Metros may be game-changers, but they're not the only solution

By Laurie Patton, ASCA CEO

Among the issues considered at a recent Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat conference were how to deal with increasing urban density without destroying communities’ liveability, and how to increase people's accessibility to their workplaces. One of the solutions proposed was to build more public transport systems, and specifically in the case of Sydney to continue the current trend for building new metros.

In this report on the conference it was stated that “by 2053, about 89 percent of all Australians are expected to live in capital cities. As more and more people enter these cities, residents are becoming increasingly concerned with impacts on liveability”.

Surely it’s time we redefined what a capital city is, or else devised new terminology reflecting the fact that it makes no sense for most of us to be jammed into a handful of overcrowded cities? With modern online communications we have the opportunity to create a larger number of major cities or regional centres. As I’ve previously observed, the move to smart cities, or as ASCA prefers, smart communities need not be restricted to existing metropolises.

Rather than focus solely on new transport systems within our capital cities we need to look at improved transport connecting cities. A fast train from Sydney to Newcastle, or from Melbourne to Geelong, Ballarat or Bendigo for example. We are already seeing people moving out of the capitals of their own accord to these and other places where housing is more affordable and lifestyles more appealing. Why not encourage this via policies that see more infrastructure spending allocated to regional areas and on better interconnecting them?

The authors of the recently released Greater Sydney Commission strategy believe it will create more liveable communities within the existing city footprint. Sydney will morph into a “tripartite metropolis” – with distinctly separate eastern, central and western cities. The core of the idea is that people are able to commute between home, work and other key locations within 30 minutes. However, critics of the plan point to the need to create a massive number of extremely high-rise apartment buildings, which may or may not be how people wish to live.

The Greater Sydney Commission has said it will take 40 years to complete the transition. Just imagine what other even more imaginative changes could be made over four decades if we started working on an innovation-led decentralisation plan rather than continue with the current urban consolidation.  

Above all, we need to involve more people in the decisions we make about how we manage our communities. In my opinion you can build as many metros as you like but, just as in the US, most Australians would prefer to drive to work. That remains viable if we adopt a long term move to create new smart communities right across the country.

ASCA often publishes material containing personal opinions. We do this to stimulate debate. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect ASCA policy. We welcome comments from members, so please let us know what you think.

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