Cities Matter

Australia's capital cities account for 64 per cent of the nation's GDP, house over two-thirds of Australia's workforce, have supplied 1.5 million people with new jobs in the past decade, educate 80 per cent of all tertiary students in the country and are forecast to house another 10 million Australians by 2056 - 72 per cent of all future population growth.

Get it right for our capital cities and you'll get it right for the nation.

Unfortunately other levels of government have been slow to recognise the growing importance of Australian cities and the previous Federal Government's Major Cities Unit was shamefully abolished by the Abbott Government.

But finally, we have a Prime Minister who understands what can be achieved when cities are made national priorities and who supports innovative industries and public transport.

When I became Lord Mayor, 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. Sustainable Sydney 2030 was the result and is the cornerstone of everything 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 actively encourage design excellence in private development and our own public projects. 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 85 national and international awards.

It's all contributed to Sydney's growing reputation and international profile for city design and liveability.

And while there are inevitably dissenters, our local government area is now 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 - most located in our village areas.

Sydney city is undergoing a huge period of accelerated growth and investment. Based on current trends, $30 billion to $40 billion will be invested in development across our local government area over the next decade. The value of developments the City is assessing has tripled in the last few years - last year we approved a record $3.9 billion worth of residential, commercial and hotel developments.

This week, we've heard some argue that building heights are holding our city back - they aren't. While I think there's room for higher limits in some areas, and City staff are investigating options for increasing heights where they don't compromise the ground level experience of the city, contemporary trends suggest very tall slender towers are becoming outdated for commercial workspaces and record levels of investment show there's strong interest in the current market.

Where we come unstuck is congestion - it already costs our economy $5 billion a year and by 2020 it will soar to $8 billion.

After 16 frustrating years of inaction on transport by the previous NSW Government, the City did our own research with the world's best minds in transport and city design to develop a transport policy.

The answer is not more roads - experience across the world is that new roads only lead to more congestion. When workers from Western Sydney travel to the city centre, about 90 per cent use public transport. They need vastly improved public transport networks, not new toll roads, which with end-of-trip parking factored in, could cost up to $240 a week per commuter.

Successful global cities are environmentally sustainable, guided by the principles of design excellence with efficient transport options so people can move around easily, they are actively serviced with community infrastructure, parks and green spaces with a rich variety of choices and activities, offer a lively social and cultural life and a safe and diverse night-time culture.

As custodians 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.

This is because places that are good for people to live are also good places to work and do business.

The City of Sydney has a strong track record in delivering high-quality development that supports our economy while creating lasting benefits for our community, but we can't do it alone.

In our three tiered system of governance each level of government has a role to play. It's time for a new era of co-operation and co-ordination between City, State and Federal Governments to ensure Australia becomes more competitive, innovative and productive.

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