This chapter builds on the preceding five chapters’ discussion of how Australia can make its urban form more socially and environmentally sustainable. It considers how international experiences, academic research, and precinct or community rating systems can inform best practice urban development in the Australian context. It also explores the global benefits of achieving a more sustainable urban form.
International best practice
Australia is not the only country grappling with rapid population growth and urbanisation, climate change, shifting demographics, economic agglomeration, poor housing affordability or technological disruption. As the National Health Foundation noted, ‘sustainable urban development is a global priority,’ and it is ‘estimated that 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban environments by 2030’. Professor Barbara Norman acknowledged that achieving ‘a more sustainable future in an urban world is challenging national governments around the globe’.
Transport strategist and urban economist Dr Chris Hale suggested that Australia is at least a decade away from becoming a global leader in sustainable urban development:
Australian cities are not currently ‘best practice’ exemplars on key metrics such as ‘public transport mode share’, and the path to achieving substantially better outcomes on such metrics is a long and arduous one (certainly it will take a decade and more at least, and upward of 4-5 terms of federal government to achieve substantive and lasting change in the infrastructure and indeed the institutional settings required to perform at a high level on a challenging apex metric like sustainable transport mode shares).
He argued that ‘better cross-referenc[ing] public policy directions for Australian cities toward events and policy dynamics in major international competitor cities’ will help redirect urban development onto a more sustainable trajectory:
We need to become less self-referential, and more worldly and open-minded in our understanding of Australian cities, planning and infrastructure relative to global counterparts. Federal policy outlooks and capabilities should shift in this ‘more global, outward-looking and self-aware’ direction.
Dr Hale was not alone in this recommendation. A range of international best practice approaches to urban development were referred to throughout the inquiry as possible models for Australian emulation. These are discussed below.
Urban densification and decentralisation strategies
Many stakeholders suggested that Australia could learn from the densification and decentralisation strategies used in the redevelopment of the City of London in the United Kingdom and the City of Stockholm in Sweden.
The City of London’s cross rail project was highlighted by the Bus Industry Confederation for its integration of transport and land use planning to facilitate a more compact urban form and the development of secondary business districts:
Cross rail (Stages 1 and 2), Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, is London’s major land transportation initiative, firmly grounded in the city’s economic development/land use strategy and also serving many areas of significant disadvantage, with value capture an important source of funding… Improving circumferential movement through the suburbs, to support growth of [employment] nodes in these areas and accessibility more generally, is also a land use transport priority…
Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) noted that the cross rail project mandated urban densification around public transport. It contended that ‘linking development densities to public transport accessibility levels is a good idea, since it provides a clear framework for thinking about development opportunities and expectations within a sustainability context’. It suggested that Australian cities could learn from the City of London’s approach to this project, particularly the city’s use of a ‘strong research evidence base for policy and planning directions’, its ‘wide engagement around policy matters, to build credibility’ for the cross rail project, and the role of the Mayor in providing strong leadership for the greater London area.
BIC also praised the City of Stockholm’s approach to urban regeneration and densification. It suggested that Australia could learn from the city’s exceptional ‘land use and transport policy and planning at the city wide level’:
The city integrates its urban planning (land use), transport panning and infrastructure planning, [and the] the strong connections between urban land use and transport [are] captured by the description of the City (urban) Plan as the walkable city. The focus in the plan is on increasing densities and delivering mixed use development, building where there is spare capacity on the public transport (PT) network and increasing PT frequencies where densities are increased, if required.
Associate Professor Matthew Burke provided an example of this approach. He described the City of Stockholm’s relocation of government jobs to boost the financial viability and capacity of its public transport network:
There was movement of government jobs, but to strategic locations only clustered at the apex of public transport lines… The advantages they got out of this are really quite striking. One of them is public transport flows. Currently, across Australia we have huge subsidies for our public transport networks that are significantly less in a place like Stockholm or Copenhagen. The reason is that we run air trains—empty trains—outbound and we run packed sardine tins inbound as this tidal wave comes into the inner cities. In Singapore, Stockholm and Copenhagen a lot of the lines are running 55 or 60 per cent of the passengers inbound and 45 or 40 per cent outbound, so the flows are very stable.
The National Heart Foundation asserted that the placement of ‘large suburban employment nodes along rail lines’ in Stockholm has also resulted in ‘much higher mode shares for walking and especially cycling’. It suggested modelling indicates that similar ‘government led decentralisation’ in Australian cities would be likewise beneficial.
BIC noted that Stockholm’s success is also informed by the presence of a single local municipal government responsible for the whole city:
These jurisdictional arrangements simplify the urban governance problem by reducing the complexity of horizontal integration.
Mr Michael Apps, Executive Director of BIC suggested that the presence of a single municipality encompassing the whole city made it easier to align the city, regional and national governments behind shared urban development objectives for Stockholm, articulated by an arrangement similar to a City Deal, known as the Stockholm Agreement. The Stockholm Agreement encompasses ‘key urban/regional transport and related environmental priorities’, such as development initiatives and a congestion tax:
The Stockholm Agreement, which began in 2007, provides SEK 100b ($A16b), a quarter from congestion charge revenues, to expand the coverage and capacity of the city’s public transport network and to remove heavy road traffic from surface streets (mainly by building a new Stockholm bypass tunnel). …[providing] a clear line of sight in policy and program terms between the charge and system improvements (even in it is not locally term hypothecation).
BIC suggested that the City of Stockholm’s approach to urban development could provide ‘useful lessons for Australia.
Technology supported urban regeneration
Innovative new technologies are also playing a much greater role in urban development internationally.
