The forecast is that 70% of the people on the planet will be living in urban cities by 2050. This is not about the historic shift in the industrial revolution where masses of people moved to the new cities to earn a living. Most of these people have no jobs. They are fleeing repeated natural disasters on their farming lands.
Some countries where the planning authorities and national finances are unable to keep up with demand for new dwellings and infrastructure, this spontaneous urbanisation is creating slums. In other countries, the issues are about the equality of access to the city’s amenities, employment, and housing.
In Australia, we already have 80% of our population based in cities with over 40% of our population in Sydney and Melbourne. Our issues include affordable housing, green energy, sufficient infrastructure and traffic congestion.
Let’s look at congestion as a cost and the plans for its resolution through good urban planning. The Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development reported that congestion cost $16.5B in 2015. Congestion is forecast to cost between $27.7B and 37.3B by 2030, depending on the assumptions made.
Our Governments at Federal, State and Local are tasked with addressing this lost productivity. What is the framework behind their thinking?
The United Nations (UN) has created a blueprint for sustainable human habitat (The New Urban Agenda or Habitat III) that brings the best elements of new cities and re-planning or older cities together. Australia is a signatory to its implementation. The global need for this framework for planning is underscored by the thirty-six thousand people who attended the first implementation conference in Quito, Ecuador. Another much more modest event was held in Melbourne last week.
How can we address congestion?
New cities built within existing cities, such an example is the redevelopment of the formerly industrial suburb of Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne. It is planned to be a ’20 minute city’ where all residents can access employment, health care, schooling, shopping, parks and entertainment through 20-minute trips. It is also planned that 80% of these trips will be made by walking or public transport.
Imagine if your commute were to change and you could live in a ‘20 minute city’. No more slogging to work on the motorways, or through the back streets. The public transport options may mean you could leave the car at home. Instantly you might have more per day, for some, it could be as high as one and a half hours a day, or 7.5 hours per week. This is the same as having another day in the week!
Where there is no brownfield land we could develop new ‘20 or 30 minute cities’ through new technologies such as high-speed rail (HSR) linking smart cities to employment centers in the CBD. These cities can be built from scratch and embrace the best technologies, the best integration, and the best habitat creation from around the world. Habitat III is best world practice to support sustainability, connections to the key services and the amenities we need to live well. Songdo in Korea has upheld a key reference smart city though with so many new cities required in so many countries it may become a statesman example shortly.
In existing cities, wise spending on connections between where we live and where we work will reduce the cost of congestion. The associated stress it causes and creates happier lives. The Governments in Victoria, NSW and Queensland are creating METRO train services to increase the quality and scope of services. There are also HSR proposals on the table to connect affordable housing with CBD employment centers.
Sydney has the lowest rate of volunteering time per person in the country. This indicator reflects the cost of congestion as we struggle to travel between our affordable homes and distant employment centers. Investment in decreased congestion is key to more liveable cities.
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