Australian cities by 2050 - how do we prepare?

Cities are powerhouses of Australia’s productivity and population. They generate 80 per cent of the nation’s GDP and are home to three quarters of our citizens.  

Cities are where most of us live, work and play. The way they are organised and planned has an enormous impact on our economy, our wellbeing and our environment. On current projections, we can expect Australia to be home to more than 35 million people by 2050 and the majority of this population boom will occur in our capital cities.

In his book, Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser argues “there is a near-perfect correlation between urbanisation and prosperity across nations”. The decisions we make today to build more sustainable and liveable cities will affect the prosperity and lifestyles of generations to come. 

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council is the peak body of key organisations committed to a sustainable built environment in Australia. Collectively, ASBEC’s membership has direct reach to more 200,000 professionals in the built environment sector and represents an industry worth more than $600 billion.

As the 2013 election draws near, ASBEC has developed a six-point plan for Australia’s cities to ensure they are globally competitive, productive, sustainable, liveable, socially inclusive and able to meet future challenges, growth and wellbeing. ASBEC calls on all political parties to embrace the following:

1. Elevate the Major Cities Unit and establish a Minister for Cities and Urban Development

We need a Department for Cities and Urban Development to provide a centre of excellence within the Australian Government.  This department would be resourced to work across governments and portfolios to develop and implement policies that support better cities.  The Major Cities Unit, which is currently part of the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, should be elevated to take on this important role.

2. Adopt a national approach to our cities with a strong governance framework

A national approach to our cities requires integrated, collaborative and accountable policy-making that encompasses all three spheres of government.  We need a strong framework that informs public policy and decision-making and a set of national, evidence-based urban indicators to measure the performance of our cities.  Effective funding models are also required to ensure urban infrastructure is adequately financed.

3. Establish an Urban Infrastructure Fund

We must increase the capital available to fund local community infrastructure projects that improve the productivity, liveability and sustainability of our cities.

4. Align Infrastructure Australia with the National Urban Policy

The release of the National Urban Policy in 2011 was an important milestone: for the first time a federal government sought to outline its overarching goals for the nation’s cities and how it will play a role in making them more productive, sustainable and liveable.  The next step is to ensure Infrastructure Australia’s priorities align with the National Urban Policy.

5. Deliver a quantum leap in affordable and sustainable housing

Affordable and sustainable housing must be a national priority, and requires a national framework to support its delivery. This framework should establish targets for new and existing buildings; identify barriers and provide strategies to overcome them; develop housing policies that offer incentives for developers, owners and tenants to transform industry leadership into standard practice; align voluntary standards with mandatory requirements; harmonise rating tools; and provide an implementation plan that converts the framework into action.

6. Focus on adaptation and resilience.

ASBEC’s Built Environment Adaptation Framework, released in 2012, outlines ten ways in which government can work with industry to deliver effective adaptation strategies. We must embrace this framework to develop a coordinated, well-resourced and nationally consistent suite of policies that better protect our cities from predicted climate change risks and maximise resource security.

Australia is confronted by significant long-term challenges, from population growth, housing affordability and infrastructure development, to climate change, resource constraints, food and water security and the influences of the global economy. These challenges will be most severely felt in our major cities. How our cities adapt to these future challenges is dependent on the policies and programs we implement today. It is these policies that will determine whether our cities, and the people who live in them, survive or thrive.

Romilly Madew is Chair of the Cities and Regions Policy Task Group Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.