Autodesk and BuildingSMART Australasia both lauded the Government of the United Kingdom’s focus on building information modelling (BIM) and suggested that Australia should consider adopting a similar approach. BIM is a process whereby ‘a full 3D digital prototype of a planned facility (whether that is a building, piece of infrastructure or an urban precinct) is created during the planning and design stage and then maintained and updated throughout its life cycle’.
According to BuildingSMART Australasia, the Government of the United Kingdom is championing the use of BIM in the procurement of government buildings and infrastructure and the Australian Government should do the same. It suggested that broader use of BIM could ‘facilitate design collaboration across all disciplines, coordination during the construction and delivery phases [of urban development projects], with handover of the as-built model to support on-going asset management and operation’ of the building, infrastructure or precinct constructed. It claimed that the use of BIM in this way could deliver ‘infrastructure energy and cost savings’ across federally led urban development projects. AECOM, the Spatial Industry Business Association (SIBA) and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) made similar claims during the Committee’s previous inquiry into the role of smart ICT in the design and planning of infrastructure. They suggested that the use of BIM in the design, construction and operation stages of major infrastructure projects could decrease the cost of procurement, reduce the resources used in construction, and decrease carbon emissions and noise pollution. AECOM, SIBA and QUT noted that cost savings on capital expenditure on major infrastructure through the use of BIM ‘that could be as high as 33 per cent over the lifecycle of the infrastructure asset.
BuildingSMART Australasia also suggested that requiring BIM as part of an urban development plan could lead to automated compliance assessments for building standards like energy efficiency:
Adopt automated checking of regulations during design using software applications that link to a BIM model… Such a tool has been piloted in the UK and will enable the transformation of the business of checking compliance, including energy efficiency compliance, from a manual hard copy process (often undertaken after the design work has been completed), into an iterative software application that works alongside the design development. The speed of the process will allow the designer to explore other – more sustainable – options and enable swift, regular reassessment, leading to improved designs.
Autodesk argued that a national policy for BIM is needed to position Australia ‘on par with countries such as the United Kingdom, Singapore and many others who have already implemented BIM and digital policy for government’. It claimed that mandating the use of BIM in the UK has ‘had an enormous effect on the industry in a positive way, including by realising capital cost savings and committing to carbon reductions of 20 per cent to 2020’. Moreover, it noted that the Government of the United Kingdom is leveraging BIM to develop ‘policy for ‘Digital Built Britain’ which will enable the fast track of planning and delivery of smart cities and give governments access to much stronger information and analytics around asset information and performance’.
The views of BuildingSMART Australasia and Autodesk align with those expressed by stakeholders during the Committee’s previous inquiry. Many urged the Australian Government to replicate the Government of the United Kingdom’s model for promulgating BIM. For example, Transport for NSW observed that a ‘UK BIM Task Group is recognised for playing a pivotal role in the success of the UK strategy’ and recommended:
Australian Governments, through COAG, replicate the UK model, and where possible, utilise and build on the established UK Standards, supporting technologies, training modules, accreditation frameworks and contract models
This will allow Australia to leverage off global leaders and ensure we maintain alignment with international best practice’.
Internationally, there is also an urban development focus on integrating ‘smart’ technology, such as sensors and cameras, throughout city infrastructure to collect data and provide an evidentiary base for policies and programs. The Internet of Things (IoT) Alliance said it is ‘imperative for Australia to leverage IoT technology as a key lever to innovate and increase its competitiveness on the world stage’:
At a city level, emerging disruptive technologies… are enabling cities to embrace smarter ways to design, build and operate their critical infrastructure, provide new citizen centric services and create new industries.
According to Mr Williams, American cities like Kansas are future proofing their urban development by incorporating smart city technologies into the development of new infrastructure:
… Kansas City has been doing great work—Google made it a 'gigabit city'… they have created a light rail corridor that is also a heavily sensored corridor, and they are using it as a way of bringing the two agendas [smart cities and infrastructure development] together.
Mr Williams suggested that the smart cities agenda and the development of infrastructure remain ‘very siloed’ in Australian cities and bringing these two agendas together would help align urban development with international best practice. He suggested that one of the ‘big roles for the federal government in the smart cities space is information sharing and best practice sharing’:
We have almost got to cut the gap by somebody stepping in and saying, 'By the way, many of the things that you want to do have been done in Boston and Chicago and all we need to do is take a bit of that off the shelf'… I would really like the federal cities and smart cities unit to do a bit more knowledge sharing… I think somebody should be providing the kind of approach of 'here are the 20 interesting things going on out there'. It is simple and cheap and I think we should do it.
Autodesk highlighted Washington, D. C. as a potential model for Australian policy makers for similar reasons. The city aspires ‘to become the healthiest, greenest, and most liveable city in the United States by 2032’. It aims to ‘retrofit 100 per cent of existing commercial and multi-family buildings to net-zero energy standards, and to capture rainwater on-site across 75 per cent of the District’s landscape’.
Washington D. C. is deploying a combination of ‘policy, planning, and design innovations’ to achieve these goals. It has created a ‘data rich 3D City Model’ to test different design and policy scenarios to delivery energy and water use efficiency gains. The model found that:
Digital tools for planning district-scale green stormwater infrastructure can assist in achieving substantial stormwater goals in the capture and harvesting of rainwater;
Large scale Rapid Energy Modeling (REM) can assist in identifying buildings which maybe suitable for retro-fitting of energy saving building systems; and
Triple Bottom Line analysis can expose additional benefits including a reduction in congestion and flooding.
