At last, kicking off a conversation
Robert Morris-Nunn says a summit about the direction of the University of Tasmania leaves him optimistic for Hobart’s future
VERY much out of the blue an invitation by the University of Tasmania arrived to take part in a conversation about its future in Hobart. A two-day “Appreciate Inquiry Summit” to develop an ideas framework with a view to “creating a university of and for the city”. Like many, I agreed to join and approached the event last week with interest and not just a little curiosity.
Although I have practised as an architect all over Tasmania for more than 40 years and my practice has been responsible for a wide range of major commissions – I have never been responsible for any significant university projects. So I am very much an outsider to the ways of thinking by the university. It’s also worth noting that I’ve held a view of the university that historically it has been prone to come across as rather opaque and non-inclusive in its approach.
This summit was happening against the backdrop of the university’s planned move from Sandy Bay into the inner-city – a program it expects will take the next 10 to 15 years. Vice-Chancellor Professor Rufus Black has been publicly saying that rather than have a vision for the university and a vision for Hobart, there was a fundamental need to build one vision for the future of the two together. As I understand it, these two days of activities were the start of that process.
In the words of the guidelines sent to participants, “the two days of the summit will be in a workshop format, with each session building on the one prior. You can look forward to some stimulating and exciting discussion as we discover what we love and value about the City of Hobart, share our dreams for the future, and define what needs to guide us as we design a university of and for the city.”
The event was very different to any that I had even remotely heard about ever previously happening. About 200 people took part – roughly half being university senior staff and half being a very wide number of people from diverse fields including community groups, social welfare organisations, residents’ associations, government, City of Hobart, business and key industry organisations.
Held in the Cruise Liner Reception Area of Mac 2, where a large open indoor area with views back to the city and the mountain provided an appropriate context for discussions, the event was indeed a very generous and inclusive sharing of ideas. Most importantly, I came away feeling it wasn’t a synthetic public relations exercise but instead a very open and sincere attempt to begin a comprehensive dialogue with a wide range of individuals in the greater Hobart community. Members of the landscape and architectural consultant teams who will be working on the masterplan were also present and with senior university staff and other participants there was a vital and free-thinking exchange of ideas creating a range of indicative proposals.
I will obviously leave it to the university to announce the distilled outcomes of these two days, but I thought it important to inform the broader Hobart community of the event and the very new inclusive thinking that the senior management of the university is taking.
From this participant’s personal perspective, it augers very well for the whole process. I was particularly impressed by the willingness to share ideas, and the background thinking and preparation for the event that reduced complex planning issues to ideas or questions where the diverse participants could all have a meaningful input. It was a really refreshing change from an institution which traditionally could appear very heavy handed.
There are some major elements of the embryonic ideas that will need the major involvement of agencies outside the university itself, and in particular there is an absolutely obvious one, the provision of more effective public transport. This will need a very significant involvement of all levels of government; local, state and federal. I imagine these discussions might have already begun and indeed that hopefully there is finally some common sense being brought to bear to address the really chronic transport issues that bedevil greater Hobart and all its inhabitants. There is a unique opportunity, and an absolute necessity, to address this matter in a forward thinking, intelligent matter in parallel with other spatial planning issues related to relocation into the city, and indeed this very subject was one of the topics of group discussion.
I would like Hobart
I CAME AWAY FEELING IT WASN’T A SYNTHETIC PUBLIC RELATIONS EXERCISE BUT INSTEAD A VERY OPEN AND SINCERE ATTEMPT TO BEGIN A COMPREHENSIVE DIALOGUE WITH A WIDE RANGE OF INDIVIDUALS IN THE GREATER HOBART COMMUNITY
residents not directly affiliated with the university to feel positive about the processes now under way. It is my sense that the embryonic ideas and more importantly the breadth
of issues being canvassed in a socially inclusive way by the university will produce results that will be transformational for all of its citizens.
The integration of the university into the city could be a very dynamic one that will affect the quality of life of all of the city’s residents, as well as producing appropriate new building stock. I came away from the event with an optimism that the future of the city that is personally very dear to me could be profoundly changed for the better, and I for one really look forward to being shown the next stage of the evolution of the university’s ideas.