This report is about the future of our cities and the regions around them. Our major cities and our regions have one future—they will depend on each other for their prosperity, sustainability and liveability—and planning for this future needs to be done in an integrated and holistic way.
This report does not attempt to closely define what is meant by cities and regions.
It should be noted that the Australian Government’s National Cities Performance Framework provides no specific definition of ‘a city’. The framework focuses on common issues and information relating to the 21 biggest cities by population size, and western Sydney. These cities range from regional centres with populations in the tens of thousands to metropolitan centres with populations in the millions.
This report adopts a broader definition and works at a range of levels across a range of issues, some being relevant at a national or state level, some pertaining mostly to major metropolitan centres, others more to regional centres and their immediate surrounds, yet others having relevance to communities of any size. What the report seeks to emphasise is that the challenges facing cities and regions are complex and require multi-layered and multi-faceted solutions. It seeks to construct an outcome that acknowledges complexity and diversity within a common policy framework.
Why an inquiry into the development of cities? In its submission to the inquiry, the CSIRO highlighted the global importance of cities to the world, stating:
The 21st century has been referred to as the ‘urban century’ (Kourtit et al. 2015). More than half (54%) of the world’s population now reside in cities, and this proportion is expected to increase to 66% by 2050 with cities projected to accommodate nearly all future global population growth (UNDESA 2014). An estimated 90% of this future urban growth by mid‐century is expected to occur in Asia and Africa. Australia is already highly urbanised with 89% of our citizens living in cities or towns of more than 1,000 people (ABS 2013b). So while the world is rapidly urbanising, Australia is already there. This represents a significant opportunity for our nation to lead the world through showcases of international leading practice in urban development and creating commercial outcomes through the global export of sustainability knowledge and innovations.
A future based on urban living needs sustainable cities. CSIRO observed that ‘the sustainability of our cities is influenced by the type of housing stock, land use mix, transport systems, employment location, and density of development (Newton 1997)’. It noted that ‘when it comes to Australia’s housing stock, all new homes are required to meet minimum standards for energy and water efficiency (Ambrose 2008)’, but that ‘almost half (45%) of Australia’s existing housing stock is 30 years of age or older and was built with little thought for sustainability (ABCB 2010)’. CSIRO observed that ‘Australia’s cities are considered highly liveable, but are facing a growing number of challenges’:
These include car reliance and vulnerability to fuel prices (Dodson and Sipe 2007), house sizes that are among the largest in the world (CommSec 2016), considerable waste and material footprints associated with overconsumption (Wiedmann et al. 2015), climate change impacts and vulnerability to more frequent and severe weather events (Reisinger et al. 2014), just to name a few.
Answering the question, ‘why does this matter?’ CSIRO stated:
Our cities are vital for national productivity. Even during the mining boom, our cities provided the bulk of Australia’s economic growth. During 2015‐16, just over two thirds (67%) of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was generated by Sydney and Melbourne alone (SGS Economics and Planning 2016). Our cities are engines of economic growth and innovation that are vital to the nation.
CSIRO noted that while ‘Australian cities are regarded as among the most liveable in the world (EIU 2016) … they face a growing number of pressures’:
These include growing population (ABS 2013a), changing demographics (ABS 2017), rising social inequalities (Sarkar et al. 2016), ageing and inadequate infrastructure (IA 2015), unsustainable resource consumption (Wiedmann et al. 2015), decreasing housing affordability (Cox and Pavletich 2017), car reliance and oil vulnerability (Dodson and Sipe 2007), climate change impacts (Reisinger et al. 2014), and so on.
CSIRO observed that ‘steering our existing cities towards trajectories that maintain liveability and quality of life, while at the same time improving their sustainability and resilience will be no easy task’. This was due to ‘a common feature of complex urban systems known as path dependence, where the legacy of past decision‐making either locks‐in or reinforces “well‐trodden” development pathways’:
Examples include continued low density sprawl on the urban fringe despite a growing appreciation of compact city planning principles (Bunker 2012), through to the persistence of carbon‐intensive technologies (Erickson et al. 2015). This inertia in urban systems is difficult to overcome, even when there are better alternatives available (Bai et al. 2016).
Addressing the importance of cities to society, the Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand (SCCANZ) cited urbanist and writer Jane Jacobs (Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984)), who argued that ‘the engine of economic development is a city and its surroundings. Cities, not countries, she insisted, are the constituent elements of a developing economy and have been so from the dawn of civilization. Civilisations fail when their cities do.’ SCCANZ believed that we now have a chance ‘to create more advantages for our country, our citizens, our cities and regions and towns, our business and industry—and along the way, our planet’, and to do all this by ‘investing in smart infrastructure’. But the time to make this investment is now ‘because we cannot compete globally without it’. SCCANZ stated:
And nowhere is the need more obvious than in our urban centres where swelling populations are putting increasing pressure on aging infrastructure. Yet we cannot ignore smaller cities and surrounding towns and rural communities either. So many of them face infrastructure challenges, so many face food and water insecurities, so many are hampered by inefficient processes and policies, so many need secure jobs in the fourth industrial revolution. Yet so many of them are budget constrained.
