Quality sidewalks and protected bicycle paths are not cute architectural features; they are a right, unless we believe that only those with access to a car have the right to safe individual mobility.

Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia

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The Future Is Built Bottom-up

Over the past few years, I have volunteered for several organisations including the Sydney Peace Foundation, the Yale Club of Australia and Architects without Frontiers. Why, people ask – aren’t you tired after work, and just want to go home and eat pasta? Yes, yes I do, I do want to go to the beach and drink cider instead of working on project plans, reviewing documents or talking to potential sponsors on the weekends. Compared to the amount of my contribution as a volunteer, however, what I receive from volunteering is much bigger – it makes me feel like a local. After long and short gigs in South Korea, USA, New Zealand and Vietnam, Australia has been my home for the past 5 years, the only place where I have felt like I belong.

Of course there are several factors that contribute to such emotional attachment to a place, including family and friends, security and immigration status. There are also other, often overlooked and intangible factors such as connecting to our neighbours, our streets and our city. I know that I can trust the ladies at the downstairs laundromat with my apartment keys, I am a regular at several cafés and restaurants on my street, and I enjoy the city events. There is a common theme that runs across the communities that we work with – everyone just wants to socialise and belong, whether it is though local volunteering or incidental meetings. Sometimes there is that fear of the unknown and different: some buy groceries from ethnic stores, some from Woolies; some drive private cars and some take buses; some speak English, some don't; some just simply look different.

There are still too many neighbourhoods in Australia being gentrified and divided, widening our cohesiveness as a nation. There are still too many neighbours, wanting, waiting for that opportunity, that subtle invitation to join a conversation. This year, I learned to facilitate that conversation. – Julia Suh, Place Maker