There has been a lot of public discussion in the media this week about Australia's population growth and how much growth our cities can handle. Public debate about important national issues is healthy, but our view at Infrastructure Australia is that we need to be talking about how we grow, not how much we grow.
In the next 30 years, Australia will be home to 36 million people. This rate of growth is equivalent to adding a new city, roughly the size of Canberra, each year for the next 30 years. We know the vast majority of this growth, about 75%, will be centred in our largest cities—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
The speed and magnitude of the coming change means we now need a smarter and far more sophisticated approach to the way we plan our cities. And it presents everyday Australians, politicians and planners with some complex and hard choices.
Do we choose a future where we live on a quarter-acre block but commute hours to work? Should we embrace high-quality high-density living close to public transport and other amenities, or decentralise our growth centres and locate jobs closer to where people live?
These are some of the versions of the future that Infrastructure Australia has explored as part of our Future Cities report which we released today.
Future Cities: planning for our growing population
The paper models three 30-year growth scenarios—low, medium, and high-density versions of the future—for Melbourne and Sydney and assesses their performance across a range of indicators.
In each version of the future, we looked at the performance of the transport network, access to jobs, emissions from cars, access to and demand for schools and hospitals, and access to and demand for public parks and gardens.
The type of city we choose to create will have a dramatic impact on our journey to work, congestion on our roads, cost of housing and access to public transport, schools, hospitals and our public parks in the future.
The truth is we cannot have it all. It is unrealistic to expect that the family living on the quarter-acre block on the outer suburbs of Melbourne will have a metro service on their doorstep, but it is also unrealistic to think that we can have a big backyard living in the centre of the city.
This makes for some difficult decisions, with inevitable compromises. However, indecision is not an option, and neither is business as usual.
If we fail to anticipate and respond to this growth, the likely results will be declining economic productivity, increasing environmental pressures and a marked reduction in our quality of life.
Our scenario analysis shows that well-planned cities, where the location of jobs, homes and their supporting infrastructure networks are coordinated to maximise accessibility and liveability, will deliver the best outcomes for Australian communities.
Actions for governments
Our paper outlines a comprehensive suite of recommendations for all levels of government.
While state and territory governments are doing a lot of good work in planning their cities, more needs to be done.
We also need more active leadership from the Australian Government. If we accept the proposition that our cities are a national priority—and we should—we need the Federal Government to prepare our cities for the historic opportunity in front of us.
The full list recommendations can be read in the report.
Where to from here?
It is clear from our report that we need to evolve the way we engage our communities and co-design our cities for all who live in them. We often lose sight of the fact that our cities are for our communities, not for our planners or engineers, or even our politicians.
I hope that the release of the Future Cities Paper today provokes a discussion and acknowledgment of this fact, and goes some way to helping us plan for a future in which we can all benefit and prosper.
CEO, Infrastructure Australia