SCCANZ argued that ‘what they all need is for this generation’s visionary leaders and thinkers at all levels of government to see the promise of smart infrastructure investments—and take action’.
Mr Stephen Kanowski, from Deloitte Access Economics, agreed that the future is ‘very much digital’. Addressing the vision of the future, he told the Committee:
Three key words I heard recently from a chap from Bosch was that the future will be connected. It will be electric or renewable based and it will be autonomous, by and large. Those things are critical to where we go. If we don’t get that then we have problems.
Planning expert, Professor Sue Holliday, highlighted the challenges facing our major cities. She stated that ‘sprawling cities, as Sydney and Melbourne have become, are the most highly unsustainable cities that we have’. She argued that ideally we would focus on ‘the way people actually use our cities’, stating:
For most people in the cities, with the exception of journey to work, they live within a subregion of the city in which they live. They might come into the city for the occasional artistic or cultural event and go to certain bars and things, but basically they live in their region. So there is the idea of actually restructuring public transport, around the idea that people need to access their subregion on a regular basis and then have fast linkages between the other cities so that they can access their journey to work more easily as well. That would apply to most people, with the exception of tradies, who need their utes in order to go over the whole city every day.
This gives us the ‘city of cities’, an urban form focused upon the actual needs of its citizens at a local, regional and metropolitan level. She noted, however, that:
To be effective, that restructuring of our cities needs public transport and it needs a lot more public transport than we have yet provided. Because that form of transport is the least able at the moment to be funded by the private sector, we need government support, and I would argue that we need both state and Commonwealth government support to build public transport. That is the most critical element of ensuring that our cities in the future—our big cities—will be sustainable, liveable and workable. I like the term ‘workable’ because, if you talk to people about whether their city works for them, they often say, ‘No, it doesn’t; I have to travel two hours to get to work,’ et cetera.
Mr John Wynne, National Director of Planning with Urbis Pty Ltd, observed that ‘Australia today is among the most urbanised nations in the world, with over 70 per cent of the population living in cities and 80 per cent of the national economy taking place in cities’. Our cities, he stated, ‘are rightly considered “cradles of national creativity, wealth and innovation”’ and ‘planning prosperous, sustainable and resilient cities is clearly a national priority’. He noted that ‘as the physical focus of our wealth and wellbeing, ensuring sustainable cities is absolutely vital’. Conversely, ‘failing to plan properly will result in declining economic, social and environmental standards which will clearly undermine our much-envied quality of life’.
Mr Wynne noted that ‘Australian cities are undergoing profound change. The megatrends of urbanisation and globalisation are propelling cities rapidly to a future vastly different from today’:
The complexity, speed and scale of change is challenging traditional models of planning and developing cities, presenting uncharted issues relating to equity and access, social and economic engagement, cultural identity, homelessness, housing affordability, energy and resource use, economic growth and prosperity, biodiversity, and ecological outcomes. So, in that context, we're strongly of the view that developing new and better approaches to planning cities is essential to securing the future of our cities. And we consider that a national cities platform can contribute positively to achieving more holistic, integrated, integrated, efficient and innovative approaches to planning urban areas.
Mr Wynne highlighted an important role for government, particularly the federal government, in the development of our cities:
The federal role, in our view, is not about regulation. Frankly, we have so much regulation in the planning industry that we do not need more. It’s about vision, leadership and influence. It's about fostering collaborative actions across states and territories. It's about creating a unified commitment to addressing common challenges. It’s about engendering cross-portfolio coordination focusing on achieving better place-based outcomes. And just from the last presentation, I know that’s a common issue you will hear about.
In its submission, the Town and Country Planning Association urged ‘a bi-partisan commitment to planning and delivering better cities; to working collaboratively with the states and territories, and with industry, to prioritise and fund the infrastructure we need for jobs, growth and a better way of life is now more urgent than ever’.
Mr Adam Beck, Executive Director of the Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand, stressed the urgency of change:
We don’t have the luxury of two decades to work out how to build better cities, how to build more sustainable cities, to work out what value capture means. We are really on the clock, and Australia needs to embrace and move beyond individual pilots. Whilst they’re fantastic, we need to really supercharge and accelerate and move from lab and piloting to scale and replication very quickly, because we’re a rapidly urbanising nation.
I don’t know any nation in the world, any sprawling nation, physically, that thrives, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.
This report does not address every single issue surrounding the development of our cities and regions. What it does do is draw on the evidence provided by academic, public service, industry and community experts to present a new vision and new approach to the development of cities.
Our cities need to be better planned, better connected, more compact, more diverse and more sustainable. They will need to engage with, and hopefully lead, global best practice in technology, urban form, accessibility and sustainability. They will need to connect to regions which are also well planned, well connected, more sustainable and better integrated. This requires vision and leadership from government at all levels, and the development of systems of urban and regional governance well-adapted to the challenges of the future.