Autodesk reported that, as a result, the City of Washington has defined policies and ‘set aggressive goals to reduce their environmental footprint, combat climate change, and improve the quality of life for their citizens’. Autodesk said this approach reflects the ‘global focus on how governments and the community come together to solve challenges around liveability, sustainability and investment in cities’ and the significant role technology can play in solving some of these challenges.
International models for innovative mobility
International approaches to urban development could also be used to guide Australian cities’ transition to automated, electric, shared and active transportation solutions. Countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada are more advanced in terms of their integration of these new modes of transportation.
MacroPlan Dimasi submitted that the Government of the United Kingdom is funding an ‘accelerated [automated vehicle] take up as part of a broadly based economic development strategy’. It claimed that legislation is being passed which ‘extends the motor insurance requirement to include automated vehicle owners, set standards for charge points, mandate provision of electric vehicle infrastructure and protect AVs from cyber terrorist attacks’.
Australian car sharing company, GoGet, described global best practice approaches to facilitating a transport modal shift from private vehicles to shared mobility options. It noted that the American City of San Francisco reduced car parking requirements for new urban developments, supporting developers to provide credits for ride share mobility options instead. It claimed that ‘this program and others like it, have seen 80 per cent of new households in the City of San Francisco becoming car free’.
GoGet also noted that the City of Vancouver in Canada is combining integrated transport and land-use planning with metropolitan-wide policies to discourage private car usage:
Vancouver set a goal to see 50 per cent of trips within the city occurring via modes other than the private car. In conjunction with a number of other strategies relating to public transport and land use, was the recognition of the need to grow the use of shared mobility. This resulted in a metropolitan-wide policy providing local governments with guidance and a template for the effective regulation of carsharing. This multi-faceted approach led to significant results with the City achieving its goal of 50 per cent non-private car use in 2015—5 years ahead of schedule.
Associate Professor Burke suggested that ‘a national cycling strategy with a particular focus on the development of continuous safe cycling networks and appropriate policies in our major cities would be particularly helpful to combat congestion and improve sustainability’ in Australian cities. Associate Professor Burke suggested that Australia could emulate the United Kingdom’s approach to a national cycling network and develop cycling infrastructure that connects ‘the entire east coast and (via the ferry) Tasmania for urban and regional connectivity and to attract the growing cycle tourism market’. Further, he noted that ‘the Dutch, Scandinavian, Chinese and Japanese national policy frameworks could all be used to help frame a strategy appropriate to the Australian setting’.
Globally oriented second tier cities
Stakeholders to the inquiry also drew attention to a number of smaller international cities. These cities use best practice urban development to ease the transition from a more traditional industrial economic base to the modern knowledge and services oriented economy. The Committee for Geelong, an organisation established to help facilitate the development of Victoria’s second largest city, undertook an international study tour of second tier cities including:
Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Richmond, United States of America;
Eindhoven, Netherlands; and
Bristol, Liverpool and Sheffield in England.
It undertook the tour because it recognised that ‘many second cities across the globe have experienced similar transitions to Geelong, as globalised supply chains, tariff reductions and deregulation, and cheap offshore labour have led to declining manufacturing sectors in developed economies’. The cities selected for examination included those with comparable infrastructure, populations and local leadership; and cities have which has ‘transformed their economies following manufacturing declines, and [which] are important contributors to their respective countries’ economies’.
The Committee for Geelong found that the successful cities they visited shared a number of characteristics, including:
centralised economic development agencies;
supporting innovation and entrepreneurs;
prioritising of industry sectors based on the inherent strengths of the city;
differentiation from other secondary and major cities, as a place to live and invest as well as in the priority industry sectors; and,
making the city a good place to live through waterfront developments, arts and culture, food, and revitalising city centres.
It suggested that Geelong could emulate the successful urban development of comparable international cities by advocating for ‘a second city policy, planning and investment with federal and state governments’. It also found that ‘industry mapping and opportunity identification and a co-ordinated approach to economic development and planning have been integral to the successful transformation of the second cities studied… and are therefore suggested priorities for Geelong’.
Horsham Rural City Council submitted that ‘Australian regional capitals could look to the lead of other international cities and focus on creating good recreation and physical activities and space, and being well connected in terms of both public transport and on-line resources’. It argued that this international best practice approach ‘is essential to attract and retain young creative professionals to our regional cities’.
Coordinated international approaches to urban regeneration
A number of coordinated global approaches to urban development were also presented to the Committee. Many witnesses highlighted the United Nations’ (UN) 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which aim to mobilise international efforts to ‘end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, ensuring that no one is left behind’. The Australian Government committed to the SDGs in 2015, including the urban goal ‘to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. The SDGs flow through to the UN’s New Urban Agenda and the National Urban Policy (NUP) – ‘a roadmap for building cities that can serve as engines of prosperity and centres of cultural and social well-being while protecting the environment’. The Australia Government endorsed the NUP in 2016, but has ‘never really focussed too heavily on [it] because the responsibility for urban planning has been left to individual jurisdictions’.
Mr Brendan Nelson, President of the Planning Institute of Australia, suggested that Australia should consider other countries’ approaches to implementing the NUP, specifically the nationally coordinated agenda in Chile or Mexico:
We are not suggesting that a national urban agenda or program involves the Commonwealth taking over planning responsibilities. That planning responsibility should remain with the states and territories, as should local government work, where they do the more localised planning. But there are some issues at a national scale that do need greater direction and commitment from the Commonwealth, and it's important that all levels of government work together in this regard and it is not seen as the Commonwealth coming in at the eleventh hour and signing a cheque to build a new motorway or to build a new piece of train infrastructure, but that it is a consistent approach across the board.
