement was powerful in that it brought both black and white communities together to inspire change.

Viv Nguyen

Viv Nguyen - Chairperson Victorian Multicultural Commission  

Viv has been an active member of Victoria’s diverse communities throughout her life. Her extensive professional experience has spanned the corporate, public and community sectors, most recently as the President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia – Victorian Chapter.  

Presentation themes: Multiculturalism in Victoria. The benefits and challenges of inclusion.

Viv discussed how multicultural Melbourne is, highlighting that we can find people from over 200 countries, who speak more than 260 languages.

“Cultural diversity is an asset […] it has helped strengthen our society.”

However, there are extreme vulnerabilities of these communities; many of them are in uncertainty, waiting a long time for their visa status to be favourable. This means that they are in limbo, resulting in major mental health costs as there is no purpose or belonging, and there is also the challenge of living with small budgets. Therefore, it is important to continuously collaborate, engage in multicultural values, and enjoy the benefits of diversity.  

To achieve this, it is necessary to invest in ways to assist people to integrate. There’s a massive difference between consulting and action, “Consultation is one thing- actually listening is another.” Leaders are too short-term focused, they need to take more risks, “We cannot rely on the government to be the provider of all solutions.”  However, we can all contribute in one way or another, not expecting only the government to address these issues. She speaks about the attitude in Australia of “having our cake and eating it too,” meaning we talk about how great diversity is, but also think that if people don’t speak English, it’s their problem. People need their own voice and Viv wants to make sure everybody has a good, equal opportunity to participate, and to support the community to participate.

“Engaging the community is a need to understand who they are, what makes them very cognisant of our biases, ensuring we don’t exercise our biases.”

When asked, “How do we challenge the dominant powers of the English Caucasian community to create new forms of community and cultures when structures are so biased?”, Viv responded, “we have to believe it benefits us to make the change. And if we do believe it, we have to have leadership and long-term investment. There are not enough brave leaders to take this on.” When further probed about leveraging real change for the future, especially considering the challenges being faced in multicultural communities, Viv said, “Hierarchical needs and cultural norms. Community organisations take leadership to get the information to vulnerable people. The government doesn’t have to solve all issues; look at the community, they don’t expect solutions from the government.”

Coralie Winn

Coralie Winn - QSM, Co-Founder of Gap Filler - NZ-based, placemaking and community activation organisation  

Coralie is an urban arts director and placemaker based in Christchurch who, after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, co-founded Gap Filler to focus on creating art spaces and activities within the city. Gap Filler specialises in placemaking and developing strategies that are the foundation for strong community outcomes.  

Presentation themes: Placemaking as disaster recovery response: Christchurch earthquakes 2010 and 2011.

Coralie Winn addressed the disaster recovery that happened in September 2010 and February 2011 after the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, and all subsequent changes. She provided many examples to show how energy, hope and connectivity helped the city to re-grow. People came together and got involved in more than 180 projects, events and education projects; the best way to prove that people can experience change.

“Participation underpins everything we do.”

Coralie presented 5 key points that Gap Filler considered to be successful in this process:

  1. Address the barriers to people taking action.
  1. Demonstrate what’s possible. Essentially, leading by doing.
  1. Explore different ways of participation.
  1. Make everything social and interactive because we need face-to-face connections.
  1. Understand the context and what motivates people.  

The barriers Coralie mentioned involved expanding beyond the individual.

“Hyper-individualism is such an unhelpful myth. The community is a greater concept,” says Coralie.

People need to go below the law and explore all possibilities, with an emphasis on the importance of disruption and the ways of reimagining the world. She also mentioned the importance of communal space and the concept of possibilities of space and what can be done with it, thinking about space differently and to “give people the chance to experience doing things in a different way.” We need everyone to come together and contribute ideas and realise what’s possible beyond words - i.e., no power, no problem. Coralie believes we need to understand the context and what’s motivating people.

Additionally, Coralie focused on ‘Kaitiakitanga’ - a Maori concept which means we are the custodians of the earth and the land where we live, and we must take care of it for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and so on. There’s an urgent necessity to “STOP and LISTEN to their wisdom, we have so much to learn about the holistic view of the land from the indigenous worldview.”

Due to the necessity of moving beyond physical projects, Gap Filler has navigated the pandemic by hosting Chinwag, a series of conversations around the world to fill the gaps in people’s lives.


All of our WCD speakers had points of connection, but their approaches and recommendations given were different. In the end, the objective was the same, to make the places we live and the communities to which we belong more livable, comfortable and collaborative. All speakers touched on the importance of listening to our community, pushing through barriers and boundaries, expressing courage, and exploring our potential and creativity from within.  

Pathways out of COVID-19

The WCD event focused on embracing cities and communities, as well as exploring pathways through and out of the pandemic. Each of the speakers presented their individual concepts, and as a group, we discussed these themes in general and how they applied to our participants and their communities. In order to facilitate a flourishing conversation, the event participants and speakers split up into breakout rooms, and moderators initiated conversations based on the following questions:  

  1. What do you value in your cities and communities?
  1. What are some of the signs of hope that you have seen that can be part of a pathway to community recovery?
  1. How do the lessons you’ve learned today apply to your community?
  1. Even if you're not a community leader, you still have the power to create change. What steps would you take to implement positive pathways out of COVID-19 - beyond the measures currently in place?

Some of the thoughts that came from our breakout room workshopping were as follows:

  • People can do more than they think they can.
  • Creating space to have these conversations is important.
  • Sense of common good and connectivity is stronger, sense of agency, we’ve just got to do it ourselves, don’t wait for permission, lead by example.
  • We need to build on our past success.
  • People feeling more connected through the increased isolation (of lockdown). There is more appreciation of our geographical areas.
  • Every voice needs to be listened to.  
  • How do we create representation for everybody?
  • Putting high value on things such as accessibility in cities, the feeling of being in a community and the possibility to get to know the neighbours.
  • Analogy: the community as a human body, where all the organs interrelate with each other and depend on the others to function 100% well.
  • Participants shared stories of being part of communities who share resources and constantly connect.
  • Community is not about the number of people; it is made up of bonds and interactions
  • Sometimes we live in a bubble where everything seems to be fine, but there will always be someone that we can help and support as a community.
  • The importance and value of diversity, but how important it is to invest in it. And that leaders need to truly believe that diversity is powerful.
  • Government can make the process easier for communities to get involved.
  • We can do this! We can make the difference.

The event left attendees with more probing questions for the future. How can we contribute? What are the possible pathways? How can we make change? All speakers demonstrated many ways to do things by taking small steps.

“Don’t underestimate the power of small change.”

Inspired by Andre, who asked, “why do we have to wait for a tragedy or something to happen to act?” most of the ideas provided were very simple and practical:

  • Invite your neighbours to dinner
  • Engage in more activities in your neighbourhood
  • Be an active participant in your community
  • There are many ways to help people, not just money, find it!


A Note from CBBC – we acknowledge the Wurrundjeri Woi Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of the Land from which we hosted our WCD event. We pay our respect to elders past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today. We are honoured to have shared three hours with our magnificent movers and shakers, Andre, Viv, Coralie, Kylie, and Daniel. We are in awe of their great work in helping our cities and communities, and we are so very grateful for the time they spent sharing ways to shape our future. We’re thankful for the participants who attended from all over the country and New Zealand, and of course, thanks to our team who made the event possible.  

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The Centre for Building Better Community acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community.
We pay our respect to their elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.