When West Meets East

The Greater Sydney Commission unveiled plans this week to make Parramatta the economic centre of Sydney. Under the proposal, a staggering $30 billion is needed to transform the region and create new infrastructure, schools, hospitals, green space and housing. Transformation is no longer a fringe concept. It is the norm for many nation states and sectors; it recognises the work now is about creating a better future for all.

Twenty years ago, my role as  Executive Director was to focus on the day to day oversight of a school system without gazing too far into the future. Today, the role is far more complex and challenging in terms of not simply maintaining or improving schooling but transforming it. As I sit looking out of my window, you can see the physical transformation taking place in the Parramatta CBD. It’s part of a much greater social and cultural transformation happening across greater Western Sydney.

In September, I was invited to take part in a study tour of East London (#WestMeetsEast) hosted by the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue. Executives from a range of industry, government and community in Western Sydney had the opportunity to see and hear about the significant growth and regeneration of East London over the past 15 years. Canary Wharf was once a derelict site that is now the financial hub of London and home to a growing and diverse residential community.

While the tour was short and intensive, we had an opportunity to hear from the stakeholders who were responsible for the transformation of East London. Having been back in Parramatta for a while, some of the important lessons I learned were:

      1. Challenges can only be met through partnerships. It’s not a government or a commercial responsibility – we are all responsible for achieving the vision and delivering the best outcomes.
      2. We need new ways of thinking about how we finance major projects such as hospitals, schools and roads. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak, is old thinking.
      3. Applying value capture to new projects means everyone benefits from the transaction.
      4. We need visionary leadership. People who are prepared to think outside the box and predict future trends in the same way the President of Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. did in 1953 when talking about phone use.

The transformation of schooling is integral to the transformation of urban spaces. It requires us to work in partnership to ensure a brighter future for the young people living, learning and working in these dynamic, diverse and ever-evolving communities.

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