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Yarwood: Let's keep chasing new ideas

Opinion

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The role of Lord Mayor is a mystery to many; it’s certainly unique.

I was often asked if it was full time: in reality it was a 24/7 commitment where even rare family time was punctuated by phone calls, text messages, urgent emails and social media.

The day regularly started with early morning radio, always included an intense daily schedule and consistently finished with evening functions or meetings. While long hours and complex issues are not unique, doing it under the spotlight of a competitive media informing an interested community is.

It is challenging when anything you say or do can go viral – even more so when a poor interpretation of your words or actions can have the same effect. Being on your best behaviour all day every day for years on end is a big ask for anyone.

Despite this focus on the role, often the voters – unfortunately – don’t directly interact with the Lord Mayor. The role requires a working relationship with literally hundreds of people including councillors, metropolitan mayors, many state and federal politicians and the other lord mayors of Australia’s capital cities, to name a few.

The role also comes with legislated requirements to chair the Adelaide Parklands Authority and the city’s Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee, to sit on the Rundle Mall Management Authority and Capital City Committee, as well as attending all council meetings.

The Lord Mayor is patron or ambassador to more than 20 organisations and includes the need to host dozens of civic receptions, swear in hundreds of new Australian citizens and undertake duties on Australia Day, New Years Eve, ANZAC Day and Proclamation Day. I attended a great number of important military ceremonies, handed out numerous awards and launched many a book, businesses, building and event!

The irony is that despite the significance of the Lord Mayor’s civic duties, the powers of the position are limited. The role is legislated as the “spokesperson for council”, but it is all 12 elected members that set the strategic directions, determine the budget and make the policy decisions. The truth is I did not lead a council, but was part of a great team working with a motivated administration that delivered outcomes for Adelaide.

The list of results is long and includes infrastructure projects, lots of trees, significantly improved council morale and an overall community willingness to be collaborative, experimental and adventurous. The result of four years of work is a different conversation about our city that, I am told, has been distilled into the phrase “New Adelaide”.

New Adelaide has more lively public spaces, a world class wi-fi network, a more diverse night-time economy and an exciting new entrepreneurial spirit. It even has decent bicycle lanes (but, then again, every other city does too).

Our new Lord Mayor and council face many challenges, not the least of which is enhancing the new-found collective belief in Adelaide and its future.

Do I have any regrets? None.

I did everything I could within the hours, days, weeks, months and years that I was Lord Mayor. I started every day knowing I could not look back and wish I had done more; I was not prepared to have regrets for decades to come. I did everything I could to make Adelaide a better place where more people want to spend more time; a place younger people, who have traditionally left Adelaide, would want to call their home and, in turn, create the jobs of tomorrow that would make our city globally relevant again.

While saddened I did not get a chance to serve another four years, my gratitude for the opportunity to have been the Lord Mayor in the first place far outweighs any disappointment. I have learned a huge amount about the planning and management of cities, met some amazing people, made some genuine friends and had some incredibly privileged experiences.

As ever, I’m excited about the future. I’m having a much-needed break before embarking on another adventure. I believe in the transformation of cities and intend to share my knowledge and passion in a way that inspires current and future leaders, be it in a classroom or council chamber, to be the change they want to see in their communities.

Like it or not, technological change, social and environmental challenges and the need for improved productivity are creating a contemporary “operating system” for cities that is foreign to many and inevitable regardless of whom has the position of Lord Mayor. It is those cities that embrace these positive changes that will be ahead of the curve in the global “business of cities”.

New ideas will result in a new economy, and that is essential for Adelaide’s future.

Our new Lord Mayor and council face many challenges, not the least of which is enhancing the new-found collective belief in Adelaide and its future.

In addition, delivering tangible outcomes for an incredibly diverse Adelaide community, who have a limited understanding of budget or local government restraints, is an almost an impossible ask.

I know they will do their best because they too care about Adelaide. I wish them well.

Stephen Yarwood was Lord Mayor of Adelaide from 2010 until he was defeated in the local government elections earlier this month.

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