Jun 27, 2012

Helping Our Cities Meet the Future – Address to Built Environment Meets Parliament – Canberra

It is always a pleasure to be part of this important annual conversation hosted by Built Environment Meets Parliament – or BEMP. 

Before we get down to business, a fact crossed my path recently that stopped me in my tracks.

As professionals in the business of cities, all of you here today would be aware that sometime within the last year, the world became predominantly urban.

In other words, more citizens of the world now lay down their heads to sleep in a city than outside one.

But recent figures by the London School of Economics predict this percentage will grow to a remarkable 75 percent by 2050, or in just 38 years time.

To put this in perspective, let’s go back 38 years to 1974.

  • Product scanning occurred for the first time – on a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum
  • ABBA won Eurovision with Waterloo
  • Shirley Strachan became lead vocalist of Skyhooks
  • Countdown started screening on the ABC
  • The first credit card – the Bankcard – was introduced
  • And Gough Whitlam was PM.

1974 was not that long ago.

In the context of civilisations and cities it’s simply the blink of an eye.

This extraordinary pace of urbanisation means nations are facing a period of unprecedented change.

How the world’s cities adapt to this change poses an enormous challenge to governments and public policy leaders.

In Australia we have already reached that 75 percent milestone.

That’s why the Federal Labor Government’s decision to re-engage with our major cities has been the right one.

When we came to office, the well-being and future of our cities barely rated a mention.

Despite the best efforts of urban advocates such as Whitlam, Uren, Hawke and Keating, federal engagement with our cities was non-existent.

This was extraordinarily short-sighted, given that our major cities are hubs of commerce and innovation and generate 80 percent of our national wealth.

That is why we, as a nation, must get the urban matrix right.

NATION BUILDING

A little over a month ago, I had the privilege of delivering the inaugural Property Council of Australia Nation Building Oration.

In my address, I emphasised the Government’s mission to build the nation and provide the critical infrastructure and transport links that will allow us to advance and grow.

I spoke about the importance of having a long-term vision and the need to break the nexus between the election cycle and the infrastructure investment cycle.

I also spoke of the historic regulatory reform agenda we have pursued in the transport sector.

One of the most exciting areas for positive change is our national approach to the reinvigoration of our cities.

As our top designers, engineers, builders, architects, planners and property specialists, I know that you are all committed to the well-being of our cities.

Cities have always had a magnetic pull.

Since ancient times, people have been drawn to them for the opportunities they offer.

While we share some of the challenges of the cities of long ago, what has changed is our planning capacity and our technological expertise.

As this morning’s panel members emphasised, a credible, legitimate planning system must be based on a clear mandate and have the backing of all players — community, business and government — if it is to achieve real and sustainable success.

That’s just what the Australian Government, with your help, has been striving tirelessly to achieve since 2007.

Together we are assembling the pieces of the jigsaw.

In our modern age, these include the use of digital tools and the opportunities to harness new technology to enhance the planning, design and construction of our built environment. 

STATE OF AUSTRALIAN CITIES

Since we met 12 months ago, the Government has been active in pursuing our urban agenda outlined in Our Cities, Our Future.

This has been enthusiastically received.

Evidence of this has been the response to the State of Australian Cities series.

The 2010 and 2011 editions have been collectively downloaded more than 1.3 million times. I am pretty sure these best seller figures are rare for a government publication.

The 2012 report will incorporate the first tranche of the 2011 Census data.

It will contain several new categories such as crime levels, community safety perceptions and rising city temperatures.

This will provide us with a very comprehensive understanding of the nature and rate of change in our cities.

URBAN POLICY FORUM

BEMP has led a national exchange of ideas between stakeholders and governments.

In Our Cities, Our Future, we expressed our determination to strengthen that dialogue.

I am therefore pleased to report that earlier this year I convened the first meeting of the Urban Policy Forum.

The Forum includes representatives from across the sector and many of you will be here today such as Sue Holliday, Kirsty Kelly, Megan Motto, Peter Verwer and David Parken.

The role of the forum is to advise the Government on the implementation of our urban policy – in short, to make sure we get it right.

The forum is working directly on two important pieces of work.

Firstly, in the formulation of our active transport policy, in other words, improving opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists.

And secondly, helping craft a set of common indicators that cities can use to set targets to improve productivity, sustainability and liveability.

LIVEABLE CITIES

In another initiative promoting good planning and urban design, I announced in April that 24 projects had secured funding under the $20 million Liveable Cities program.

I was thrilled to hear that major improvements underway along the river foreshore in Parramatta won a major award last night at the Australian Awards for Urban Design here in Canberra at the National Portrait Gallery.

