Over the next 30 years, Australia will grow by an additional 10 million people. Beyond the potential growing pains, this growth is a good thing, said Infrastructure Australia’s Peter Colacino.
Infrastructure Australia’s director of policy and research, Colacino is championing a “big picture” view of the nation’s infrastructure needs – something that is increasingly important as we plan for a bigger Australia.
Colacino said growth would help boost productivity, strengthen labour markets, enhance diversity and build our communities.
Australia’s economy is increasingly urbanised, Colacino said. Last year, our four largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – contributed more than 60 per cent of our national GDP. And this will increase, with three quarters of future population growth occurring in these four cities.
“To maximise the economic opportunities of population growth, we need to ensure our cities are places where people want to live.”
Rapid population growth, “if unplanned and uncoordinated” has the potential to threaten our cities’ liveability and economic prosperity, Colacino argued.
Sydney, for example, will accommodate an extra 2.7 million people over the next three decades. This means 2.5 million additional daily journeys on the city’s roads and 950,000 additional daily journeys on public transport. The existing Sydney trains network carries one million people while the metro and outer metro bus service carries just under 900,000.
Infrastructure Australia has modelled three separate growth scenarios – low, medium and high-density versions of the future. “Under all scenarios, the percentage of jobs within 30 minutes of residents decreased, as did access to green space”.
Meanwhile, “congestion almost doubled under all scenarios, but grew most rapidly under a high-density scenario”.
“Public transport use increased by 50 per cent, however not enough to keep pace with increased demand. Under all growth scenarios, our research found the use and performance of public transport across the cities must improve to cater for growth.”
In our big cities, Infrastructure Australia has identified three “key areas of action”: investment in public transport, access to green space and providing affordable and diverse housing.
But Colacino also pointed to the “two-speed growth” which means smaller cities face a different set of challenges.
Smaller cities will contribute around one tenth of Australia's forecast population growth over the next 30 years.
“Rather than accommodating growth, the challenge is often catalysing it,” Colacino said.
Some cities – Geelong, Toowoomba, the Gold and Sunshine coasts – will grow “in part because of their role as satellite cities for their neighbours”. Other cities, such as, Hobart, Adelaide and regional centres such as Wagga are forecast to grow more slowly.
“In order for smaller cities to capture their share of the national population growth, they must strive to define a distinct local identity.” To avoid becoming “dormitory suburbs”, smaller cities must “define their own unique character”.
Colacino pointed to the recent revitalisation of Newcastle’s CBD as a “success story”, which includes a new start-up and technology industry cluster, a redesigned bus network, a new tram, and a community, industry and business revitalisation campaign.
“The revitalisation has changed the character of the city – breaking with the industrial past and defining a new confident identity.”
Later, Colacino joined a panel of infrastructure all-stars who applauded the Property Council’s recent report, Creating Great Australian Cities, and agreed that short-term thinking was stifling big picture infrastructure investment.
“Depoliticising major infrastructure projects – so they are in the right place and overstep the political cycle – is absolutely critical,” Neil Stonell, Grimshaw Architects’ managing partner said.
The panel was optimistic that City Deals could unlock opportunities for long-term thinking. “City Deals marry policy and projects and cause all three tiers of government to think beyond the election cycle,” said Mary Massina, CEO of Macquarie Point Corporation in Hobart.
Anthony Kannis, project director of Perth’s Metronet, argued that governments needed to get better at “selling the benefits of infrastructure”.
The community was seeing the “population growth, congestion and disruption”, but not the benefits of growth, he said. City Deals could be the mechanism to deliver a host of great outcomes for cities – including affordable and diverse housing, aged and assisted care, as well as transport infrastructure – and have everyone working together to sell the benefits of growth.
Look out for Infrastructure Australia’s forthcoming release, Planning Liveable Cities, which will be published in coming months. Or download Creating Great Australian Cities.
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