Bendigo 2020: Aiming for The Good Life

by Ian McBurney, Sustainability Advocate and great person to know.
Originally published by the Bendigo Weekly on 20 May 2016

In 1996 I moved from Bendigo to Melbourne for deeper conversations, cultural diversity and positive thinking. In 2007, Claire and I bought our first child back to Bendigo for fresh air, community and a childhood without a million traffic jams. And ever since we have enjoyed the deeper conversations and positive thinking that has flowed into Bendigo.

We helped establish the Bendigo Sustainability Group and we loved watching the establishment of the Farmers Market, the Trove Market, the Moonlight Market, cycling infrastructure, the gallery, the food scene, the cafes, Ulumbarra Theatre and more. The Age even called us the coolest town in Victoria!

On the back of this innovation and change we can look with confidence to 2020 and beyond. Great and exciting changes are afoot. A new economy is rising and it is about localisation. Around the world, local people and local place are being put back into the local economy, enriching everyone.

Council’s role is to encourage, enable and embrace the localisation of energy, food, work and transport systems and Bendigo will benefit from this for decades.

So what is this new economy? It has three main elements. The first is local renewable energy, the second is electric vehicles and the third is high speed internet. Jeremy Rifkin calls the convergence of these three elements ‘the third industrial revolution‘. It has profound implications for the way our local economy will be structured.

Let’s think about it.


Renewable energy is local. The solar, wind, energy efficiency, sustainable design, battery storage and distribution projects will create local work, local ownership, local investment and local revenue. We’ve never had that here before. Our $80 million annual household energy spend largely leaves Bendigo and Australia.

The big idea however, is that once installed, renewable energy is basically free.

In the mid 2020s, this new energy system will go online in real time allowing everyone to both produce and consume energy, so that we can match energy flow with demand.


Our local energy system will combine with the global push for electric vehicles. Council can plan for a transport revolution as internet platforms will allow vehicles to become shared, driverless and autonomous, removing 90 per cent of cars from the roads.

Everyone will be able to travel where they want when they want, without the road toll, without foreign petrol and without air and noise pollution. We won’t need public or private parking and at least half the roads will be repurposed for trade, nature, community or all three.

Bendigo homes used to spend $280 million on transport annually, which left our city. That can stay here. We will pay for the bits of transport we need, rather than a whole vehicle.

Council can increase investment and planning for electric vehicle charging, walkability, cycling, public places, public transport, urban greening and housing and land use projects that encourage these. The 2015 Integrated Land Use and Transport Strategy has already positioned us for these changes.

The localisation of energy and transport will create a revolution across the rest of the economy. Here’s a taste…


Our food system is already beginning to relocalise with local niche brands and farmers markets, Food Fossickers, backyard veggie gardens and fruit trees flourishing. Web platforms will allow food swapping and redistribution and mapping to occur in real time. The cooperatively owned Food Hub is the next piece.


Fluid collections of talented local entrepreneurs and micro businesses will combine to deliver great work, replacing larger organisations. Our Synergize co-working hub is an early example of this change.

Council can adapt local planning and policy to suit this vast growth of mobile workers, creating local places of economic value, connection and creativity. People won’t want or need ‘jobs’, but there will be lots of exciting work to do as we transition energy, transport and food systems and tackle homelessness, loneliness, intergenerational poverty, obesity and disadvantage.

As transport and energy systems localise, council can start planning for a new local manufacturing boom.


Online platforms are already popping up to re-energise citizen participation. Crowd writing, shared decision making, crowdsourced opinion, encrypted electronic voting and more are re-energising participation in local democracy.

We won’t have to go to the town hall: we will participate online. This jump in participation will enliven and improve how council operates and delivers services, with the old top down model becoming obsolete.


Retail will move towards life and away from stuff. Morley’s Emporium’s social enterprise model, Food Fossickers and niche products like local brewing and breads are all thriving. Around the world, sharing stores and fixing stores and meet up and skill sharing cafes are popping up.

Council will start to remove vehicle infrastructure in the city, planning for the return of the local walkable shopping strip, pop up trade, local markets and public places for people to be together. Council is in deep planning phase for real time freight for the city that runs on a local electric autonomous fleet.


I’m currently working on bringing the sharing economy to Bendigo, providing real time access to goods and services from lifts, stuff, money, time, skills, spaces and more. We will move beyond ownership of stuff to shared access. This will be cost effective, convenient and if the tech is owned by local cooperatives, the value will stay local.

Council can change the design of streets, buildings, public places and services to reflect this new sharing focus.


These big systematic changes will make us healthier, happier, more diverse and more connected. Council will focus on place making, community connection, walkability, 10-minute neighbourhoods, cycling, parks, access to nature, quality aged and child care and the child friendly city.

Children and the aged will reclaim streets and public places. The return of local biodiversity will have a big impact on local health, wellbeing and sense of place, and greening the city will help keep it cooler.


The new local access economy will bring students back to Bendigo in droves. Their vibrancy will be our vibrancy. Council is planning for the 10,000 people that will live in the city centre by 2030. This will be safer, more fun, more alive, will open up new markets and will create a more edgy city.


The old economy is dead and people know it, but salvation does not come from fear or clinging to the past.

Bendigo is no different. Fear of cultural diversity has already caused outbreaks of bigotry. Fear of a new economic system creates longing for an imaginary past. We must rise above our fears and learn together and if we can we will thrive.


The key to our future strength as a city is to take the best and most brilliant ideas from around the world and localise them. Put simply, our spending and our work need to relocalise, circulating locally and enriching us all. Roads, rates and rubbish is so 1950s. The council mantra from 2020 needs to be local people, local places, local economy. 

Claire and I chose Bendigo to raise our family and make a good life here. We can create that good life together. I’m with social researcher Hugh Mackay, who in his book The Good Life asks what makes a life worth living? His conclusion is both provocative and passionately argued:

“A good life is not measured by security, wealth, status, achievement or levels of happiness. A good life is determined by our capacity for selflessness and our willingness to connect with those around us in a meaningful and useful way.

Image+3+-+Version+3Ian McBurney is an ecological sustainability speaker, facilitator, MC and educator.  He also assists large businesses to make the transition to sustainability. He will help you reduce environmental costs, understand and integrate sustainability into your business and set up and inspire your green team – you’ll be ready for the new economy. More about Ian here.


About iheartbendigo

The unofficial guide to Bendigo and Central Victoria.
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