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Q&A

John So

Lord Mayor of Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia

Which city offers the best quality of life?
Somewhere like Melbourne or New York, because of the cultural diversity. In Melbourne we have people from over 140 different nations, speaking 170 languages – this enriches the quality of life in a city.

Is this also your favourite city?
Every city has its own identity and character. Melbourne is the fastest-growing city in Australia. It is one of the most livable cities in the world.

What makes a perfect city?
In any urban environment public open space is important. Cleanliness, safety and a welcoming atmosphere are also important.

What are your favourite design features in other cities?
The cycle paths in Copenhagen – we are bringing that kind of cycling in the city to Melbourne.

What would you eradicate from the built environment?
A lot of cities built in the 18th century turned their backs on the waterways. Cities such as Melbourne are now connecting back to the river and port, re-energising the city.

If you could make one change to the urban fabric, what would it be?
Making cities sustainable and creating a healthy and appealing living environment.

Closer to home, what is essential to quality of life?
Interesting piazzas and squares. Only last year in Melbourne we opened a piazza and named it Piazza Italia, reflecting the Italian culture in Melbourne.

Tasmanian rebel

Australia

He has been jailed, assaulted and shot at. He had a spell looking for the extinct Tasmanian tiger. He came out in the press when homosexuality was still illegal. Bob Brown’s 35-year career as the trailblazer of green politics in Australia has been edgy and probably lonely. Speaking in an unemotional voice, he is a familiar sight on the nightly news proffering alternative views on just about everything going on in the parliament, prompting accusations of negativity – and ideological madness.

But after years in the wilderness, the Tasmanian Senator and leader of the Greens now sees his party becoming the third largest political force in the country, and the Green agenda blitzing public discussion. “The average Australian primary school has more environmental nous than the Australian cabinet,” he says in typical Brown style. “We are way behind European thinking [on the environment] in the corporate and political sector because the Howard government, and the Labor Party, has kept the breaks on a proper debate.”

Tasmania, with its extraordinary natural beauty, has long been the spiritual homeland and battleground for Australia’s “greenies”. The United Tasmania Group was born in 1972, making it the first Green party in the world. Gunns, the country’s largest hardwood forest products company, issued writs against 20 environmental activists in 2004 for their actions against its timber operations. Claims against Brown, 62, and four other defendants have been dropped but 15 still face court in what has been dubbed a McLibel-style case.

The Greens currently have four senators in the upper house and Brown is hoping to secure more seats in this year’s federal election, which is likely to be in November.

Four more candid candidates

While the election is months away, the “pollies” have already started a quasi-campaign. Polls suggest a Labor victory.

Maxine McKew — a tough news presenter on Australian TV who will run against PM John Howard in the seat of Bennelong.

Mike Bailey — he quit his job as ABC’s top weatherman to contest the conservative seat of North Sydney.

Colonel Mike Kelly — a senior military lawyer in Iraq who recently left the army, running in Eden-Monaro for the Labor party.

Pauline Hanson — her views opposing immigration divided Australia in the 1990s and she’s now running again for the Senate.

Village people

Australia

In an increasingly fast-paced world, Australian shoppers are turning to their local “village” stores as they seek more than just a good price on their produce. Research commissioned by food multinational Parmalat found that 90 per cent of Australians shop at their local stores and five million have bought a house based on the proximity of good local shops.

Retail trend expert Michael Morrison, who worked on the survey, says he is not surprised by the results. “Australians are wanting a sense of belonging; they want to live closer to where they shop.”

It is a movement spotted over the past few years by Syd Weddell, who heads the Victorian division of speciality foods supplier, The Essential Ingredient.

“The choices are so overwhelming that people are returning to speciality shops. Big department stores don’t offer knowledge, just product. A very large proportion of the market are not coming to us because they are hungry, they are looking for an experience, something to enrich their knowledge of food culture.”

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