Cities, Innovation

What do Google, Apple and Facebook have in common, apart from being three of the world’s biggest and most valuable companies?

They’ve all created campuses for their employees.

The idea is quite simple: create an environment where employees are encouraged to flourish (and hang around beyond the typical ‘nine to five’), and keep them engaged, productive and collaborative for as long as possible.

These campuses are more than just offices with showers and somewhere to park your bike; rather, they cater to employees’ diverse needs throughout any work day, offering on-site health care, free food and drink, and even entertainment.

Designed not only to attract and retain the world’s best talent, campuses are increasingly hotbeds of innovation, as the communities that typically cluster around them intersect, cross-pollinate, and create.

Such an approach has clearly worked for the big three tech behemoths, who are regularly cited as employers of choice, hotbeds of innovation and remain darlings of the investor community.

So what can cities like Sydney and Melbourne, who are similarly competing for global talent and investment dollars, learn from these corporate campuses?

How can we create similar environments where people want to live, work and play as we transition in Australia from a ‘rocks and crops’ economy to a high-value, people-orientated knowledge economy?

In the context of the city being ‘one big campus,’ how do we enable and encourage innovation everywhere?

A truly brilliant city needs to make it possible for the thinkers, makers, consumers and financiers to hang out, kick back and interact—everywhere.

This week, I’m taking part in the United States – Australia City Exchange on Innovation Ecosystems. The Future Cities Collaborative, an initiative of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, is running the 10-day exchange, which will visit some of the most successful innovation hubs and precincts on both the east and west coasts of the US.

I’m looking forward to reflecting on some of the key ingredients that make US places successful, and how in the Australian context we might apply them and help speed up the establishment of more liveable and productive cities.

Without getting too far ahead of myself, I’m pretty confident the types of things we will see include:

  • Relaxed planning and zoning rules to enable the blending of residential and commercial within the same building to encourage micro-businesses;
  • Tax incentives;
  • Floor space ratio uplift that encourages developers to include workspaces in a residential development;
  • High-speed connectivity such as 5G Wi-Fi in public areas;
  • Government grants for reskilling and training;
  • Visa relaxation for entrepreneurs and investors;
  • Transport connectivity and subsidised or free transit;
  • Access to free or subsidised green power;
  • Federal government seed funding through their proposed City Deals programme.

As part of AECOM’s research into future cities, we are exploring three broad ideas that we believe will impact how cities are planned, how they function, and the way in which we will all live, work and navigate within them.

Follow our findings over the next few weeks as I join the Future Cities Collaborative and we make our way across the US. Regular posts and images will be uploaded here, on AECOM’s Connected Cities blog, as well as to the Future Cities blog.

You can also register to receive the final report – our Sydney Manifesto – which is due out in mid-June here.


RosenwaxJames Rosenwax is AECOM’s Cities Market Sector Director for Australia and New Zealand. Connect with him on Linkedin, or tweet him @jamesrosenwax.


James Rosenwax

Originally published May 3, 2016

Author: James Rosenwax

James Rosenwax is Regional Managing Director for New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory.