The questions that count

What’s wrong with our cities?

Feb 10, 2012

Property Council of Australia CEO Peter Verwer looks at the challenges of planning long-term within a short-term political cycle


Despite the postcard pics and tourism ads, Australia is overwhelmingly an urban nation.

Three quarters of us live in cities and more than 80 per cent of our GDP is generated within their boundaries. We love our cities but we are also frustrated by them. We curse our transport congestion, high rental costs, long hospital waiting lists, lack of child care places and aged care facilities. As the population grows and ages, our cities are carrying the majority of the burden.

So will that ever change?

The Property Council of Australia believes it’s time to stop the ad hoc approach to building our cities and come up with a long term strategy which is inclusive of the community and agreed to by all tiers of government on all sides.

The ultimate problem is the short term decision making by governments with three or four year terms when what every city needs is bi-partisan commitment to 20 year plans.

The PCA joined with a number of industry groups in 2010 to call for a national approach to urban developments and have been working to see this realised ever since. You can read their joint statement here.

Despite dozens of reports, inquiries and academic studies, governments in Australia have dropped the ball when it comes to urban policy. Pressured by interest groups and pressured by community polling, decisions are made without much forethought.

An example of this is the NSW Government’s decision to open up rural areas for urban expansion — against all the advice from urban policy experts.

Peter Verwer, CEO of the PCA, believes now is the time to make urban policy the next revolution to save our cities.

“ We need to better understand that cities and productivity are indivisible,” he says.

“Well designed and managed cities can help Australia grow faster while maintaining a low rate of inflation.”

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Ross Gittins recently wrote on why cities are important on a social, financial and evolutionary basis.

That’s why the Property Council – representing those who build and manage the big projects – wants the Federal Government to recognise the importance of our cities by linking funding to a state’s commitment to these long-term plans.

The PCA believes Australia needs to work out what infrastructure we will need, and how we will pay for it.

“We need our residential areas to be connected to services and jobs, says Peter Verwer. “And we can’t forget that our cities are places to live – not just a collection of buildings and roads. Reforming the way our cities work will not only improve the quality of life of the people who live in them – it will boost productivity, stimulate jobs growth, and increase our prosperity.”

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