The Sustainable Urbanist: Getting Government to Prioritise Infrastructure

More than 80 per cent of Australia’s population live in cities and suburban areas.

Critics say government has failed to control growth, producing what we now see as low-density urban sprawl.

There is estimated to be a $500 billion backlog of needed infrastructure projects in Australian cities.

Development, planning and built environment groups under The Urban Consortium have released a proposal calling for more investment and leadership in urban areas.

The report recommends the creation of a national Urban Infrastructure Fund and a greater role of Infrastructure Australia through the establishment of a new government department focused on city and urban development.

The Planning Institute of Australia Chief Executive Officer, Kirsty Kelly said providing proper infrastructure for our cities is a planning priority for the country.

“Australia needs to better manage population growth and this means finding a way to fund infrastructure required on a number of levels.

“We believe there are two key initiatives that should be taken: Firstly the establishment of the Urban Infrastructure Fund and to support that, we are calling for a stronger role for Infrastructure Australia through the establishment of the Department for Cities and Urban Development.

“The fact that there are ten industry groups making the call for A New Deal for Urban Australia says a whole lot about how important we all believe this is,” said Ms Kelly.

The Urban Coalition is made up of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, Australian Conservation Foundation, Association of Building Sustainability Assessors, Consult Australia, Green Building Council of Australia, Institute of Architects, National Growth Areas Alliance, Planning Institute of Australia, Property Council of Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia.

The recommended Urban Infrastructure Fund would attract institutional and retail investors to free up national and international savings to direct funding towards urban infrastructure.

Monica Richter from the Australian Conservation Foundations said “decades of poorly-managed outer suburban growth has left many Australians living on the fringes of cities, isolated from jobs and services and with inadequate access to decent public transport.”

“Most Australians want to use public transport but too often the nearest tram or a train station is a long way from where they live – or it’s too crowded to get on.

“To create a more dynamic, modern and sustainable economy, we need to invest in infrastructure and services that reduce traffic congestion, support local jobs and ensure sustainable and liveable cities.

“The Urban Coalition is calling for infrastructure investment in projects such as public and active travel transport, low carbon precincts, flood and coastal management, biodiversity protection, community and recreational facilities, and jobs and services closer to where people live.”

RMIT planning lecturer Kathryn Hegarty says there has been poor growth management driven by narrow economic interests has lead to detrimental social results.

However, she believes a new government department dedicated to cities would be pointless window dressing.

Ms Hegarty says the idea of a Urban Infrastructure Fund is a worthy idea to consider but believes if the government prioritised infrastructure projects it would not be necessary.

“We seem to be assuming government ‘can’t afford’ to do this kind of infrastructure any more, but we pay a lot of business welfare to keep various sectors/companies working in Australia.

“Developers have no incentive to encourage infrastructure and services.

“The state governments are obsessed with surpluses and very few infrastructure projects are solely run by government these days, so the problems just grow and compound.

“The old economic thinking just won’t support solutions or innovation here – we need a much more socially democratic economic ethos that are willing to embrace deep change.

“We need political will, commitment and real dialogue about our vision with the whole community and all stakeholders.”

Matt O’Leary 


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