6 Dec 2016
Learning from the urban transformation journey of second cities

When facing economic challenges, many second and intermediary cities around the globe are taking a partnered approach to their urban transformation. Australian city Geelong recently stepped out on an international study to learn from others, with research support from the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme and RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research.

The resultant report Winning From Second: What Geelong Can Learn From International Second Cities was launched on 23 November 2016 by the project’s lead, the Committee for Geelong (CfG) at its annual general meeting.

With recent meetings in Canberra and in Melbourne, the research is being presented to Australian state and federal leaders by CfG and the City for Greater Geelong to demonstrate the case for second city policy.

The need for a greater focus on second cities

Geelong is the Victorian state of Australia’s second largest city. Located an hour from the state capital Melbourne with a resident population of nearly 220,000, Geelong is in a period of transition; its traditional manufacturing base decreasing with the exit of giants like Alcoa and Ford.

The Committee for Geelong, (CfG) a multi sector group of leaders who are “collaborating to build a better Geelong”, have been focusing on learning from second cities for the last couple of years. The Board Sub-Committee on Second Cities has been led by CfG Board Member and Tract urban planner, Kirsten Kilpatrick.

Also endeavouring to support wider Australian government policy thinking on second cities, the CfG undertook the international study tour to broaden its research on ‘second cities’ and gain first hand insight into how cities across Europe and the United States of America have achieved significant change and transformation following the decline of their previous main industries. CfG CEO, Rebecca Casson travelled with Kirsten Kilpatrick, Alison McLeod and Joana Correia from the Cities Programme to Scotland, the Netherlands and the USA in July. Paul Rawson from Barwon Water interviewed cities in the UK in October.

Josh Mitchell, Area Manager – South West Victoria, Commonwealth Bank, the project’s lead funding partner, said “It is very satisfying to see from this research that Geelong is very much on track, and it is exciting to take inspiration from other ‘second cities’ all over the world to continue our city’s journey. We look forward to continuing to work with the CfG as it collaborates with other members and partners to identify ways to implement some of the learnings for our city.”

Project manager for the “Winning from Second” research, UN Global Compact – Cities Programme Deputy Director, Elizabeth Ryan said the Committee for Geelong should be congratulated for their leadership and and approach. “As a primarily private sector group, CfG have shown the very important role that private sector and non-government organisations can – and need to play – in shaping prosperous, sustainable cities. The CfG’s approach is highly collaborative and the City of Greater Geelong is a close partner in this important process.”

CfG Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Casson says the research provides Geelong with significant direction to guide the transformation of the city’s economy, and further drive the future vision and strategic plan. It also builds on findings of the Plan Melbourne Refresh Discussion Paper which recommends that Geelong be formally recognised as Victoria’s second city, and that proposals for accelerated growth be included in the plan.

Chief Investigator for the project, Professor Jago Dodson, Director of the Centre of Urban Research, RMIT University and Cities Programme Global Advisor spoke at the launch about the broader application of the research. “While focussing on Geelong, this research demonstrates the need for greater policy and planning attention to be given to second cities in Australia, which international experience demonstrates can be leaders in economic transformation.”

His words were echoed by Michael Nolan, Chair of the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme. “One of the overarching recommendations of the “Winning from Second” report is for Geelong to engage in the development of a second city policy with the Victorian and Federal Governments. This research highlights that there are significant benefits to be gained from a greater policy focus on these types of cities and from public and private sector organisations joining forces at the local level to drive the change.”

The transformation journey of former manufacturing cities

Ms Casson spoke of building on Geelong’s history and special attributes.  “Geelong is Victoria’s second city and proudly so. But second does not mean second best or second place; it means Geelong enjoys all of the benefits of being within arm’s reach of Melbourne but free from the constraints of big city living.”

“We visited cities with similar history and fabric as Geelong, meaning non-capital cities that have had to reinvent themselves following the loss of their prime economies, in most cases manufacturing.”

“We met with the cities’ leaders and the communities to better understand how different groups worked together to form their city’s new identity and facilitate growth, and we believe there are some key learnings that can be applied to Geelong” said Ms Casson.

Lead co-author of the report and UN Global Compact – Cities Programme Research Associate, Joana Almeida Correia said: “The central question guiding the research was ‘how have second cities pursued their economic and social viability following economic change?'”

“Recent economic change has demonstrated the need for a future strategic direction in the city that enables businesses and the community to transform the city’s economic, environmental and social prospects.”

Fostering innovation and small to medium enterprises is an important component of the transformation journey in second cities. Report co-author, Todd Denham from the Centre for Urban Research said, “Support for innovation, entrepreneurs and start-ups is at the centre of contemporary second city development thinking.”

Key recommendations and learning from the second cities

Each city visited produced valuable insights, and the research shows a number of recurring themes of value to Geelong’s transformation:

  1. Prioritising industry sectors based on inherent strengths of the city such as Medicine and Social Insurance through a new #EMSI cluster; Green and Blue Economic Development through a newly created (what has been termed by CfG) ‘Turquoise Economy’; Tertiary Education specialisation; and further international engagement by developing Port and Logistics
  1. A co-ordinated approach to economic development and planning through an overarching “One Geelong” entity;
  1. Branding of Geelong including; differentiating from major cities, as a place to live and invest; Offering high quality of life through waterfront developments, food, arts and culture, sport and revitalised city centres.
  1. Supporting innovation, entrepreneurs and existing businesses to scale up;

Ms Casson said “Looking at these ‘Second Cities’ we have learned that, to move forward, Geelong needs to further analyse its strongest industry sectors – such as technology, health and education – and increase its support to facilitate more growth in those areas.”