The Eastern Regional Organisation for Planning and Human Settlements (EAROPH) is the UN accredited peak body for the Asia Pacific region. It contributed to the formation of the NUP and has an ongoing role in its implementation. EAROPH noted that international work is underway to develop appropriate reporting frameworks for countries to assess their progress in implementing the NUP. It suggested that the Australian Government should keep pace with international efforts by reporting its progress towards meeting its international commitments.
The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) showcased the US based Rockefeller Foundation’s international 100 Resilient Cities Program. The program supports cities to ‘build resilience to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century’:
Cities from around the world can apply to become part of the 100 Resilient Cities Network. Once selected, they are eligible to receive four types of support: Support to hire a Chief Resilience Officer, an innovative new position in government that will lead the city’s resilience efforts; and expertise to develop a robust resilience strategy; access to a platform of partners providing technologies and services to help cities implement a resilience strategy (partners include Microsoft, Swiss Re, and the Nature Conservancy).
ALGA noted that Melbourne and Sydney are both members of the program and are ‘heavily engaged in tackling the challenges facing our cities when it comes to working towards a more sustainable and resilient urban form that enhances urban liveability’. It suggested that the ‘experiences of Melbourne which launched its resilience strategy last year, has considerable merit in providing the Commonwealth with a global best practice model to support when it comes to dealing with all Australian cities, towns and regions’.
The Department of the Prime Minster and Cabinet acknowledged the value of examining global best practice to urban development and suggested that Australian policies, such as the City Deals agenda, already reference policies and programs being used internationally. However, careful consideration is needed before applying international approaches to best practice urban development in the unique context of Australian cities. Professor Burton, Director of the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University, urged policy makers to carefully consider the context and relevance of international sustainable urban development policies and practices before attempting to recreate them:
While it can be very useful to learn which urban policy measures (at whichever spatial scale) work well in particular settings, it is important to understand the local context of that success…
Global guides to ‘best practice’ can be prone to superficiality in describing the local contextual factors that account for success in one setting and failure in another, although they can perform a valuable service in providing inspiration and demonstrating the possibilities of doing things differently and better.
Dr Hale also asserted that Australian policy makers and urban planners need to ‘more carefully’ select reference cities which inform their initiatives:
‘Reference cities’ should be cross-checked for factors such as comparable population, success at handling population growth and change over time, success in achieving strong public transport mode shares, robustness of institutional models, and success on other key sustainability and economic development metric indicators.
Dr Hale warned that ‘this may mean a need to shift our attention space beyond the longstanding engagement with policies and institutions arising from the USA and UK’:
Firstly, I'm saying that in terms of this idea of orientation to global practice we need to re-engage with a broader set of international experience and ultimately beyond the US and the UK, where we've quite understandably traditionally drawn our ideas from. There are plenty of great ideas throughout the developed parts of Asia and continental Europe, and I don't even know that we necessarily understand the United States as well as we believe we understand it sometimes. So, that's the first point—about re-engaging with international practice.
Multidisciplinary urban research in Australia
While Australian can learn from much successful international approaches to urban development, quality academic research grounded in local conditions is also valuable. The Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University (CUR) argued that as ‘the foundations for our economic, social and environmental wellbeing’, Australian cities must be supported by ‘better understanding and insight into policy, planning and decision-making into [the] many different aspects of urban development such as transport, environment, energy use, housing provision, biodiversity, recreation and infrastructure’. It asserted that this understanding can only be achieved through multidisciplinary, applied urban research. CSIRO agreed, saying ‘as the complexity of urban systems is increasingly revealed, particularly as a result of climate change impacts and extreme weather, there is a growing role for science to inform urban policy, planning and management processes‘.
According to CUR there are two main challenges to multidisciplinary, applied urban research in Australia. Firstly, ‘there is no medium to long term national applied urban research agenda and program’, and secondly, ‘there are no institutional arrangements in Australia with the capacity to support collaboration between universities and key interest groups’. Professor Jago Dodson, Director of CUR explained:
… we do not currently have any systematic nationally organised mechanism for drawing on the capability, knowledge and resources of our universities. We have a substantial capability within the universities, but that is not harnessed to respond to federal government priorities in a systematic way at the moment. Various scholars… would like to see something more systematic where we can collaborate and cooperate around a national research agenda for cities. It is very fragmented at the moment and, I would argue, under resourced.
CUR acknowledged that there are a number of cooperative research centres (CRC) and networks focussed on specific urban development challenges, including the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute and CRCs for Water Sensitive Cities, Low Carbon Living and Spatial Infrastructure. However, they have a narrow research focus, are funded for a limited time and ‘each have only a few university members’. Professor Peter Newton of the Centre for Urban Transitions at the Swinburne University of Technology pointed out that the urban-focussed CRCs ‘are all within about two years of finishing their federal funding, which is really the glue that brings the research community together’. He noted that the focus of the Australian Government’s CRC program has shifted to ‘cyber, smart manufacturing’ issues and that cities research appears not to be ‘in scope’. Professor Newton expressed concern that existing, urban-focussed CRCs will no longer be funded under the new research agenda. He argued that, given the Australian Government’s focus on cities through its Smart Cities Agenda and the City Deals program, urban-focussed CRC’s should continue to be supported.
CSIRO asserted that ‘urban research providers have a pivotal role to play in the translation of urban science and technology into the innovative products and services that will help benefit the liveability, sustainability and resilience of existing and new cities in Australia’.
