Australia’s Urban Future Needs Better Planning

Australia’s largest cities are not preparing well for rapid population growth as the growing trend towards urbanisation continues unabated suggests a new report examining the long-term urban plans for Adelaide and Sydney.

In fact, the expert report outlines how two of Australia’s leading strategic urban plans will actually negatively affect the long-term social and health issues of both cities.

In-depth assessments of the Thirty Year Plan for Greater Adelaide 2017 (TYPGA)  found it is not doing enough to address social and health issues due to a bias towards economic progress, while New South Wales Long Term Transport Master Plan 2012 (NSWLTMP) has a narrow focus on improving transport rather than raising social determinants of health.

With the world’s urban population having risen almost six-fold, from 751 million to more than 4.2 billion since 1950, and is set to rise to over 6 billion in the coming decades, better planning is essential to ensuring the long-term liveability of cities. Unfortunately, Australia’s urban planners seem to have narrowly focussed on inner cities rather than the ever-increasing sprawl they also like to promote.

“The new urban form and liveability ambitions of the Adelaide plan have the potential to support a range of important socio-economic factors,” says

Professor Fran Baum, director of the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University says the emphasis on increasing liveability as a means of enhancing global image can see public infrastructure investments diverted away from outer suburbs towards more affluent suburbs with the best global connections.

“This trend will increase health inequities in the long term,” she says.

Co-lead author Dr Michael McGreevy, who has an urban planning background, says the NSW plan’s goal of creating a polycentric city connected by a networked public transport system has the potential to improve health, healthy equity and social inclusion.

Unfortunately, he says there is a focus on more direct investments into infrastructure to facilitate car travel over other modes of transport which makes things worse.

“In particular, investing in roads, particularly urban freeways, reduces walking, cycling and public transport use and increases average vehicle kilometres travelled which leads to more pollution, more road trauma, more time spent in cars, less physical activity and poorer population health.

Professor Baum urged policy-makers to take a fresh look at urban planning.

“Outer suburbs, which are disproportionally populated by people who are less well-off, have worse health status and would benefit most from more ‘liveable’ suburbs, but are not often afforded the same attention or potential resources investments into liveability.”

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