“Eindhoven in the Netherlands is an interesting example for this – once a working class industrial city and home of lightbulb and technology giant Philips, the city now delivers 19 per cent of the Netherlands’ research and development projects.

“Philips owned a significant portion of the town’s buildings and employed almost half of its inhabitants. In the 1990s Phillips moved its headquarters to Amsterdam and outsourced most of its production to China, and Eindhoven faced an immense challenge to reinvent itself and find opportunities for more than 35,000 workers who had lost their jobs. Today, Eindhoven is a high-tech hub with a strong focus on nanotechnology, robotics, green technology and precision engineering,” she said.

“Richmond, Virginia, was a great example of how a city had rebranded itself, which is another recommendation that Geelong can learn from the research – and there are many more, including attracting more start-ups and entrepreneurs to Geelong and building an infrastructure that increases productivity and allows for scale.

“Lifestyle and amenity is another big point, Geelong needs to continue to showcase itself as a fantastic place to live, with plenty of entertainment, leisure, arts, culture and retail attractions, inviting more people to settle in Geelong” Ms Casson concludes.

The two international study tours included the following cities:

  • Dundee, Scotland
  • Eindhoven, the Netherlands
  • USA: Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia
  • England: Sheffield, Liverpool, Bristol

The report also included a case study on UN Global Compact – Cities Programme Innovating city, Milwaukee who have achieved remarkable transformation through a partnered and innovative approach to economic revitalisation and a collective focus on water. CEO and President of The Water Council, Dean Amhaus recently visited Geelong and shared the Milwaukee story at a roundtable event hosted by the City of Greater Geelong and Committee for Geelong (CfG).

Whilst in New York, the “Winning from Second” research project team visited the United Nations Global Compact headquarters and met with Walid Nagi, Chief of Local Networks and Natalia Uliana who had great interest in the project and the approach.

Research Project Partners

The ‘Second City’ research was supported by the Commonwealth Bank as the Lead Research Partner of the project, together with other partners including:

  • the Victorian State Government Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP)
  • the City of Greater Geelong
  • Transport Accident Commission (TAC)
  • Executive Travel Management
  • Geelong Port
  • The Gordon
  • Lovely Banks Land Owners’ Consortium
  • Victorian Regional Channels Authority
  • Tract Consultants
  • Opteon Property Group


Whilst acknowledging the work of Joana Correia, Todd Denham and Professor Jago Dodson on this research project, we would like to offer a special thank you to Angela Shen, RMIT Communications student and our intern in 2016. Angela made a valuable contribution to the “Winning from Second” report with the report’s design and layout. Thank you Angela.

Taking the report to Canberra. From left: Rebecca Casson, CfG, Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition, Kathy Alexander, Chair of Administrators, City of Greater Geelong and Kelvin Spiller, CEO, City of Great Geelong.Michael Nolan, speaking about the UN Global Compact and the importance of private sector collaborating with city governments and civil society to shape sustainable, prosperous citiesChair of the Committee for Geelong, Dan Simmonds speaking about the 2 year process that the Committee has dedicated to researching second citiesMeeting with the United Nations Global Compact whilst in New York. From left: UNGC Chief of Local Networks, Walid Nagi and Natalia Uliana (left) with Alison McLeod and Kirsten Kilpatrick.Dean Amhaus from The Water Council, Milwaukee and Kelvin Spiller, CEO of the City for Greater Geelong at the roundtable seminar on Milwaukee's journey and its economic transformation, held at the CfG offices in Geelong in OctoberA proud and happy moment for Joana Correia, UN Global Compact - Cities Programme Research AssociateFlowers and finishing touches. From left, Mim Kempson, Angela Shen and Joana Correia on Angela's final day with the UN Global Compact - Cities Programme. An intern from the RMIT Communications course, Angela made a valuable contribution to the project with the report design and layout.Michael Nolan (right) with Committee for Geelong (CfG) members.The train between Melbourne and Geelong is an important bridge between the capital and its second city. From left: Joana Correia, Todd Denham and Jago DodsonThe Winning from Geelong report co-authors, Joana Correia and Todd Denham on the way home from Geelong to MelbourneJago Dodson at the Wining from Second report launch with a full cohort of Committee for Geelong membersThe Cities Programme team for the Winning from Second research project - lead researcher, Joana Correia (centre), project manager of the research, Elizabeth Ryan and Michael NolanJosh Mitchell speaking of CBAs support for the research and their commitment to the Geelong regionMedia launch of the Winning from Second report. From left: Professor Jago Dodson, Josh Mitchell, Rebecca Casson and Michael NolanTaking the report to Canberra. From left: Rebecca Casson, CfG, Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition, Kathy Alexander, Chair of Administrators, City of Greater Geelong and Kelvin Spiller, CEO, City of Great Geelong.CfG CEO, Rebecca Casson, big smiles at the CfG Winning from Second report launchStudy tour partners meet again. Kirsten Kilpatrick (left) from Tract Consultants and CfG Board Member who has led the second city sub committee with Joana Correia, lead researcher from the UN Global Compact - Cities ProgrammeThe full cohort of project partners for the 'Winning from Second' researchFrom left: CfG CEO, Rebecca Casson with Jago Dodson, Joana Correia, Todd Denham, Josh Mitchell, Elizabeth Ryan and Michael NolanProfessor Jago Dodson, Director of the Centre for Urban Research, RMIT speaks about the recommendations for Geelong