Walk 21 Sydney Conference

(9am, Tuesday 21 October 2014, Luna Park)

Thank you, [MC]. Good morning, everyone.

Welcome to this conference and for the hundreds of experts here from the US, Asia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand - a very warm welcome to Sydney!

The City is pleased to co-host this Walk 21 Conference with the NSW Government. It's terrific to have this opportunity to be inspired by what other cities are doing to improve the health, liveability and walkability of their cities and to also share our work with you.

It's fitting that this conference is being held in Sydney in 2014. The results of our work over the last ten years to make our city more liveable and easier to navigate are now on show and we've started a new program of work to continue that progress.

More than 90 per cent of trips within Sydney's city centre are made on foot every day.

Walkability is a key consideration for our city planning and urban renewal design, and we are committed to delivering infrastructure that works for pedestrians.

The City is currently investing around $50 million to improve the appearance and safety of popular walking routes in central Sydney and a further $8 million on a new, accessible wayfinding network to make it easier for people to find landmarks and other places of interest.

A HISTORY OF SUBURBIA

After five years' of living in London, my husband and I moved back to Sydney and resolved to buck the trend and settle in the then down-at-heel inner city suburb of Redfern with our two very young children.

In Australia at the time, people with families were leaving the inner city in droves blaming the relentless traffic, a lack of amenities and the shocking state of local parks.

Sydney then was modelled as a suburban, car dependent society and because I believed that things could be better, I first ran for council, then served as a Member of State Parliament and for the past decade as Lord Mayor of Sydney - a city with a resident population approaching 200,000 people and a million people who move around our city each day.

CITY OF VILLAGES

I was elected Lord Mayor on a platform I called the City of Villages - a conviction that we could grow our local economy by adding vitality and interest to the areas just outside the city centre, reflecting the approach of cities such as New York and London, which have long been celebrated for their distinctive, character-filled village areas.

Once elected we immediately started work to improve and celebrate the unique heritage and characters of our urban villages, creating neighbourhoods where people could walk to most of the services, parks and shops they needed.

Our work included removing overhead power lines, widening and paving footpaths, planting new gardens and trees, introducing traffic calming measures and sustainable LED lighting designed for pedestrians.

Through our Liveable Green Network we developed new routes for continuous, connected green corridors, providing dedicated pedestrian routes and cycle ways. And we created stunning new community facilities and beautiful parks and open spaces people can walk to and we encouraged quirky laneways and small bars and supported the small businesses on our main streets.

The strength of local communities is a key attraction for people choosing where to live, work or visit.

We know that good transport, pedestrian and cycling connections are imperative. Without them, economic growth and liveability are constrained and threatened by congestion.

Outstanding design, parklands and public domain are also vital. The spaces around buildings must connect visually and physically to provide inviting places for people to gather and enjoy.

Our work to strengthen and celebrate our City of Villages over the last ten years has yielded impressive results.

THE RESULTS

Five years ago, less than 50 per cent of our residents lived and worked in our local government area, that figure has now increased to 65 per cent.

We are now one of the fastest growing residential areas in NSW and in the past five years more than 50,000 new jobs have been created in our area and 2,000 new businesses have been opened. This is close to 40 per cent of all jobs growth in metropolitan Sydney in our area alone.

Some of the biggest jobs growth has taken place in our villages.

Pyrmont and Ultimo have seen a 46 per cent growth in jobs with the digital economy leading the way.

Employment in Surry Hills and Redfern grew by 20 per cent. The area has become Sydney's creative heart with almost one in four workers employed by creative businesses.

Glebe, Annandale and Camperdown have seen a 38 per cent jump in jobs and there are now 23 per cent more jobs in Haymarket and Chinatown.

Sydney is also now the most popular city to study in, ahead of 83 other cities including London and New York in this year's Global Cities Index.

And a study just last week has shown Sydney has quickly risen to be the fourth most appealing destination for skilled international workers, behind London, New York and Paris.

These things don't just happen by accident - it takes careful planning and investment. By creating a city where people come first, we've shown how jobs, new businesses, investment and interest can follow.

LIGHT RAIL

It's an exciting time to be in Sydney with the biggest transformation of our city centre yet to come. After decades of congestion and gridlock Sydney's premier street - George Street - is set to be radically reshaped with light rail and a pedestrianised walkable boulevard connecting the harbour with our key transport hub at Central.

Over many years, together with city businesses, we lobbied for state support for this project and it is to the credit of the current Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, that the project is underway - with the City contributing $220 million to ensure it happens and that it reflects our approach to high quality urban design.

It will be a revolution for Sydney, not only for George Street, but also adjoining laneways where we're continuing our work to encourage people to move around our city on foot. I urge you to take a look at Bulletin Place, Angel Place or Kimber Lane to see the work we've already completed in once-forgotten laneways.

CONCLUSION

At the heart of this transformation, is a vision for Sydney as a place where people want to walk because it is quick, easy, safe, enjoyable and interesting.

A man who phoned into a talk back program I was recently listening to reported that he had moved into the inner city from the car-dependent outer suburbs. He could now walk to work and he said it was like getting a new lover.

I am also blessed be - we live in Redfern and I walk into Town Hall as often as I can.

Walkable cities encourage health, promote community and grow the economy. Whether you walk much or not, you benefit from a walkable city.

I hope this conference will inform, inspire and energise us all - as individuals and for our cities.

Thank you.