A tale of three cities
“Let’s completely bomb the whole system!” It was a rallying cry from the Greater Sydney Commission’s Geoff Roberts as he rounded up his address to an enthralled audience at the Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW luncheon on February 15. This was by no means the only highlight of a speech that updated industry professionals on the progress of the Greater Sydney Commission’s vision for a polycentric Sydney and how it would be delivered over the next 20 years.
Mr Roberts is the Commission’s Deputy Chief Commissioner, Economic Commissioner and Interim District Commissioner – Western City.
He took his audience, which included members of the Calibre team, on a journey into a future where traditional planning based on a single, congested Harbour CBD had been turned on its head, with transport, education, jobs and lifestyle blending seamlessly to create vibrant, healthy, prosperous communities.
“It’s always entertaining listening to Mr Roberts present,” Calibre’s Regional Leader NSW Greg Huzij said. “He’s so passionate about the future vision for Sydney’s Three Cities, yet aptly able to detail the economic, social and political drives that have been fundamental in shaping the vision.”
“Geoff is an energetic and inspiring speaker with a clear vision on what the future of Sydney should look like and, more importantly, how we get it there,” Calibre’s Urban Development Sector Lead Toby Tames added.
This was UDIA’s first luncheon for 2018, and guest speakers at future events certainly have a hard act to follow, as Mr Roberts told a tale of not two, but three cities.
The Polycentric Sydney plan, launched last October, will connect Greater Sydney by three cities, with two-thirds of residents able to commute to job and service centres within 30 minutes. The plan, a collaborative effort between the State Government and independent Greater Sydney Commission, sets out a 40-year vision for Sydney's three interconnected cities.
The Commission’s Polycentric Sydney [also known as Three Cities] is a 20-year plan for a sustainable future as Sydney continues to grow. The draft plan was designed to respond to the anticipated eight million residents who will call the city home in 2056, by drawing a roadmap to achieve 725,000 new dwellings and generate 817,000 new jobs.
Mr Robert’s address updated UDIA members on the progress of the plan, and it was clear that he was determined to see Sydney redrawn from a clean slate.
At one point the Deputy Chief Commissioner brought the house down when, after talking about university towns in other countries he declared “Why not have a Harvard at Oran Park! Let’s completely bomb the whole system.”
Given the nature of his audience, he was already preaching to the choir.
As UDIA president Arthur Ilias said in his introduction: “The Greater Sydney Commission should be commended for its work in redefining Sydney from in essence what was a five fingers model developed along the railway lines that have served us for the past 60 years, to a metropolis of three cities. The Greater Sydney Region Plan is the right vision for our global city.”
Calibre staff impressed
“The Greater Sydney Commission has achieved an extraordinary amount since their inception,” Mr Huzij said. “The alignment between Transport and Planning, whilst implicit, has not previously been distinctly coordinated. The Greater Sydney Regional Plan now provides certainty to the development industry and will aid it in achieving the city’s future projected growth.
“Whilst the vision now establishes a ‘Blue print’, the implementation of this strategy will prove challenging. The Commission’s bold plans for Sydney to become a global metropolis of three cities should also contest the traditional planning and delivery methods, omitting ‘red tape’ bureaucracy where possible, permitting the development industry to become innovative in their delivery of these plans.”
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“The concept of Three Cities interconnected as one Sydney is a breath of fresh air from the longstanding, traditional five finger transport corridor development thinking,” Mr Tames added. “The plan, which includes north-south transport links will transform Sydney into a well interconnected city where people can move more freely. It is about time that Western Sydney got the infrastructure required to allow growth to occur without cluttering the existing infrastructure.
“Creation of local jobs was a clear takeaway message from Mr Roberts’ speech and the Western Sydney Airport will certainly contribute to this. The key to the success of the three interconnected cities is going to be the proactive collaboration of all agencies to getting the job done. How is the Commission incentivising these agencies to cut the red tape and make it happen? The Commission also needs to put in place a system to provide feedback to industry on the progress so we can all see the success and transparency.”
Transit nodes are vital in the west
“If you look at the most successful cities globally and the job conglomeration of the most successful cities globally, you usually get high numbers of high-value jobs along transit nodes,” Mr Roberts said. “So, you can’t have high numbers of jobs along transit nodes in the Third City if you don’t have transit nodes in the Third City. Which is why north, south, east and west rail is so important.
“We [also] need to think about economic corridors in the Second and Third cities. Most of the job growth in downtown cities in the world at the moment happen on the city fringe, not in the downtown area.”
The West has a fan
Western Sydney was obviously close to its Interim District Commissioner’s heart.
“I don’t have favourites, but if I did it would be the Third City,” he said. “The economic corridor that is loosely defined along the central path of the [proposed] north-south railway line. The core element of the Third City’s economic corridor needs to be located around the Aerotropolis [the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek expected to open in 2026]. We’re going to try and bring a defence industry and aerospace industry, multiple industries to town.
“So those three economic corridors are the places you guys should be thinking about adding innovation. Not just in housing supply but in city build outcomes. That’s your core areas. They can stretch north, south, east and west, but in general terms, that’s where they are.”
“We’re the second highest export city in the world in tertiary education. The highest city is London! London has 33 universities. We have six. Is it time for us to bring a Harvard to Sydney. Or an Oxford? Or is it time for UNSW to do a deal with a university like that? Why wouldn’t we want a Harvard at Oran Park? Let’s just completely bomb the whole system!”
There was no accompanying explosion, but his remarks brought down the house.