Dr Jaz Hee-jeong Choi, Director of the Urban Informatics Research Lab, Queensland University of Technology, said Australia must develop ‘diverse and enduring narratives’ about its cities and that collaboration between researchers has a significant role to play:
We must develop diverse and enduring narratives of Australian cities... A part of that, I believe, could be a collaboratorium that brings together interests and capacities across public, private, community and research sectors to place urban futures as a key intellectual and social agenda for Australia, allowing comprehensive transdisciplinary research and development for both short- and long-term goals, which must include ambitious methodological exploration.
CUR made a similar recommendation, noting that other countries have already developed national institutions and agendas for urban research. It reported that the Government of the United Kingdom established the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) in 2015 when it became clear that its urban research was being inhibited by fragmentation and under resourcing:
It is funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and its vision is to provide leadership and support for the development and growth of a coordinated and coherent UK-based national infrastructure research community involving 14 universities. Also, it engages with all the key interest groups including city and commercial policy makers, investors, citizens and academia in shaping the infrastructure research agenda and provides a focus for knowledge transfer.
A comparable institution has commenced urban research in the Netherlands. The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) was established in 2015 to facilitated cooperation between universities, research institutions, companies, cities and citizens towards identifying solutions to urban challenges. CUR noted that ‘cooperation is a feature of [AMS’s] governance along with a commitment to interdisciplinary research that includes participation by engineers, designers, physical and social scientists:
The research is applied research that tests solutions for urban areas in the Netherlands and other countries. In addition to research AMS has developed an education program that includes massive open online courses, summer schools, professional development programs and an accredited masters program. Further, AMS has established a platform for storing and combining knowledge, networks and infrastructures.
CUR warned that ‘there is an urgent need for the Australian Government to support the development of additional collaborative research capacity that supports all the major interest groups engage in a more informed debate on the future of Australian cities and how they might become more productive and inclusive’.
National urban design principles and sustainability rating systems
Urban design principles and development rating systems can also be used to catalyse best practice urban development. Ms Megan Motto, Chief Executive Officer of Consult Australia said urban design principles, such as her own organisation’s Australian Digital Built Environment Principles, support quality urban development by functioning like a ‘value system’, underpinning and informing all decisions related to a project:
The design principles that we developed are like a value system, if you like. It's like an organisation will say, 'Well, we'll have a whole bunch of rules and procedures, but underpinning them we'll have a value system so that everything that we assess we can assess against that value system and that way we have a framework for making sure that we're making decisions within the right parameters.' So the principles that we talk about in the built environment are design principles.
Dr Bob Webb, Honorary Associate Professor at the Climate Change Institute of the Australian National University asserted that collectively agreed, consistent design principles are the ‘starting place for sustainable transitions for cities’. Dr Webb suggested that national design principles should be ‘directly mapped to the UN Sustainable Development Goals’. He noted that a review of current metropolitan plans for Australian capital cities found that many include similar explicit or implicit goals or design principles that ‘generally align well with the breadth of the UN SDGs’, including:
More compact form rather than continuing urban sprawl;
Productive agricultural land and connected landscapes protected;
Polycentric city with distributed activity and job growth centres;
Reduced car dependency, increased public transport, ‘30 minute city’;
Place-based mixed-use development allied with transport corridors and hubs;
Mixed-use and more self-contained communities;
More distributed infrastructure (e.g. water, energy, food);
More self-sufficiency in food, water, energy through, for example, urban agriculture, water sensitive urban design, rooftop solar/renewables;
Water sensitive urban design (WSUD);
Increased focus on blue and green (living) infrastructure;
Physical and social infrastructure that facilitates diverse social interaction, supporting creative innovation;
Neighbourhoods and entire metropolitan areas that are walkable and cycleable;
Greater housing choice, more compact and affordable housing, more quality shared spaces (public and utility spaces);
Circular economy with reduced resources usage/waste/emissions and ecological footprint; and
Low carbon, climate resilient strategies with emphasis on coherent strategies so that decarbonisation and resilience achieved concurrently.
However, a number of stakeholders pointed out that national urban design principles already exist. Creating Places for People: an Urban Design Protocol for Australian Cities was developed by the Australian Government in 2011 after ’two years of collaboration between peak community and industry organisations and governments at all levels’.
The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) is ‘the custodian of the design protocol’. It said that the protocol:
… establishes twelve broadly agreed principles for quality urban places in the Australian context, such as: physical and social connection; safety; and custodianship. These principles can be applied to any project or location—whether it is in a large capital city, regional centre or rural town.
ASBEC noted that the protocol ‘was developed with contributions from key government agencies, business and community stakeholders and as such is very broadly accepted’. It recommended that ‘all governments deliver best practice urban environments through a renewed commitment to adopt and champion Creating Places for People: An Urban Design Protocol for Australian Cities’. It encouraged the Australian Government to ‘materially support this resource to ensure that it remains effective, up to date, and can be more widely promulgated across industry, government and the community’.
PwC supported the protocol’s ‘best practice approach to people-centred urban design’, but noted that ‘is not clear how state and local authorities use the protocol to inform their frameworks, policies and plans’. It recommended ‘strong and regular liaising between the federal, state and local governments to ensure frameworks and policies are embedded into local and state policies’.
The Planning Institute of Australia also urged the Australian Government to promote the implementation the ‘quality urban design principles and approaches as outlined in the National Urban Design Protocol’.
In addition to promoting the protocol, ASBEC suggested that ‘it is also important to leverage existing industry best-practice and measure and deliver outcomes through support for third party verification and rating tools’. It reported that ‘credible tools’ include the Green Building Council Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star Ratings.
