What makes a city great?
Earlier this month a cluster of 31 apartment blocks in Singapore, stacked on their side and bundled into lots of four in a hexagonal shape, won the prestigious title of the World’s Building of the Year.
Aptly named ‘The Interlace’, the development will become a hub of activity.
It features a number of shared outdoor and communal spaces, including a 50 metre pool, reading rooms, games rooms and a one kilometre running track.
I’m not suggesting a building of this type necessarily for Sydney.
What I do suggest, however, is that investing in the spaces in between – those shared communal spaces – brings people together in a way that makes a city great.
Urban design directly affects how we go about our daily business.
It provides opportunities for people to advance themselves through links to education and employment.
It impacts how well we know our neighbours and whether we can walk and cycle to the train station or our workplace.
Urban design shapes communities.
But our nation is in a state of change.
The four largest capital cities, including Sydney, are expected to double in size by 2031.
Australia’s shift to a knowledge intensive economy has seen a focus on employment opportunities in the CBDS of our cities.
And congestion will cost the nation $53 billion in lost productivity by 2031.
As our cities burgeon, we must pay particular attention to how urban design impacts the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our neighbourhoods.
The Commonwealth must provide leadership and investment, facilitating cooperation between all levels of government, the public and private sector to ensure our cities continue to be great well into the future.
THE CURRENT ENVIRONMENT
Like you I was pleased when Malcolm Turnbull announced the Cities and Built Environment portfolio.
But I’m concerned that the Minister for Cities is working within the Department of Environment, rather than the department that actually drives infrastructure spending – the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.
And while I welcome the renewed interest in cities, I would prefer to see Malcolm Turnbull funding buses and trains, not just riding them.
Labor has a plan to invest in transport and infrastructure.
In October Bill Shorten announced that a Labor Government will create a $10 billion infrastructure financing facility.
This will unlock the billions of dollars available in private sector investment, elevating Infrastructure Australia to an active participant in the infrastructure market.
We will use a mixture of loan guarantees, loans and seed money to mitigate risk.
This will give the private sector the confidence it needs to be involved and opens the door to the $2 trillion held in superannuation, bringing a national pipeline of investment online.
CREATING SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
We announced this policy because we believe society needs investment.
A city can only be as great as its people.
I’m an advocate for the 30 minute City concept, promoted by some policy thinkers including the Bus Industry Confederation.
I do understand some argue for a 20 minute City, but better to under promise and over deliver.
This is the simple idea that most people’s day to day work, educational, shopping or recreational activities should be located within 30 minutes walking, cycling or public commuting from their homes.
Over a year ago at the National Press Club I outlined Labor’s ten-step plan to achieve this.
It attempts to deal with the challenges of our drive-in, drive-out suburbs.
Suburbs in middle Australia are being transformed from lively communities people lived, worked and played, into drive-in, drive-out suburbs where people can afford a home but can’t find a job.
It’s a tragedy that many working parents spend more time travelling to and from work than they do at home with their kids.
The national government also has a role to play in encouraging more Australians to consider greener, healthier ways of getting around.
For instance, in Perth as part of the Citylink project, you can leave your bike at a u-rail on the platform. Bike hubs and lockers are also provided at a number of stations.
Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, which was funded by the former Labor Government, offers secure bike parking at new stations including Tarneit and Wyndham Vale.
Labor’s policy provides a comprehensive approach that builds on success to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.
A week ago temperatures in Sydney soared above 43 degrees.
Heatwaves are Australia’s biggest natural killer.
The Heat Island Effect means city residents, particularly the very young and the elderly, are more susceptible.
In the western suburbs of cities, this is even more pronounced as a consequence of poorly considered urban design.
With co-operation from all levels of government, as well as the development and urban design industries, we can reduce the heat in our cities, improving our levels of personal comfort and making them safer for all.
Many councils are already putting in place strategies to deal with the consequences of climate change.
For instance, the City of Sydney is working to lift its tree canopy in public areas from the existing 15.5 per cent to 23.5 per cent by 2030.
While this shows that sensible urban design can help tackle issues associated with climate change, strategies such as providing more green open spaces also create more active, people-friendly neighbourhoods.
That’s because sustainability and liveability go hand in hand.
When in Government I released the nation’s first Urban Design Protocol.
It sets out the common sense principles which underpin good, sustainable urban design.
It also provides sound, practical advice for avoiding the planning mistakes which too often create neighbourhoods characterised by high crime rates, poor health outcomes, social isolation, joblessness, poor housing and a lack of basic services.
Best practice and sustainable urban design should be considered for any development that bears upon liveability.
This includes projects like Badgerys Creek.
For instance, in the green fields around Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, authorities have been thinking laterally when it comes to mitigating aircraft noise.
Noise has dropped by half by digging 150 symmetrical furrows in a nearby 32 hectare site green belt, which functions also as a recreational park.
To achieve the best for Sydney, we need to embrace world’s best practice from all angles, including design, operation, services, retailing and connectivity.
I mentioned Singapore earlier.
The development there works because it recognises that people aren’t cogs in a machine.
People want quality of life.
Our cities are in a state of change, and government must manage this change.
We can’t expect families to give up their dream of the three bedroom house with the backyard if they gain nothing in return.
That’s where urban design comes in.
By working on the spaces in between we can build sustainable places where vibrant communities thrive and prosper.
This means consideration of green spaces, promoting active living and providing opportunities for people to come together as a community.
To get this right the national government must show leadership and provide investment by working with all levels of government, as well as the private and public sector.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.