This week I returned from Krakow, Poland where I attended the 15th Organisation of World Historical Cities Congress and toured a visionary waste to energy facility which included an all-waste interchange and education facility.
What I learnt from this trip is that heritage is incredibly valuable. And so is rubbish.
Both are viewed as important assets in Krakow, and we need to make them just as important in Ballarat.
The congress' theme was sustainable tourism, which is particularly relevant to Ballarat.
It's about making sure we don't have either "over tourism", where residents feel overrun in their own city, or "under tourism", where we are not making enough of historic assets.
Sustainable tourism ensures we strike a good balance to benefit all of Ballarat.
We have one of the most historic cities in Australia and we need to leverage off this to make the most of our tourism potential, while ensuring our residents can still enjoy all the amenities of living in the capital of western Victoria.
I was also able to advance our bid for World Heritage Listing for the central Victorian goldfields, gaining a great deal of support from UNESCO experts and other world heritage cities.
In fantastic news for the entire region, which highlights our role as regional leaders, I was advised on my flight home that the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) will visit the central Victorian Goldfields next September as part of our bid for UNESCO World Heritage listing.
ICOMOS is a non-government, international organisation dedicated to the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places.
It is one of the two advisory bodies that provides the World Heritage Committee with evaluations of the cultural and natural sites nominated for World Heritage Listing.
This is a massive step forward in our bid that would not have been possible if we hadn't been in the same room as the right people at the right time - this is one of the reasons we have to have this level of international engagement.
It was also fascinating to visit the Krakow waste to energy facility, with its adjacent all-waste interchange facility and education programs.
The all-waste interchange is contracted by the mayor to ensure it remains under council ownership and control, which ensures public good over profit-driven outcomes.
It also means there are very low-cost benefits for the business, but the focus is on good public outcomes and quality of service.
The education facility is also critical to success of the facility, including getting children from as young as four, families and businesses involved in waste education programs.
Nothing is wasted in the facility, with everything used and reused. The all-waste interchange sells the waste to the recycling plants, and the waste to energy plant receives what's left.
There's also a lot of emphasis on stopping polluted waste to begin with. Reduce, reuse and readapt are important themes in Krakow.
For example, waste timber from packing crates is made into bird houses by people with special needs as their employment.
This in turn has environmental impacts for bird life in community parks and highlights how the circular economy can work very effectively.
In Krakow, landfill storage in 2012 was 42.7 per cent but is now down to 3.7 per cent in 2018. And, with Krakow's 60,000 properties, the cost of energy works out to just $5 a month.
It was an excellent example of how efficiently waste to energy could work in Ballarat as well.
I also met with representatives from Kazan, Russia - which is hosting the next World League of Historical Cities Conference - to achieve good outcomes for Ballarat. Kazan wants a sustainable development focus - and I have recommended a creative cities sub-theme to show how creative and cultural industries can thrive in an historic city and help conserve heritage.
Our creative city strategy is one of the biggest pieces of work this council will undertake in its four-year term.
We are a forging a path as leaders in the creative sector and have worked extremely hard to attract big-ticket events such as Spilt Milk and White Night to Ballarat to complement our existing Royal South Street Competition, Begonia Festival and Winter Festival.
We will also work with the organisers of the Lost Trades Festival to ensure the event stays in regional Victoria.
This trip has highlighted the fact that, globally, there is value in waste, there is value in heritage, there is value in the creative arts. We are positioning ourselves very well to be leaders in these fields.
Cr Samantha McIntosh is mayor of the City of Ballarat