Banner image: Sydney Metro Barangaroo Station looking north
The global population living in urban areas continues to rise. In 2015, around four billion people or 54 per cent lived in urban areas. According to the United Nations, this figure is expected to double by 2050, bringing with it some key challenges in keeping pace with essential infrastructure. By comparison, Australia already has 89 per cent of its people living in urban areas, providing an opportunity for us to lead the way in how we think about cities.
In 2016, Australia’s most populous city was Sydney with 4.7 million people. Up from 3.9 million in 2006, this figure is expected to increase to 8 million by 2056. Sydney is currently playing catch-up to provide the infrastructure needed to support its growth, especially in relation to transport.
Decades of underinvestment in Sydney have now been replaced by a flurry of expenditure in transport infrastructure with a pipeline of AU$51.2 Billion (US$37.9 Billion) over the next four years.
Maximising Benefits for People
Major transport projects have traditionally been designed in relative isolation. This has meant that the benefits of city-shaping infrastructure such as new roads, motorways, light rail networks and heavy rail have not been maximised for people and the places where we live, work, study and play.
Through integrated planning, new transport infrastructure can enable more vibrant and productive communities and places. It can reduce travel time between home and work, make it easier to access services, be designed to improve general health and wellbeing, support increased levels of housing, and boost economic prosperity through agglomeration benefits.
The importance of integrated planning becomes even more acute as we can no longer lean on new settlements at the fringe of sprawling cities to cater for growth. Ensuring that people have access to jobs and services increases the reliance on our established urban areas to absorb growth. This in turn puts pressure on local infrastructure and a challenge to ‘do density well’ by enhancing and not losing the character of the places we love.
An integrated planning and delivery approach means starting with place.
Integrated Land Use, Transport and Infrastructure Planning
For the first time in living memory, Sydney has an integrated land use, transport and infrastructure planning framework for the next 40 years. This whole of government approach embeds a firm expectation on having a focus on place to improve the city’s liveability, sustainability and productivity.
To add gravitas, the framework has been overseen by the independent Greater Sydney Commission and endorsed fully by government. It contains place-focused infrastructure priorities that are reflected in independent advice to government from Infrastructure NSW, which is responsible for assurance for all major infrastructure projects, with the vast majority of recommendations supported by government.
The Greater Sydney Region Plan, the Future Transport Strategy and the State Infrastructure Strategy 2018 are centred around the establishment of three cities to manage growth and achieve the goal of people living within 30 minutes of where they work, study and play.
This strategic direction requires all government agencies to adopt a focus on place when delivering enabling infrastructure. The promotion of Growth Infrastructure Compacts and City Deals are a positive demonstration of intent.
Growth Infrastructure Compacts will involve developing a business case including every element of a place’s infrastructure requirements for an overall funding decision from government – followed by integrated delivery, rather than the status quo of uncoordinated planning and delivery. City Deals, such as in Western Sydney, are being used to better coordinate infrastructure planning and delivery across three tiers of government.
The integrated planning approach in Sydney acknowledges that treating transport projects in isolation risks failing our people and places. As an industry, we must remember that there is no such thing as a transport project.
A Focus on Place Requires an Integrated Approach
Increased integration across disciplines – including planning, transport, property, power, water and advisory – is needed to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved as part of delivering essential infrastructure in the future. I have identified four place-focused mindsets that city leaders are increasingly adopting across disciplines to maximise the benefits of place:
1. Taking a Precinct View. The success of an over-station development or landmark building, for example, is diminished if it sits in isolation and in conflict with the local environment. Its success relies on placemaking throughout the adjoining precinct to make visitors feel welcome. How the shops, houses, transport and urban domain knit together has a huge effect on place. Additionally, this requires careful consideration of how people access the precinct. By providing the right infrastructure, we can help nudge people in the right direction. For example, protected cycleways and end of trip facilities can be used to encourage cycling to and through the precinct.
2. Recognising That Streets are Places too. There is a timely and growing recognition that streets are important for place. They do more than just move people and goods. Streets represent a large area of public space and can play an important role in the social and economic health of communities. The Movement and Place framework, championed in Sydney’s transport and planning strategies, provides a common language for planners, engineers and the community to identify the best use of streets for both place and people.
3. Focusing on People, not Systems. The emergence of the Internet of Things and smart cities provides a great opportunity to improve the way our cities and places work for people. However, there is a risk that the application of digital technologies is solely focused on achieving efficiencies in back-end systems. This leaves untapped potential to empower people to engage with their cities and places, enabled through open data platforms. For example, live information on the availability of local services can lead to increased use and residents can more easily provide their views on key local issues.
4. Placemaking is Ongoing. Great places actively engage with the community. Planning, designing and constructing are important components of placemaking, but it doesn’t stop there. How places are managed is a critical and an ongoing part of building local communities and bringing places alive. As such it should be considered part of the planning and design stages. Governments, property managers, transport operators and community groups that manage places are key to their ongoing success.
Sydney’s transport leaders are increasingly taking a place-focused approach to maximise the benefits of new infrastructure. Recent examples include integrating Metro railway stations with over-station development and integrated precinct planning. There is also an urban renewal focus to the delivery of changing land use and transport services in Newcastle.
The Future Requires Strong Leadership
It will be increasingly important to focus on place in the future. Our cities are being required to absorb more people into our existing urban areas, adding to the complexity of delivering new housing and precincts. Emerging technologies such as connected and automated vehicles will also require city leaders to consider how we want to embrace opportunities to improve our places and improve outcomes for people, as discussed in WSP’s White Paper New Mobility Now.
WSP is ideally placed to advise governments and industry on emerging mobility opportunities with worldwide expertise in transport planning; connected and automated vehicles; the masterplanning of complex, integrated urban precincts; and applying Movement and Place frameworks.
We recently provided support to the NSW Government to develop the Future Transport Strategy as part of an integrated team. Our expertise in emerging mobility technologies and transport planning is reflected throughout.
WSP’s mobility team is advising transportation agencies in Australia, UK and the USA on new policies and technologies. We are also involved in trials of connected and automated vehicles in Melbourne and Perth as well as Ann Arbor, USA.
An example of WSP’s expertise in resolving the complex challenges associated with the regeneration of existing urban precincts is our work on the Westmead precinct in Western Sydney. The masterplan integrates the transport network into the hospital, research and education precinct to spur innovation, drive progress and help the local community thrive for years to come.
The WSP Advisory service provides a strategic overlay to provide an integrated service across technical expertise in Transport, Property, Power, Water, Environment, Resources and Digital.
As an industry, we must remember . . . there is no such thing as a transport project.