Conduct of the Inquiry
The inquiry was referred to the Committee by the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, the Hon Darren Chester MP, on 30 May 2017.
Over the course of the Inquiry, the Committee received 174 submissions. A list of submissions is at Appendix A. Other publications, documents and supplementary material were received during the inquiry as exhibits. A list of exhibits is at Appendix B.
In addition, the Committee undertook a program of public hearings. Between August 2017 and May 2018 the Committee held 25 public hearings, including a number of hearings in interstate capitals and regional centres. Details of the public hearings, including a list of witnesses, are at Appendix C.
Structure of the report
This report is presented in 3 parts:
Part 1 (Chapters 2–4) focuses on the development of cities and regions at a national and regional level;
Part 2 (Chapters 5–10) takes the focus on development down to city level; and
Part 3 (Chapters 11–13) looks specifically at the role of the Australian Government in the development of cities.
Part 1 addresses the high level issues of population growth and the distribution of population, employment and services; the sustainability of current trends; and the solutions needed to ensure that our cities and regions remain sustainable, accessible and liveable.
To this end, Chapter 2 addresses the need for a national plan of settlement to ensure that people and resources are directed to outcomes that maximise sustainability, liveability and accessibility. This will require a high level of integrated and holistic planning to engage all levels of government and the community across a range of inter-related problems and solutions. It also calls for master planning of communities across all levels of government to ensure that all planning and development actions are coordinated within a single coherent vision.
Chapter 3 specifically addresses the need for the integrated holistic planning of our cities. It focuses on the need to re-imagine our cities in order to create a new development paradigm, one that sees the city as a ‘system of systems’, a complex organic whole which demands new responses to the challenges of growth and economic and social change. It addresses the challenges of agglomeration and the distribution of population, employment and services—especially the costs of urban sprawl—and highlights the importance of promoting a more compact urban form through densification and the development of polycentric cities.
Chapter 4 identifies the symbiotic relationship between cities and regions and the need to progress their development in conjunction with each other and, within this context, looks at various means for promoting the sustainable development of our regions. It highlights the importance of regional centres and the hub-and-spoke model of regional development. It looks at mechanisms for investment in regional communities, including direct government investment, the development of universities, strategic decentralisation of government departments and services, promoting the competitive advantages of regions, and promoting national connectivity—particularly transport connectivity—to promote the coordinated development of the cities and regions.
Part 2 of the report (Chapters 5–10) takes the focus down from national and regional level to city level, addressing particular issues vital to the sustainable development of cities.
Chapter 5 examines issues of urban sustainability—particularly the role of community infrastructure—schools, hospitals, etc.—and urban services—energy, water and waste—to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of our cities. It addresses the need to manage demographic change—particularly the ageing of the population—and will also touch on the impacts of climate change and the need to manage them in the urban environment.
Chapter 6 focuses upon the vital issue of urban connectivity. It considers sustainability in urban transport systems and the interrelationship between transport connectivity and urban form. It also examines the impact of technological innovation and the need to embrace innovation to promote connectivity and accessibility. It concludes by examining the importance of freight connectivity in the urban environment.
Chapter 7 examines the sustainability of the built environment, its importance to the sustainable development of cities, and mechanisms for promoting sustainable buildings.
Chapter 8 addresses housing accessibility and affordability as a component of liveability and sustainability in the urban environment, and considers possible solutions to current and potential problems in the form of national oversight of housing, opportunities to expand and streamline housing supply and strategies to rebalance housing demand.
Chapter 9 considers the importance of technology to the development of smart cities and the need to incorporate technology in urban design.
Chapter 10 considers the importance of pursuing global best practice in urban design, both in terms of creating better urban environments and the opportunities that will flow from global leadership in urban design.
Part 3 of the report (Chapters 11–13) focuses once again on policy at the national level, in particular the role of the Australian Government in the development of cities.
Chapter 11 addresses the impact of the Australian Government on the development of cities, through its various policy responsibilities, and stresses the importance of Commonwealth leadership in ensuring that the planning of our cities and regions takes place within a system of long-term coordinated planning at all levels of government. It proposes a range of mechanisms to promote national coordination of the development of cities and regions, including the creation of a Cities and National Settlement Minister, and the office of National Chief Planner.
Chapter 12 looks at a range of government programs which have or could contribute to the development of sustainable cities. The chapter begins with a brief overview of the Building Better Cities Program, before examining the potential of the current City Deals program to promote the coordinated planning and development of cities and regions. The chapter will then explore the issue of metropolitan governance, and the use of tax incentives and grants to promote sustainable development.
Chapter 13 concludes the report by examining the issue of infrastructure procurement within the context of urban and regional development. It addresses the need to refine procurement methods, procure for innovation, and refine project appraisal methods to ensure that infrastructure procurement is aligned with the identified need to develop cities and regions in sustainable, accessible and liveable ways. It also examines the need to develop procurement skills within government, and better promote engagement with tier 2 and 3 businesses in infrastructure development. The chapter concludes with an examination of financing and funding innovation—especially the importance of value capture.