Busting Myths at the Festival or Urbanism

Last night I spoke at the launch of the Festival of Urbanism at the University of Sydney. The Festival will host a series of talks and conversations on planning and making our cities.

I spoke about the myth that Australians are averse to high-density living and still preference a quarter-acre block, serviced by roads and mega-malls for shopping.

Contrary to that myth, Australians now want a mixture of housing choices. Many want to live in a semi-detached home or an apartment in locations that are close to family or friends, work and shops. That's important, because high-density living is more sustainable and should be encouraged, but it must be matched with the necessary amenity.

If high-density is to work it needs to be actively serviced with community infrastructure such as schools and public transport, parks and green spaces, a lively social and cultural life and a safe and diverse night-time culture.

The facts that Australia has one of the biggest ecological footprints and highest rates of obesity in the OECD should be of concern to government leaders. We must support the development of high-density living by increasing the public works that make our densely-populated areas liveable.

You can read the full text of my speech below.


FESTIVAL OF URBANISM
September 1, 2015
University of Sydney

I'm pleased to be able to join you for this Festival of Urbanism.

The renowned urbanist, Jane Jacobs believed in dense, mixed use and multicultural urban environments. She saw the community benefit and beauty in the energetic nature of people-focussed city streets that enabled many cultures, many uses and a diversity of transport options to create rich experiences and dynamic places and neighbourhoods.

She was a strong advocate that a thriving city could only be built through public participation and civic activism.

Like Jane, I am a committed urbanist - both philosophically and politically.

As many of you here today would agree - urbanisation is one of the most effective and responsible ways to address key challenges of the 21st century.

CITIES AND SUBURBIA

For the first time in history, over half the world's population live in cities, and that proportion is growing. By 2050, it's been estimated it will have risen to about 70 per cent. Despite the mythologising of the land and rural Australia, we have long been a highly urbanised country. Today, two-thirds of our population live in capital cities. It's estimated that by 2031, the number of families in the City of Sydney will increase by 45 per cent.

Our State and Federal Governments however are yet to catch up. Their policies still reflect the idea that a 'good life' is exemplified by quarter-acre block, serviced by radial roads carrying drivers to work in the city and a district mega-mall for shopping.

We know that this head in the sand, 1950's view of the world is wrong!

Australia's capital cities account for 64 per cent of the nation's GDP;

  • They house over two-thirds of Australia's workforce;
  • They've supplied 1.5 million people with new jobs in the past decade;
  • In the four years to 2010, they attracted 85 per cent of highly-skilled migrants;
  • They educate 80 per cent of all tertiary students in the country; and
  • They are forecast to house another 10 million Australians by 2056. That's 72 per cent of all future population growth.

The Grattan Institute's 2011 report on housing is still relevant - it identified a mismatch between the housing Australians say they want and the housing we have.

Contrary to myth and assumption, Australians want a mixture of housing choices. Many want to live in a semi-detached home or an apartment in locations that are close to family or friends, or to shops.

Urbanisation is critical because we can't keep developing our food basin and we shouldn't sentence people to a life in the outskirts of suburbia, cut off from effective transport and services. The facts that Australia has one of the biggest ecological footprints and highest rates of obesity in the OECD should also be of concern to government leaders.

The State and Federal Government's lack of interest ignores the lifestyle choice of the majority of Australians and the realities of the information and knowledge revolutions taking place in our cities.

Australia's Council of Capital City Lord Mayors — representing the cities of Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney— say: "Get it right for the cities, and you'll get it right for the nation."

I believe the key to a successful global city is one that is environmentally sustainable, is actively serviced with community infrastructure and parks and green spaces with a rich variety of choices and activities; a lively social and cultural life and a safe and diverse night-time culture. A city guided by the principles of design excellence.

As custodians of this global city we not only need to be providing floor space for business, hotels for visitors and homes for our residents, we also have a responsibility to create places that our community can connect and be offered diversity of experiences, whether physically, emotionally, intellectually or virtually.

Good cities need the armature of public works that gives them the liveability that in turn attracts the mobile global workforce. Places that are good for people to live are also good places to work and do business.

SUSTAINABLE SYDNEY 2030

When I became Lord Mayor in 2004, I wanted a plan that could continue no matter who was in Town Hall, Macquarie St or Canberra. So we undertook the largest ever community consultation in the City's history with residents and businesses, government and statutory authorities, visitors, and educational and cultural institutions.

97 per cent of people told us they wanted us to take action on climate change. They also said they want a city with a strong economy, one that supports the arts and connects its people to each other and the world.

Sydney 2030 is the cornerstone of everything we do and has won wide support and worldwide acclaim.

At the City we consult and research, we commit and then we do.

Since 2004, we've completed over 250 major projects including parks, playgrounds, childcare, pools, libraries, theatres, community and cultural spaces. We're now working on 370 projects as part of our ten-year plan.

We've approved around $25 billion worth of high-quality development and significant urban renewal is underway.

We actively encourage design excellence in private development and our own public projects. We are advised by our Design Advisory Panel, made up of eminent practitioners, and we have an innovative design excellence program that requires a competitive design process for all major buildings—a world first.

Through this program, over 100 projects have been awarded bonus floor space for design excellence, and a number have been recognised internationally. In the last ten years, our public infrastructure projects have won over 80 national and international awards.

This remarkable track record has led to our growing reputation and international profile for city design and liveability.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The greatest threat cities face is climate change but unfortunately, in Australia, we have not had the political leadership we need on this issue.

The Federal Government's target of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030 on 2005 levels places us at the back of the pack internationally. We can and must do more.

Australia emits more greenhouse gases per capita than any other developed nation and stronger targets are a key part of encouraging other nations to do more.