As already noted, GBCA’s Green Star Rating System is an ‘internationally recognised sustainability rating system’ offering rating tools which independently assess and certify:
the design, construction, internal fitout and operation performance of buildings (discussed in Chapter 7, Sustainable Buildings); and
planning for community or precinct scale development.
The GBCA’s Green Star – Communities Rating ‘assesses the planning, design and construction of large scale development projects at a precinct, neighbourhood and/or community scale’. It provides a ‘rigorous and holistic rating across five impact categories’:
Governance: which recognises developers and projects that demonstrate leadership by establishing strong governance practices such as transparency and engagement;
Liveability: which celebrates developments that deliver safe, accessible and culturally rich communities that are inclusive and support healthy lifestyles;
Economic prosperity: which recognises projects that promote prosperity and productivity, affordable living and housing, and which invest in education and skills development;
Environment: which recognises developments which minimise the environmental impact of construction and promote transport, infrastructure and buildings with smaller ecological footprints; and
Innovation: which acknowledges innovative development practices and processes which promote sustainability in the built environment.
GBCA explained that the Green Star – Communities Rating addresses ‘many of the negative impacts of urban living such as traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, obesity and isolation’. It claimed that the rating is considered the leading metric internationally, ‘with over 50 precincts registered and certified’.
GBCA argued that the ‘measurement, and wherever possible certification, of outcomes at a project, precinct, community and city basis will help ensure the credibility of infrastructure investments’. It contended that ‘ratings tools, like Green Star, provide a vehicle to capture and effectively communicate outcomes from our infrastructure to affected communities’:
The credits in the rating tool provide guidance and best practice benchmarks that have been developed after extensive collaboration with industry, academia and government. By referencing Green Star Communities in policies, and encouraging its use for suitable development projects, governments can take advantage of the sustainability benchmarks and common language developed for the rating tool through extensive and ongoing consultation by the GBCA.
GBCA recommended that the Australian Government require ‘best practice design supported by third party verification, like Green Star on all relevant infrastructure and associated urban renewal projects’ including ‘projects planned or funded through City Deals’.
Mr Anthony Marklund, a Principal Engineer at Floth Sustainable Building Consultants made a similar suggestion. He argued that the Australian Government could facilitate broader use of the GBCA’s Green Star Rating System by mandating ratings for office buildings and by making certification a prerequisite for federal funding provided through City Deals.
The Queensland Government noted that it has already committed to, and is working towards, achieving Green Star Ratings for a number of its buildings.
International benefits of best practice
The social and environmental benefits of a more sustainable urban form have already been discussed in great detail. They include:
sustainable economies (e.g. enhanced productivity, resource utilisation, competitiveness, job skills and investment)
sustainable societies ( e.g. healthier people, improved wellbeing)
sustainable environments (e.g. enhancement of local urban environments; reduced resources use from/degradation of local, regional and distant non-urban areas (in Australia and internationally)…
However the considerable international benefits have not yet been noted. Stakeholders, such as Dr Webb, noted that achieving globally leading urban renewal in Australian cities will enhance our international reputation and will facilitate broader ‘two-way investment and collaboration with other countries in international networks and forums’. There is evidence that becoming an exemplar of best practice urban development will:
enhance Australia’s reputation as a responsible global citizen;
create the vibrant city scapes needed to attract the talent critical to a prosperous knowledge economy; and
support the advancement of urban development expertise and innovative products for export to cities facing similar pressures.
These benefits are considered in more detail below.
Responsible global citizen
The Australian Government is signatory to two important international agreements which require a shift to a more environmentally and socially sustainable form:
the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) also known as the Paris Agreement; and
the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Under the UNFCC, the Australian Government has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels, and by endorsing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Australia has committed to achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Lake Macquarie City Council suggested that becoming a global leader in sustainable urban development will build Australia’s ‘reputation as a responsible global citizen by demonstrating our commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals’. The University of Melbourne agreed and suggested that it would also position Australia as a leader in the Asia Pacific region:
The possibility of building up Australia’s leadership role in the Asia-Pacific was emphasised by the United Nations Under-Secretary General, Dr Joan Clos, during his visit to Melbourne in May 2017, who said: ‘as a key regional player and a highly urbanised country itself, Australia has the potential to influence urbanisation processes in the Asia-Pacific region in many positive ways’.
Moreover, the NSW Government suggested that ‘undertaking best practice approaches in sustainable urban development can assist the Australian Government to meet’ its carbon reduction obligations under the UNFCCC. The University of Technology Sydney said improving energy productivity ‘is essential if Australia is to meet its obligations to the international community under the UN Paris agreement on climate change’.
Attracting international workers and tourists
Achieving best practice urban renewal will underpin Australia’s prosperity as it transitions to a knowledge and services oriented economy. The City of Fremantle noted that the ‘changing world of work will require innovative knowledge workers, often the younger element of the workforces’ and ‘being at the forefront of sustainable urban development, with quality urban design, can act as strong selling point to attract and retain footloose global knowledge’.
The GPT Group suggested that highly liveable cities attract highly skilled knowledge workers, industries and individuals of high net worth which have an economic multiplying effect, such as ‘increased international tourism demand, associated investment and employment generation’. The Water Services Association of Australia made a similar point, emphasising the economic benefits of attracting international talent:
Much of our economic growth in cities is fuelled by our knowledge workers. Attracting the best human capital is crucial when competing with international cities like London, Hong Kong and New York. Retaining a competitive advantage, and continuing to attract talent in the face of emerging challenges will require innovative solutions and collaborative planning, particularly around essential services and infrastructure.
