March 17, 2015
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Dr Tim Williams, CEO Committee for Sydney
Travel can narrow the mind. That is to say, contrary to conventional wisdom, going abroad can remind you less of what is different than of what is exactly the same. Having worked internationally on and for cities, I conclude that cities throw up many of the same challenges – and lunacies – wherever we look. We’re all in this together.
So despite the fact that Sydney’s urban structure and density are profoundly different from a European or indeed an Asian city – though the city is as sprawling as a Phoenix or a Houston – most of the current urban policy issues are the same across the globe, especially with cities experiencing growth.
Sydney’s population is growing fast. Now at over 1.5 per cent per annum. It will more or less double in size in 40 years or so. And like cities everywhere it faces the choice of whether it wishes to go up or go out. Partly because Sydney doesn’t have metropolitan governance – we have 41 councils and no equivalent of Mayor Boris – there is no one to make that choice so in reality we are going both up a bit and out a lot.
Which brings me to ‘Shared Global Urban Lesson 1’: cities flourish best where they have more metropolitan scale self-government so that such strategic choices and trade-offs can be made. This means not just council amalgamations: it means also devolution of some central (or state) government powers to cities/city regions. This is why Australia is looking at the British “city deals” with such interest as Britain seems to be genuinely embracing empowering its cities. A good start would be for Australia to have an agreed national cities policy.
The second shared lesson? City governance in the modern era requires a radical amount of citizen engagement, not just to respond to council initiatives but to help provide policy innovation and problem-solving. City governance in the digital era requires both a bottom up and a top down approach. When I worked for British minister David Miliband we called it “double devolution”. Still relevant and definitely of global appeal.
As is shared lesson 3: citizens and city managers need to understand how their cities are performing in relation to key urban metrics. Technology – sensors, digital platforms, the internet of everyday things – is producing a shedload of data about infrastructure and city performance. Properly structured and managed, such technology and informatics can enable both the individual to “use” their city better and city leaders to manage their city better. But of course, smart cities require smart governance: and that is a lot harder to achieve than buying ICT off a shelf.
Shared lesson 4 follows from this: effective city management, of transport flows for example, may require not new infrastructure but better “sweating” of existing infrastructure, which new technology properly used and managed, can assist us with. So for example “demand management” – for example through a tech-enabled differential road pricing strategy rationing the use of road-space at peak times – can help us reduce congestion without new physical infrastructure.
This brings us seamlessly to shared lesson 5 which is this: there is an international delusion that you can reduce congestion by building or widening roads. You can’t. It just induces new demand. We have globally tested this proposition to destruction, though the news has been slow getting through to some traffic engineers in a city near me.
Shared lesson 6 is that everywhere the aspirational, educated or well-off are heading back to the inner city to live and work, leading to a crisis of unaffordability and indeed gentrification with poorer people and recent migrants now having to live in outer suburbs and edge cities – and no one really has a policy response to this massive global trend.
Inevitably that leads to shared lesson 7: at the heart of success in managing city growth is cross government co-ordination and particularly the integration of land-use and transport planning. I don’t say any of these are easy to implement – but they are essential. The cities applying these lessons – and the recognition that cities collaborate to compete – are the ones who will succeed in the race for investment and talent attraction.
How many of these lessons are we currently implementing in Sydney?
Read the full article online here.