The community wants us to do more. Recent polling by the Climate Institute found two-thirds of Australians want the Federal Government to do more on climate change, and just under sixty per cent to be a world leader in climate change solutions.

Our own work at the City shows that more ambitious targets are both possible and economically responsible.

The City's Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy sets the goal of a 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions based on 2006 levels for both our own operations and the Local Government Area.

The target is backed by a suite of innovative Master Plans.

We have an Energy Efficiency Master Plan to reduce energy usage by over 33 per by 2030 - almost half our target - and save residents and businesses over $200 million.

Our Renewable Energy Master Plan shows how Sydney could be powered 100 per cent by renewable energy by 2030.

Other master plans have been developed for advanced waste treatment, climate change adaptation and local water provision.

We are making good progress towards our targets.

We've reduced our own greenhouse emissions by 21 per cent - next year, it will reach 26 per cent - and in 2007 we became the first carbon neutral local government in Australia.

Greenhouse emissions across our Local Government Area have fallen by 12 per cent at the same time as we have enjoyed a period of strong economic growth. 40 per cent of jobs in NSW over the past five years have been created in our local government area, and $3.9 billion of new development was approved last year.

Our carbon intensity - the amount of greenhouse emissions for each dollar of economic output - has fallen by almost 30 per cent.

Partnerships are essential to reach our goals. Our Better Buildings Partnership includes leading public, private and institutional landlords that collectively own 60 per cent of Sydney's CBD office space.

The group works collaboratively to improve the sustainability of their buildings, so far delivering a 31 per cent reduction in emissions since 2006 with a saving of $25 million.

The City is an active member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, established in 2005 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate risks and impacts. The C40 group is made up of 75 cities, contributes 25 per cent of the global GDP, represents 1 in 12 people worldwide and has taken over 8,000 actions to combat climate change.

TRANSPORT

Like their shameful policy on climate change, the Federal Government is way off course in its woeful attempt to address the urgent needs of Australian capital cities. Rather than investing in sorely-needed public transport, it is funding roads like the $18 billion WestConnex in Sydney that will only increase congestion.

It's back to the 1950s, with a vengeance!

Congestion already costs Sydney $5 billion a year; by 2020, that will soar to $8 billion. But experience across Australia and the world is that new roads only bring more cars, and more congestion, so the "roads cure" is a myth that needs busting - for the sake of our climate and the sake of our city.

When workers from Western Sydney travel to the city centre for work, about 90 per cent use public transport. What they need is vastly improved public transport, not new toll roads which - with end-of-trip parking factored in, could cost up to $240 a week per commuter.

After 16 frustrating years of inaction on transport by the previous State Government, we did our own research with the best minds in transport and city design, including internationally renowned urbanist Jan Gehl, to develop a transport policy to address worsening congestion.

Now most of our transport policies are reflected in the current Government's own transport strategy.

It's hard for political game-playing to compete with common sense, research and best practise!

The key project is the $1.6 billion, 12-kilometre light rail line, connecting Randwick and Kingsford in the south-east with Circular Quay. The City has committed $220 million to the public domain elements of the project.

Within our own jurisdiction we initiated a separated, destination-based, bike network to provide a viable transport option for those who want to ride, and we are improving pedestrian links and battling for pedestrians to be given better priority over through traffic.

CULTURE AND ARTS

Each year the City invests more than $34 million in the cultural life of our city through sponsorship of internationally-renowned festivals and events, and in public art that surprises and delights, including our Eora Journey, a cultural trail that recognises the continuing Aboriginal presence in our city.

Millions of people watch our festivals and events - New Year's Eve fireworks and Chinese New Year Festival - the biggest outside of Asia - just to name a few.

In the next ten years we'll invest $500 million on a range of cultural initiatives, including new facilities.

Our campaign to allow small bars in NSW is a classic example of city leadership succeeding in the face of entrenched government policy.

Despite vitriolic opposition from vested liquor interests which had held the major parties to ransom for decades, I gave notice of a private members bill in NSW Parliament to change the law and, along with a grass-roots movement Raise the Bar, shined a spotlight on the overwhelming community support for small bars in NSW. Despite former AHA President John Thorpe's insisting that, "People in Sydney don't want to sit in a bar and drink chardonnay and read a book", the Government was forced to change the law and we've seen a small bar revolution.

City governments are better placed to support growing creative industries than other levels of government because we understand that a rich cultural life is not peripheral, but vital to a strong, thriving and prosperous city.

We have provided in our own properties, for subsidised live-work spaces, creative hubs and showrooms for our young creatives and tech start-ups.

THE CITY TODAY

Since 2004, our work has fundamentally changed our city and contributed to spectacular growth - boosting the economy.

Sydney is a major driver of the national economy - the City's 26 square kilometres generate over $108 billion in revenue to the State and Federal governments. It accounts for almost one-fourteenth of Australia's total economy, and almost a quarter of the entire State of NSW.

Sydney is the cradle of job growth in the finance, creative, tech start up and business services sector as well as a major tourist and business destination.

It's significant that Sydney is beginning to be recognised as an innovative city. In a recent ranking of over 200 international cities by the consultancy 2ThinkNow, Sydney jumped several places, out-ranking Melbourne for the first time to be placed 17th in the top 20 innovative cities.

Our local government area is one of the State's fastest-growing residential areas and in the five years leading up to 2011, 2,000 new businesses opened and more than 50,000 new jobs were created across the LGA. Much of these jobs were located in our village areas.

Sydneysiders, once averse to high-density living, are discovering its benefits when it includes convenient access to employment, improved infrastructure, quality open space, easy access to local shops and a rich cultural life and I am very pleased to officially open your Festival of Urbanism.

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