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March 26, 2020

How do you see Adelaide getting over this?

Director of Social Policy Solutions and Deputy Chair on the Committee for Adelaide, Matt Clemow sees coronavirus as a chance to reset our city.

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  • Words: Matt Clemow
  • Pictures: Ash Wilson

Quite some time ago, I was in a workshop-type event where someone challenged the table to consider Adelaide (or South Australia as a whole) as a person and take a view about the state of their mental health.

The thinking was if we were able to identify or diagnose symptoms, we could then take a psychoanalytical approach to her (Adelaide) and formulate a treatment plan.


Matt Clemow is Director of Social Policy Solutions and Deputy Chair on the Committee for Adelaide

The discussion – which was one of my very first Committee for Adelaide events – followed the likely traditional paths and focused on a lack of self confidence and some validation issues, along with some commentary about not feeling like we deserve nice things.

Firstly, it’s a conversation that’s never left me – and one that I raise often in discussion. Secondly, and more importantly, I think it’s enormously relevant now as we face a global crisis not seen since World War II (now 75 years ago).

Fundamentally, South Australia is a bystander in the global response to the spread of COVID-19 and its medical response. Our brilliant first responders have thus far dealt with the pretty crappy cards that the world has given them, and, we hope, will continue to do so.

What is in our control, as citizens, or as a City or State, is how we respond. We do get to choose how Adelaide rises from the ashes. That’s the choice we get to make from this terrifying shitshow.

I accept nobody knows what world is left or what economic and social mountain is left to climb, but let’s start with the premise of how does Adelaide come out of this crisis?

To use another phrase, how does Adelaide choose to be? Much loved and respected Adelaidean Trish Hansen last year launched Being – which she described as a tool that helps you develop as Design Code, to choose ‘how to be’ in the world.

I’ve spent most of my working life focused on how South Australia and our economic CBD changes its narrative to become a business attractor, and, over time, become a place that attracts people.

Each and all of these discussions have always been in a busy market with distracted people – conditions that won’t exist this week and may not for months.

As catastrophic as the landscape we face is, it does create an opportunity for a reset. I don’t believe we are going to – or should – come out of this comparing ourselves to whatever Melbourne and Sydney look like, it’s going to be a different, smaller world economy, and a global fight for people even more than capital dollars.

And this should play to our natural advantages, particularly a city in a park where health and wellbeing, as well as affordability, is central to how we live.

While it seems impossible today to look at Adelaide’s advantages post this chaos, the one thing we can agree today is how we present ourselves to the world.

So how does Adelaide need to be?

She needs to be brave, bold, proud and brash but not over the top.

She needs to show resilience, show that we take lessons from the past.

And she needs to go even beyond the successful New Zealand “think global, act local” campaign and present as a global city that succeeds on the back of local capacity, and our history of global innovation and social and cultural firsts.

This is the task we must sign up to, being prepared to rise from this awful mess with a new shared goal.

Until then, I suggest we all just need to be kind.

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