One issue guaranteed to spark animated discussion at a barbecue or pub in Sydney is whether our city can accommodate more people and, if it can, exactly where they will live.
Depending on who you talk to, Sydney is too spread out, or too dense, with increasing numbers in apartments without the backyards familiar to children of the 20th century.
The truth is that by international standards, Sydney has a relatively low population density.
International think-tank the City Mayors Foundation rates Sydney’s population density 113th among major global cities, with about 2100 people per square kilometre.
London has 5100 people per square kilometre and Tokyo/Yokohama 4750.
But whatever the international comparisons, there’s no doubt Sydney, which was initially designed around low-density housing, is experiencing growing pains.
Now is the time for governments of all levels to think more seriously about how we can manage those growth pressures over coming decades in ways that will allow us to maintain and improve our quality of life.
As an optimist, I say that is possible — if we get it right.
Getting it right means putting livability at the centre of policy development.
It also means accepting that successful cities are inclusive cities.
The process itself must engage with people and communities, rather than impose change on them.
We must ensure that jobs growth occurs closer to where people live.
As it stands, too many people who work in the burgeoning services sector in and around the Sydney CBD can’t afford inner-Sydney property prices.
They have to commute long distances to work from their homes in the suburbs.
Indeed, it is a tragedy that many Sydney parents spend more time on the road travelling to and from work than they spend playing with their children.
Shadow Minister for Transport & Infrastructure Anthony Albanese.
To address this, governments at all levels, along with the business sector, must work together to promote job growth closer to where people live, particularly in Western Sydney.
There is no doubt the Western Sydney Airport provides an opportunity as an employment catalyst.
But if its benefits are to be maximised, we must get the planning right.
That includes ensuring rail access from day one, including on the north-south corridor so that people from Rouse Hill, St Marys and Campbelltown have access to the high-value jobs that will be generated.
To this point in Sydney’s history, our transport corridors have been developed from the CBD outwards, like spokes on a wheel.
The next stage of Sydney’s infrastructure development will require better links within the Western Sydney region to enhance its ability to deliver economic growth as a discreet entity.
As residents of Australia’s biggest and most dynamic city, Sydneysiders have every reason to feel positive about our economic prospects.
But our other great challenge in coming decades will be to manage growth and increased density without surrendering the human values that have served us so well in the past two centuries.
While markets drive ongoing economic development, the fact is that unregulated markets have no conscience.
Allowing a free-for-all will produce bad outcomes.
Communities will accept increases in density if developments are of good quality.
Mistakes continue to be made with the spread of new suburbs with insufficient consideration of transport access and social infrastructure such as schools, health facilities and recreational areas.
Developments which increase density without any consideration about where kids will play or go to school are a prelude to future social problems.
The issue of housing affordability just has to be addressed.
It is time to accept that absurdly high property prices have given property investors an economic advantage over first-home buyers.
That’s not in the public interest.
We must give young people the fair go they deserve by addressing housing affordability through modest changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements.
Governments should also put an end to their obsession with selling off public housing in inner-city areas like Millers Point to pad their own coffers, thereby pushing residents away from their community links.
One of Sydney’s greatest assets is its diversity. Great cities are not isolated enclaves of advantage and disadvantage. They are diverse, vibrant and above all inclusive.
The Sydney of the future shouldn’t be one in which you can automatically tell a person’s wealth from their postcode.
This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, October 18, 2017: http://bit.ly/2x3MPUa