The question of what makes a city great is being asked not just in Australia but around the world, as nations grapple with the fact that five billion people – 60 per cent of the world’s population – will live in urban areas by 2030.
Australia’s growth over the next 50 years will see our population swell to more than 40 million. How we manage that growth – and how we capitalise on the opportunities this growth presents – is up to us.
Global management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company has recently published How to make a city great, a paper which synthesises analysis, case studies and interviews with mayors in more than 30 cities around the world.
The report reveals three things that all cities can do to secure a bright future: achieve smart growth, do more with less, and win support for change.
Achieving smart growth means identifying and nurturing the very best opportunities to expand a city, planning for future demand, integrating environmental thinking and ensuring that all citizens benefit from a city’s prosperity.
Doing more with less requires a city to explore innovative investment partnerships, embrace technology, eliminate duplication and prudently manage expenses.
Winning support for change, while not always easy, demands that every opportunity is seized to forge strong engagement with the local citizens and business community, and that city-level governments deliver results swiftly.
The report reminds us that, whatever their starting positions, cities can change. It points to Singapore’s rise from a colonial harbour to a world-class hub in just a few decades, and New York’s turnaround from its reputation as a crime-riddled relic of history.
Some Australian cities are rising to the challenge. Brisbane City Council has changed the face of a city centre that was plagued by traffic, obsolete industry and urban decay. By establishing strong workable relationships with developers, the community, local business and government agencies, Brisbane has created new memorable destinations and dynamic retail, commercial, entertainment and arts precincts.
Newcastle’s inner-city renewal is being given a turbo-boost with a new light-rail system, while another revitalisation project is seeing bespoke boutiques, galleries and cultural projects pop up in otherwise vacant buildings.
In Canberra, laneway cafes, public art installations and boutique galleries are popping up all over the city, and the ACT Government has outlined five priority projects including The City to the Lake, which will connect the CBD to Lake Burley Griffin.
The Melbourne City Council revitalised its CBD with a policy to encourage adaptive reuse of old industrial buildings into new residential spaces. By changing regulations, providing financial assistance and improving the street level environment, the policy expanded Melbourne’s CBD population by more than 30,000 units in just 15 years.
The challenge for the property and construction industry is to create communities where people want to be. The challenge for government is to ensure our industry is supported with the policies and programs to help us build the communities and cities of the future.