Urban Planning, Population, and Sydney’s Suburbia

I think it’s fairly safe to say that urban planning has never been a particular political interest of mine, ranking in importance somewhere between [yeah, sorry, couldn’t think of two particularly funny not-important things. But you get the point]. Even when some friends of mine over here expressed their passion, my eyes merely glazed over, as I smiled, nodded, and thought of other things.

Yet a confluence of a two factors recently changed this. Firstly, I had a conversation with my (now old) work’s Chief of Staff, who spoke of how government subsidisation of suburbia led to the dearth of communities (ironically in defense of Prince Charles’ work on this matter). Secondly, was the fact that one of the more enjoyable blogs I read often lists all sorts of fun and exciting events in New York – the kind we would never have in Sydney. And this got me thinking.

Now, it is clear that in Sydney we have state-promoted suburbia. This is evidenced in two main ways. Firstly, the fact that government subsidies of means of transport and infrastructure generally artificially lessen the costs of living further from Sydney’s more urban areas. Secondly is the fact that restrictions on development by local government authorities prevent higher density residential housing.

As someone who once ran for local government on an anti-development stance (ahh the follies of youth), it is only now I see the negative effects of such policies. Because by using the state to force people to live further apart from each other, you stifle both community and cultural life. Without people living in close proximity, it is nigh on impossible to arrange cultural, political, social gatherings – people live just too far away for a critical mass to develop. Who would travel an hour to attend a meeting? Think about it; how much more likely are you to attend an event if it is a 10 minute metro ride away, than a 45 minute car journey.
By freeing residential restrictions, and allowing natural communities to develop, I suspect you would see a lot more community oriented gatherings occur, and more socio-cultural activities taking place.

The obvious other issue that needs to be addressed here, however, is that of population. For any city to be truly great it needs a certain critical mass of inhabitants to make it so. And, to be frank, in Sydney we don’t have it just yet. Compare the populations of the great cities of the world – New York: 17 million, Paris: 10 million, London: 8 million. And so on. If Sydney is to become truly great, and escape being simply a parochial backwater, then our population must expand. 4 million is nothing, and, unless something changes, we will continue along this self-perpetuating spiral of people leaving, and will never become the World City we deserve to be.

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4 Responses to “Urban Planning, Population, and Sydney’s Suburbia”

  1. Ralph Buttigieg Says:

    G’day,

    If we had a real free market is Sydney I doubt there would be the concentration you seek. Firstly, without excessive regulation and a freer land supply housing would be a lot cheaper. Also without transport subsidies taxes would be less, I think State Rail gets a billion dollars a year. All in all, people could afford to pay more for transport.

    I expect we would have more good quality highways with tolls and secondary business districts like Parramatta and Chatswood would have far more commercial development. More people would work closer to home rather then forced to work in the City.

    Think LA not NY

    ta

    Ralph

  2. Martin Slavicek Says:

    It’s encouragable to see a discussion on Australia’s urban failure enter mainstream consciousness.

    However, the new direction from the old way must be in thinking outside-the-box of existing cities. Australia should be more than just 6 major cities, and NSW should be more than just an acronym for Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong.

    Looking at Europe’s urbanity is the perfect precedent, and stark contrast.

    Germany with a population 4 times greater than Australia’s, has only 3 cities with populations greater than 1 million. The Netherlands with a population of over 16 million only has one city, Amsterdam, close to 1 million.

    Examples of this urban typology should be initiated into new towns and new cities, making Australia’s environment for living more cost-effective, more ecological, and more intelligent.

  3. Abi Says:

    I was always under the impression that the state government was trying to prevent urban sprawl – especially in the last 10 years of so. There’s an abundance of available land on the fringes of Sydney but as the green-left elements of the government hate urbanisation and families they pressure the government to hold off releasing this land for subdivision, driving up housing prices and breaking up working families (sorry, couldnt help myself!).

    Once again – it’s the socialists fault.

  4. Jolene Medovich Says:

    Thanks this made for interesting reading. I adore your wordpress theme!

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