The NSW Government acknowledged that ‘Australia’s success is largely impacted by the success of its cities, both metropolitan and regional’ and ‘should these cities be products of ‘best practice’ sustainable urban development… Australia would experience a range of national benefits’. The Council of Capital City Lord Mayors noted that ‘cities are measured by organisations such as the Mercers Quality of Living Survey and the Economist Global Liveability Ranking and seeking to achieve best practice in sustainable urban development will ensure Australian cities continue to be well placed in these ranking’.
Consult Australia said ‘the cities that will be the most competitive in the international war for talent and investment will be the most liveable and the most economically successful’.
A number of witnesses also noted that best practice urban development will also ensure Australian cities remain an attract prospect for international tourism. For example, Consult Australian said ‘cities looking to compete as destinations for the tourist dollar will be those that balance the social, cultural and economic infrastructure that combined creates a world-class destination’.
Exporting expertise and innovative technology
Evidence to the inquiry suggested that becoming an exemplar of globally-renown best practice urban development would position Australia to export expertise and innovative technology to its rapidly urbanising Asian neighbours.
CSIRO claimed that ‘as one of the world’s most urbanised nations, with a history of scientific and innovation excellence, there is significant opportunity for Australia to expand its role as a global ‘best practice’ leader in sustainable urban development. Autodesk explained that the ‘2017 G20 Infrastructure Outlook Report estimates that Asia will account for over 50 per cent of the global infrastructure investment to 2040, with Australia’s largest trading partner, China, generating 30 per cent of this demand’. It suggested that ‘given the importance of this region to Australia’s future economic prosperity, including through investment and trade, it is critical that Australia is not only discusses, but actions, best practice in resilient and sustainable infrastructure and cities’:
By setting clear policies and benchmarks for sustainable cities, Australia will attract investment, not only infrastructure investment but more broadly ‘knowledge economy’ investment. Being a global best practice nation also positions Australia to be an exporter of high value, information technology services for the infrastructure sector to growing Asian economies.
Mr Ashley Brinson, Executive Director of The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering observed that well executed, high quality urban development in Australia ‘could lead to the export of engineering services based on domestic showcased projects’:
In the coming decades, projects worth US$97 trillion—that's more than A$100 trillion—will be built globally, with more than half of that in our neighbourhood of the Asian region. Australian engineers and consulting companies have the skill to participate in regional services export.
Our access to the rapidly urbanising markets in Asia provide us significant competitive advantage. If we can solve the urban challenges facing our own cities, there may be a vast global market for Australian urban sustainability knowledge and expertise.
The Committee heard that this is already occurring in some areas. CSIRO noted that ‘Australian technology [is] pioneering the design and engineering of green buildings in the Middle East and China’. Dr Marcus Spiller, Principal and Partner of SGS Economics suggested that ‘Australian planners, engineers and kindred professionals are [already] sought after the world over for their expertise in this space’. Mr Brinson agreed:
Their impact is not only felt at home but also it contains the capacity to deliver iconic infrastructure to cities like Beijing. I've worked alongside Australian engineers in international projects and the capacity of this nation to participate on the global stage, especially in the Asian region, is sorely underestimated at home.
There is also a sizeable opportunity to expand Australia’s export market. CSIRO suggested that ‘as we retrofit our existing cities and build new ones, we should seize the opportunity to create innovative businesses, products and services that position Australia as a global leader in city building’:
CSIRO as Australia’s innovation catalyst, could play a pivotal role in the translation of urban science and technology into products and services that benefit our nation and enhance our productivity (CSIRO 2015)... In an increasingly digital world, there are likely to be opportunities to increase the competitiveness of our nation with a focus on technology and future cities (Productivity Commission 2016). Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotic building, and 3D printing are just a few of the emerging technologies that could be used to improve the sustainability of cities (CSIRO Futures 2016). Advances in automation technologies may become important for upgrading existing building stock. Robotics could potentially increase the rate of building renewal while improving safety. When combined with the onsite production of building materials, there is the potential for less generation of waste and efficiency gains through reduced transport requirements (Quezada et al. 2016b).
The University of Melbourne also suggested that ‘Australia is well-positioned to lead the world in a number of new technologies’:
For example we are home to a number of significant innovations in construction materials, including the use of locally prefabricated timber components and the use of an in situ podium to develop the world’s largest modular prefabricated tower. These advances allow us to deliver high and medium density housing at significantly lower costs. In combination with Australia’s leadership in low-energy buildings, they position our builders, developers, and universities as leaders in sustainable housing construction.
The University of Queensland noted that the emergence of new forms of automated, electric and personal mobility also offer significant opportunities to nations which are early adapters:
As the emergence of these disruptions are being anticipated globally, the economic development opportunity is enormous to develop exportable capability, and policy and planning intelligence among Australia’s government agencies, supporting consultancies, small and medium enterprises, and academia. However, such an outcome would require federal oversight, conversation, policy support and funding to ensure that Australia is on track to be a world leader in urban transport policy relating to autonomous and connected vehicles.
Lake Macquarie City Council suggested that if Australia can lead globally recognised best practice urban renewal at home and abroad, it will also enhance ‘our international attractiveness as a place to learn about sustainable urban forms’ and facilitate ‘employment in local sustainable development industries’.
