Great Cities: existing strengths of Australia's metropolitan areas should not be ignored

Great Cities: existing strengths of Australia's metropolitan areas should not be ignored
Great Cities: existing strengths of Australia's metropolitan areas should not be ignored


The reason why the language used in the Property Council of Australia's Great Cities report is intentionally not referring to fringe or greenfield suburban development by those names is anyone's guess, but one thing is for certain, the thrust of the thought-leadership research project is advocating for change.

It's not the first time a lobby group from the business world has had this message, nor should it be a shock that yet another party is calling for increased densities throughout Australian metropolitan areas.

However, it is refreshing to see a large advocacy piece lobby Australian governments on the need to grow up and get serious about doing things differently.

Looking at Great Cities from metropolitan governance angle, there are indeed a lot of lessons from offshore cities, states/provinces and countries that in an ideal world we'd borrow and implement with a high degree of haste.

Australia's dysfunctional layers of government are liberally addressed throughout the papers and it advocates for new metropolitan-wide authorities to take over planning control, which, for the most part, is currently handled at the state level. 

(Imagine that, an - as much as possible - apolitical body which just focuses on the long term planning, implementation and measurement of infrastructure and other land-use needs with inputs from local councils as well as state and federal governments - Vive le MMBW!).

Questions relating to transition might be hard to answer, however.  For instance, Transport for Victoria and the Victorian Planning Authority (somewhat puzzlingly, not referenced as much as one might think in Great Cities) are on a pathway that is not dissimilar to the one being advocated for.

Those two bodies are state government agencies, and as much as we'd all like to will them otherwise, they're in the firing line of typical state-federal argy-bargy - it may be a good idea to work toward depoliticising (as much as possible) these areas by potentially loosening the grip the state government has over them, but we still need our two major political parties to grow up as well.

It's all too common, Liberal Governments (or oppositions) still roll out the bad economic management lines against the Labor party.  The Labor party gets defensive and pursues financial/treasury policy & practice that makes it hard to discern them from the Liberals and then we are back to square one, in the 'low public investment for low-growth cities' scenario that Great Cities calls it.

Do we need state or federal level plebiscites which poll the public on creating metropolitan-wide planning bodies?  Just look at the marriage equality plebiscite, despite the churn to get there, and the result it produced:  politics worked very quickly after the public had their say.

Great Cities: existing strengths of Australia's metropolitan areas should not be ignored
Insights for Melbourne from the Property Council's Great Cities research project

Australian cities need to shift towards high amenity, medium density, multi‐polar metropolitan living supported by high quality public transport.

All the great cities of the 21st century have been through some common version of this shift.

The cities we celebrate today – Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, New York, London and Paris – have all found the same basic path of high‐capacity public transport that underpins and supports superb urban amenities with high quality, medium density living.

Great Cities

Too true, you won't get an argument against the first line in that quote above from this urbanist, however, how do we, again going back to the politicians, stop them from retreating back to their base at election time?

Notice how the Andrews Government spent a good 2-3 years focused, heavily, on public transport projects, but now something has made them return to their comfort zone, balancing the purse strings by getting behind mega road projects like the North East Link.

I've made a point (and a habit!) of pointing out there is a great deal of work happening in the planning space around economic clusters and I boil it down to this high-level concept.

The potential gain from increased employment and residential/mixed-use growth in the clusters is how we'll pay for the public transport projects we'll need to service them.

There's a myriad of ways (and debates) on the practicality of this 'payment' regime (developer contributions, land tax changes et al) but one place we're seeing this happen in Australia is in outer suburban Sydney.

Take a look at our project map and zoom in so the Sydney metropolitan area is visible - you'll note there's a lot of projects in the outer north-west in case you need a little more guidance, here's a pattern: those projects, for the most part, are within the vicinity of the new metro line that will start running next year.

Also of note, the government of New South Wales is a coalition government.  Building railways.  A massive programme to boot.

Great Cities advocates for a broad-brush application of the idea of making metropolitan areas poly-centric.  That's fine, but, also puzzlingly, there's scant mention of Melbourne's competitive advantage - it's very large and active redevelopment zones right next door to the centre of the city.

I'm of course talking about Arden, which will be serviced with high-quality public transport in 5 years when the first metro tunnel opens and Fishermans Bend which, as the planning work released to the public thus far has shown, gets us to the point where 'lines on a map' are at least a fixture.

The idea of poly-centric cities is that it puts people closer to jobs - contrary to popular belief this already happens in Melbourne - but it's worth reiterating the metro 2 project would bring a few hundred thousand people in the west/south-west a lot closer to Melbourne and the jobs precinct which will grow in Fishermans Bend, despite the redevelopment zone very much located in the centre of the city.

Poly-centric good, centralised bad - we'd be wise to avoid a binary national debate which doesn't acknowledge regional differences.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.


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