Shaping the future of Southbank through social imagination

Imagination in Southbank event
Brendan Rees

A unique pilot project aimed exploring the power of social imagination in a time of a climate crisis has brought the Southbank community together to share their ideas for the future.

More than 50 residents, along with business owners, students, activists, academics, and City of Melbourne councillors, including Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece, gathered for the experiment and to talk about their plans for Southbank at a March 7 event called Imagination in Southbank.

The project is an initiative of the Centre for Public Impact Australia (CPI) and Aotearoa New Zealand, a not-for-profit that provides research to improve the effectiveness of public services and government to better respond to complex challenges.

The organisation partnered with the City of Melbourne and Hinterland Lab to experiment how social imagination could help bring a “sense of civic agency and possibility to the complex challenge of the climate crisis” while also focusing on a sense of community belonging.

Attendees at the event, which was hosted at the Malthouse Theatre, heard from the CPI team and project participants who explored ways of creating “futures we can be proud to pass on to future generations”.

“The event was an exploration of how the practice of social imagination and ideas around belonging can create more expansive thinking around climate action,” the event’s organiser and senior program manager and project lead at the CPI Keira Lowther said.

“Social imagination encourages people to dream about the kind of world they would be proud to pass on to future generations and to consider their role in creating it.”

Ms Lowther said Cr Jamal Hakim interviewed participants who “described their experiences of the project and the ideas that either took shape or gathered pace during that time”.



The audience also heard about developments including the new Festival at Boyd, Gardens of Australia, and the Community Gallery at Southgate.

The event celebrated a program of work that involved five full day workshops, held in September and October last year, with additional support from CPI and RMIT Master of Design students, to develop and realise ideas in the months that followed.

“The event brought people who were involved or otherwise interested in what we had been doing together,” Ms Lowther said.

The project also responded to Southbank as being one of Australia’s most densely populated areas. 

While the CPI acknowledged Southbank was home to a rich hospitality sector and one of Australia’s most vibrant arts precincts, “many people who live and work in Southbank report feeling disconnected and lonely and express a desire to feel a greater sense of belonging to place and community”.

“Perhaps responding to this, and building a deeper sense of belonging, to each other, to Southbank and to the planet, we might be able to shape the conditions for a deeper sense of agency and imaginative power for more care-fuelled action in these areas,” the CPI said.

Anyone interested in engaging in a social imagination practice in their community or workplace can contact [email protected]  •


Caption: Community members gather for the Imagination in Southbank event.

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