Property and Infrastructure Specialists
Views

Future city growth demands better public policy mechanisms

The forecast population growth for Australia’s three largest cities may fluctuate in the short term, but long-term projections put us amongst some of the faster-growing cities of the developed world.
Future city growth demands better public policy mechanisms

Compared with a number of the world’s leading metropolitan centres, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will increase their population number by as much or more than places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, Berlin and Singapore by the year 2030. China’s mega centres such as Shanghai or Beijing, set the pace – both predicted to increase by more than 6 million people in that space of time.

Graph one

But it is often the pace of change that places the most stress on urban infrastructure and city-wide management. Best measured by percentage increases, this rate of growth comparison shows that Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will, in fact, be growing at the same speed as Shanghai and Beijing, and three times faster than centres like San Francisco, or LA, or London or Paris. 

Graph 2

This forecast rate of growth over the next 15 years or so is not overly different from the rates of growth our cities have experienced in the past 15 years. What it means, however, is that there can be no relaxation or slowdown in the acceleration of city-wide infrastructure needed to support that growth. Sydney and Melbourne in particular, have been city-wide work sites for a decade – roads, rail and all forms of economic and social infrastructure from office buildings to hospitals to universities and schools – have been in a long cycle of development and redevelopment that is unlikely to slow down given these growth forecasts.

Growing a city by almost a third in the space of 15 years doesn’t just place a challenge on the hardware of our urban regions (in the shape of physical infrastructure), but it also stresses the software (in the form of our policy settings). Sadly, many of our fast-growing urban regions are operating with outdated policy software. Governance processes, procurement policies, the bases of infrastructure decisions and allocations, tax and regulatory instruments – many are little changed from those that existed 15 years ago.

Think about that for a moment: we are operating cities that are growing at rates three times faster than many other leading cities but trying to do so with urban software that predates the iPhone v1.0 (which first launched in 2007). We’ve since seen the arrival of Uber, autonomous vehicle technology and omnipresent GPS, the rise of AI applications, exponential expansion of data storage and transmission technologies, the advent of co-working, the rise of global internet retail, the demise of the DVD in favour of in-home and online entertainment, massive changes in medical technology and clinical practice, the explosion of the Chinese economy, AirBNB, virtual reality… it’s a very long list. All of it has changed the way our cities function and will change the nature of infrastructure needed to support the predicted rates of growth in the coming decade and beyond.

Meeting the infrastructure challenge that flows from this rate of growth is not just a question of finding the money and delivery mechanisms for urban hardware; it also means that the urban software we use to predict, procure and manage that growth is also up to date. We’ve got some work ahead of us.