Those improvements are part of Parramatta’s ‘River City’ vision, which received $3.75 million from the Prime Minister Julia Gillard in April, the first grant announced in our Liveable Cities program.

Other successful projects in the Liveable Cities program include:

  • Australia’s first large-scale, low-carbon trigeneration network at Green Square in the City of Sydney
  • An affordable housing project in Queensland’s Logan City to cater for the area’s growing number of low-income retirees and local hospital staff
  • Construction of a medium-density five-star residential building using sustainable materials in Rockingham in Western Australia, and,
  • In Melbourne and Geelong, four projects that encourage walking between local destinations by making safer and more appealing pedestrian routes.

All 24 projects provide lessons that can be transferred and applied across Australia’s cities.

HOBART

Last Friday, I made the first new announcement under the Liveable Cities program which I foreshadowed in my address to the Property Council.

It is $50 million for an iconic project that will transform Australia’s second oldest city, Hobart.

The funding is for the remediation of the Macquarie Point railyards, just around the river’s edge from Constitution Dock.

The railyards will soon become redundant with the transfer of rail activity to the Brighton Transport Hub.

This will free up some of the most magnificent waterfront land in the country and allow Macquarie Point to reach its true potential.

Uses proposed for the site so far include a tourist and scientific centre for Antarctic activity, better facilities for cruise ships and more five-star hotel accommodation and medium-density housing.

This project sits fairly and squarely with the ambition of the Federal Government’s urban policy, to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.

It will unlock at least $1 billion worth of economic activity across the 8.4 hectare site and finally reconnect Hobart’s CBD with one of the country’s most majestic waterways.

It is hard to overestimate the potential of this announcement and the value of it for the people of Hobart and indeed the nation.

Macquarie Point can now become not just a generator of income and jobs, but a remarkable new space for locals and visitors which – if done well – can rival the most beautiful waterfront precincts in the world.

Cities must be able to adapt and change with the times.

The closure of the railyards provides a golden opportunity for Hobart.

This Federal assistance means Hobart can capture that opportunity and make it work not just for today, but for generations to come.

URBAN DESIGN PROTOCOL

COAG’s criteria for capital city planning systems included one aimed at encouraging world class urban design and architecture.

In support of that goal, in November I released the plain English, no jargon Urban Design Protocol, Creating Places for People.

The protocol is a ‘how-to’ guide and check list for decision makers and professionals whose work affects the built environment.

It can also be used by members of the public who care about the design of their local community.

Forty organisations have embraced the Protocol as official Champions.

Again, many of these organisations are present here today at BEMP, including the Property Council, Green Building Council, and the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors.

Many state, territory and local governments are now looking at how they can incorporate the Protocol into their guidelines and planning instruments.

INDUSTRY INITIATIVES

I was delighted earlier this year to launch the first ever national rating scheme for infrastructure sustainability, created by the Australian Green Infrastructure Council.

The tool can rate everything from railways to ports, sewers, drains and cycleways.

It provides a common language to rank the sustainability of our infrastructure and a common benchmark for monitoring, reporting and improvement.

I commend the Australian Green Infrastructure Council for embedding the Urban Design Protocol into the rating tool.

THE GREEN STAR – COMMUNITIES RATING TOOL

I am delighted therefore today to be building on this with the launch of a Green Star – Communities rating tool on behalf of the Green Building Council of Australia.

Green Star – Communities is an independent, national, voluntary rating tool which will drive more productive, sustainable and liveable communities — the very goals of the National Urban Policy.

It has been developed by the Green Building Council of Australia in close collaboration with industry and all tiers of government including my Major Cities Unit and every land development organisation in the country.

It will help neighbourhoods plan, design and deliver more sustainable precincts and neighbourhoods such as include cutting energy and water consumption and car dependence.

The tool includes 38 national benchmarks that all support the National Urban Policy.

It is an extremely helpful guide for state and local governments and developers, because it provides them with a framework to assess sustainable development.

At the grass roots level it will allow people to make informed decisions about where they choose to live and work.

It is therefore my great pleasure to officially launch the Green Star- Communities rating tool.

CONCLUSION

I referred at the outset to the importance of cities throughout the ages.

To prove my point, let me quote from that most thoughtful of Ancient philosophers, Aristotle.

He was one of the first people in recorded history to conceive of the idea of a city – or polis.

“Men come together in cities in order to live,” said Aristotle, “but they remain there in order to live the good life.”

I like that quote, because “the good life” is a wonderfully simple phrase that underscores everything we hope for as citizens, from our cities.

All of you here today are part of that great effort.

It is a thoroughly collaborative effort.

Thank you.