As Australia continues to grapple with one of the century’s greatest health and economic crises concomitantly, our leaders are now faced with the thankless task of determining what facilities, services and jobs should begin to resume ‘normal’ operation - without jeopardising the progress we have made in “flattening” the curve of Covid.
The last few months, have seen the majority of the nation’s workforce forced into isolation, with millions now furloughed or without work, save for those that have been deemed “essential”. While police, emergency and health-care workers are obvious selections, another equally-important industry, also deserves this “essential” designation – the Construction Industry.
Although perhaps because it’s an industry that literally uses the “labour of the hands and the sweat of the brow”, is why some have had cause to question the Government’s reasoning. With an estimated $ 4B dollars being wiped from the Australian economy every week of lockdown however, our policy makers have rightly recognised the economic significance of the powerhouse that is the commercial and residential construction industry.
Indeed, at times like these, construction of hospitals, roads, industrial and residential projects, lie at the heart of both immediate needs and the rescue of a stagnating economy, starved of the ability to work and produce. And given the huge multiplier effect of construction jobs into the broader economy, it becomes starkly clear simply how “essential” Construction can be when employment is threatened, prosperity is decimated and dollars are hard to come by. When a building is built, there is a magnification of economic and job benefits – new jobs are created. Interior designers are brought in and service staff keep the building running in its final built form. The flow on effect is enormous.
Simply put, allowing the “essential” construction-related industries to continue to operate in the current malaise, is a lifeline to a passenger thrown over-board the economic vessel, by a freak storm, that no ship captain could have foreseen.
As so many Australians ponder a post-pandemic world, it would be an error of some significant proportions to allow ourselves to reverse our nation-building aspirations. It would be equally erroneous to step away from our long-held strategies about building our cities and our nation. A well-connected and more liveable city is a productive city. This is also the time to disinhibit some of that frankly-unfounded fear of high-density living, often thinly-disguised by a biased narrative in the media, as an “improvement in our quality of life”. To build is to prosper and to prosper is to take care of our citizens better and with better funded options. Progress is like rowing upstream. To do nothing is to regress and fall back. Many of our friends and neighbours have already recognised the benefits of density, even during this crisis. For instance, countries like Taiwan and cities like Singapore and Hong Kong, with significantly-denser populations than ours, have responded incredibly well to the virus, catering for the needs of their economies, whilst simultaneously dealing with the deleterious effects of the pandemic.
A review of Australia’s response to the virus so far, may well show that density has actually played an enormous role in achieving positive results. As health officials have already acknowledged, denser settings allow stronger messages to be distributed to large populations, in a shorter time frame. As well, density makes emergency services and first- response teams more efficient and effective. Larger cities also allow for a greater collective of educated professionals, in a more highly concentrated area, meaning better doctors, nurses and carers, to be working in more effective and in better facilities and conditions. Density and city-living is in fact our greatest asset, in preventing pandemics such as this one, if it arises in the future and the construction industry is the catalyst for this.