It is clear that a successful transition to best practice urban development will create vibrant, sustainable and prosperous Australian cities. It will also deliver a number of international benefits, including:
enhancing Australia’s reputation as a responsible global citizen;
safeguarding Australia’s competiveness in the knowledge economy; and
positioning Australia to export expertise and innovative new products.
The Committee believes that the Australian Government must lead this reorientation to global best practice by adopting the recommendations outlined below.
Australia is one of many nations around the world attempting to achieve a more socially and environmentally sustainable urban form in the face of economic, climatic and demographic change. As such, there are significant opportunities to both learn from, and contribute to, sustainability transitions elsewhere.
A number of international examples of best practice urban development were shared with the Committee throughout the inquiry. Many are relevant to the Australian context, particularly approaches in the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States of America. There are also lessons for Australia in the Chinese approach to urban development. There is a high level of integrated planning from the national to the local level resulting in rapid infrastructure provision coordinated with urban development.
The Committee recognises that the integration of transport infrastructure and land-use planning, coupled with strategically located employment hubs, in the City of Stockholm and the City of London is a template for achieving a more compact urban form in Australian cities. The potential to better leverage transport infrastructure to support liveability and sustainability has arisen consistently throughout the inquiry. The Committee feels that this strategy could be particularly effective in tackling urban sprawl.
There is also much to learn from the experience of integrated urban development and infrastructure provision in China and Hong Kong. Companies such as MTR in Hong Kong and Didi (ridesharing) are already operating in Australia, and, on the basis of their successful operation in their home markets, have a great deal to offer Australia. MTR are already aware of challenges and opportunities in Melbourne and Sydney for using value capture to fund and operate transport infrastructure, and particularly as a way to fund the eradication of level crossings in Melbourne. They can apply their experience and expertise to fund HSR in the same way. MTR would appear to be a perfect partner for government and private investors as a major player for the roll out of rail transport in Australia sustainably funded by value capture. MTR are interested in pursuing these opportunities. It is the Committee’s view that opportunities to utilise the expertise of companies such as MTR should be facilitated by government.
The Committee also heard many interesting examples of technology-informed approaches to urban development and renewal. The broad application of BIM in government led development projects in the United Kingdom is delivering sustainability and cost gains. Smart city and IoT technology, such as sensors and cameras, are providing a detailed evidentiary base for targeted urban policies and programs in American cities such as Washington DC. It is clear that Australia has fallen behind in these areas. Chapter 9, Smart Cities, makes a number of recommendations to foster a faster transition to technology enabled communities which make the best use of new IoT technologies. The Committee notes that its previous report, Smart ICT: Report on the inquiry into the role of smart ICT in the design and planning of infrastructure recommended the formation of a Smart Infrastructure Taskforce, modelled on the UK BIM Task Group, to accelerate the adoption of new technologies in relation to in the development of infrastructure. It also recommended that the Australian Government require BIM on all major infrastructure projects and consider how smart ICT can optimise the operation and maintenance of existing infrastructure. The Committee reiterates the importance of those recommendations.
Cities in the United States and the United Kingdom are also more advanced in integrating disruptive transportation technology, such as electric, autonomous and shared vehicles. It is clear to the Committee that this technology could substantially improve the connectivity and sustainability of Australian cities if its rollout is comprehensive.
The Committee also acknowledges that there are a number of international programs supporting best practice urban development, such as the United Nation’s New Urban Agenda and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Program. These programs are internationally recognised and Australia’s ongoing involvement will help inform high-quality urban renewal. There is scope for the Australian Government to apply international best practice to urban development, especially through the improved governance arrangements proposed in the next chapter through the office of the National Chief Planner.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities and the National Chief Planner apply international best practice approaches to urban development, to:
the development of national settlement plans;
the design of policies and programs;
the provision of funding to support Australian cities and regional centres; and
investigate international companies with proven unique global best practice expertise in infrastructure provision and urban development.
Australian can learn from much successful international approaches to urban development. However, quality academic research grounded in local conditions is needed to identify international approaches suitable to the Australian context and guide their application. Maintaining a national capacity for high-quality, multidisciplinary research is critical. The Committee is concerned to hear that the forward research agenda for the CRC program does not maintain a focus on urban issues. It is disappointed that existing research centres are not collaborating as effectively as they could. This is an area where Australian Government support is vital.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government maintain the CRC research agenda’s previous focus on urban issues until the nation’s cities have achieved an environmentally and socially sustainable urban form.
The Committee would like to see a national institute for cities research examine how international best practice approaches to urban development can be applied in Australian cities. It considers that a number of the examples discussed in this report could be applied in the Australian context.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establishes a national institute for cities research, on the model of the UKCRIC, to enhance collaboration, knowledge and data sharing across research groups and universities; and tasks the new institute for cities research with identifying how international best practice approaches to urban development can best be applied in Australian cities.
The benefits of national urban design principles to support a shared understanding of best practice were also highlighted throughout the inquiry. The Committee is disappointed to hear that existing industry-supported, national principles are not well known or being broadly applied.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government re-endorse Creating Places for People: An Urban Design Protocol for Australian Cities and provide financial support for the purposes of maintaining and promoting these design principles.
Evidence to the inquiry indicates that precinct rating systems, such as the GBCA’s Green Star – Communities Rating can support high quality urban development by providing independent verification of sustainability outcomes. Rating systems can also assist governments or developers to communicate the social and environmental benefits of processes such as densification. The Committee would like to the Australian Government encouraging the use of rating systems, such as the GBCA’s Green Star program in the development of high amenity, sustainable precincts in low density areas to support a transition to a more compact urban form.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government support the broader application of rating systems, such as the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star program, to urban regeneration.