City Chats: Live at the Epworth

So many great questions and proof this city is alive with brilliant thinkers

MC for the evening, Josh Fanning bridges the gap between presentation and conversation


Getting out from behind the computer and creating a collaborative space (that isn’t a construction site) is a thrilling idea to us at City Collective. It’s why we started the Urban Insider – to build a dialogue with city leaders and influencers like you on the subject we’re all so passionate about. Brining you ideas and connecting you with amazing projects and emerging research from around the world via email is great and very efficient but was still lacking something.

City Chats: Live at the Epworth delivered everything we hoped it would. It put 20-odd civic-minded people in a room together and got them talking and asking questions about how Adelaide could learn and grow, innovate and adapt. City Chats got design thinkers together to learn from each other in real time in a way that the Internet still hasn’t beaten, with a drink and slice of pizza.

City Collective Principal, Justin Kearnan started off the conversation with the heavy topic of spatial inequity and the emerging research that is drilling down into the data that describes disadvantage. Taking San Francisco – a believably affluent city – as his case study, Justin walked the room through the specific metrics used to identify geographical areas in the city that suffered from lack of access to basic amenities and how this correlated with factors of race, income, health and well being.

Executive Director of the SA Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, Nicolette Di Lernia was interested in understanding the local application of Justin’s thinking and research. In her experience driving children across Adelaide for sport and visiting different suburbs across the metropolitan region, she agreed that there was a general diminishing quality of fresh food options available in certain, lower socio-economic areas.

Access to fresh food is a key indicator of spatial inequality says Justin but whether it’s causative or correlative remains to be proven. Factors such as education, employment and culture all factor into understanding and interpreting the big picture of spatial inequality. Until now, society has known it has down-at-heel areas in cities but hasn’t known the specific factors that contribute to this overall malaise.

The room agreed that by creating metrics that can be measured and deliver specific insights as to where the inequality in society manifests is a logical approach to reducing inequality in society.Justin describes the work City Collective is doing in this space as a “tool box” to help decision makers on city councils through to federal government ministers design better and more integrated solutions to the perennial problem of social inequality.

City Collective Principal, Justin Kearnan


Senior Interior Architect and Workplace Strategist Brenna Jewitt wasn’t two minutes into her presentation on Workplace Strategy when the questions started to fire in.

“When is the optimum time to engage a workplace strategy?”

“What does workplace strategy do for the bottom line?”

“Can we apply workplace strategy to the whole of the CBD?”

City of Adelaide Councillors Houssam Abiad and Franz Knoll were particularly interested in the application of Brenna’s work at the macro level. Can we or should we apply a strategy to the entire city? Should we be thinking of the city as the macro work place and be designing our streets and public spaces as common rooms?

The dialogue was electric and ongoing as Brenna talked us through her experience in implementing a successful workplace strategy for a tech company in Boston. The key indicator that the company needed a workplace strategy was three fold:

  1. The company was experiencing massive growth
  2. The company’s current lease was ending
  3. The company needed to retain staff and IP in a competitive employment market

Stopping for interruptions and clarifications along the way, Brenna was able to give clarifications as well as broaden the conversation to address specific interests from the group gathered at the Epworth. One of the most startling realisations City Chats came out with was the idea that offices in the city of Adelaide are a huge contributor to GDP. Of course this has always been true but pointing that out made a big impact on those attending, who could then start to see productivity in the office as a much more nuanced and important element of workplace culture and a company’s profitability.

Rounding out the afternoon, City Collective Director David Cooke discussed some of the projects the Melbourne Studio is currently working on.

One project worked to maximise a small footprint on an iconic location, while solving several urban infill quandaries at the same time. Rather than building large and absorbing a huge amount of space, the City Collective treatment built up and went transparent so as to not block out existing neighbours but create stunning through views and much-needed transparency for the club.

It was suggested that this approach could work well on a site like 88 O’Connell Street – a huge site itself – which could benefit from being sub-divided and developed incrementally by a consortium of developers and potential tenants.

As the pizza boxes arrived and conversation spilled over from David’s presentation on the screen into meaningful chats, it was great to see people sticking around and following up their own ideas and interpretations of the presentations with the Brenna, Justin and David. There was real networking going on, all without necessarily needing the name tags or business cards, though I’m sure more than a few were exchanged.

City Chats aims to be a bi-monthly event for the city curious and urban leaders in our midst. It won’t just be City Collective presenting on subjects close to our heart but invited speakers both local and from outside South Australia. If Adelaide is going to grow and develop then we need to become more permeable to ideas from outside. And if Adelaide is going to open up to new, cutting-edge ideas about how to build better cities, better public spaces and – ultimately – a better state, then we need to get the people who can do this together in one room.

That’s the aim of City Chats – to connect leaders and doers with inspiration and the right contacts to help them make Adelaide a success story. We hope you’ll join us!

Next City Chats: Live at the Epworth will be
February 20th from 09:30AM
Register your interest – send us an email