The Australian population is projected to double in the next 4-5 decades to 48m. Governments are planning for the populations of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to double. They plan to superimpose the equivalent of three new cities each of 1m, totalling 3m, on the existing established inner-city and middle suburbs of populations of 3m, and one new city of 1m on the outer greenfield fringe suburbs of 1m in Melbourne and Sydney. Their populations would increase to over 8m in a relatively short time during the present generation, their children and grandchildren.
Authorities plan to highly densify suburbs with more people and shrink dwelling size in cities for an extra 3-4m people. Four dwellings in two stories are planned for most ¼ acre blocks in leafy suburbs. Minimum back yard size is regulated for family activities, though not for private from the overlooking second story dwellings. Fringe city blocks are only ⅛ acre. Two dwellings may be planned on each.
This densification of Melbourne and Sydney growing to 8m, the size of London now with its smaller area, smaller dwellings and world liveability ranking of 53, would destroy their world-leading liveability, gradually like ‘the boiling frog’. Evidence for this outcome is clear today.
Space is the ultimate luxury. It is what immigrants to Australia have sought and achieved over generations. Densification causes densification of traffic. Densification means loss of spatial liveability. Governments’ intentions are to endeavour to compensate for the loss of spatial liveability by introducing smart city digital technology. This is improbable. It is applicable to brownfield cities that have already lost their liveability like London and are trying to recover some. It is not the solution for cities of peak liveability intending to highly densify and lose their spatial liveability. Proven, reliable smart technology is best applied to greenfield development of smaller cities.
There is a practical, viable alternative to destruction of enviable world leading liveability of Australian cities that has been hard fought to achieve over so many years. It is to build new cities of +1m on a High Speed Rail (HSR) line between the major cities within less than 1 hours commuting time of their CBDs. Existing towns on the line would expand in size. The aim would be to settle 10m of the 24m population increase in the regions to improve liveability, and avoid its loss in the major cities through high densification. Regional cities would be more flexible to accommodate any extra population increase above that projected than the major cities, without loss of liveability.
Some commentators lack the confidence that people will settle in new cities outside the old cities. However, state governments are successfully encouraging settlers in small regional town on fast state rail lines like Ballarat. Push and pull factors would induce settlers to new cities on the HSR line.
The primary push factor would be densification and loss of liveability. Half the population increase is from immigration. Migrants are attracted by Australia’s prosperity and liveability, which they hear of from relatives and friends already here. They want to leave behind their small rented dwellings at home in dense cities. They want to own their own larger home for their family in the Australian suburbs, after first finding their feet in compatriot clusters in the inner suburbs. Densification ends this dream. The consequences would be low immigration and even emigration (brain drain) as densification takes a grip and the story goes home. Prosperity may decline, exacerbating the trend.
High densification, high congestion and great loss of spatial liveability may make high population growth self-correcting.
Densification means smaller dwellings, smaller gardens and less space. Housing densification causes densification of traffic. Densification demands more public transport. Densified driverless electric vehicles are no answer as they cause more congestion by being constantly in motion and never parked.
As cities grow, jobs become further from home and require more travel time. Growing congestion and poor public transport make it more onerous to get to work. Cost of commuting rises. Over-crowding and delays increase stress. People become reluctant to travel into the CBD. New office skyscrapers in CBDs remain largely unoccupied. Businesses migrate to suburban hubs nearer where people live that are unconnected to each other by public transport. Innovation fades rather than grows. This has been the experience in China. The new Chinese policy is to cap the size of cities and build new cities outside the main cities on HSR lines that are connected quickly.
Australia needs to retain the peak liveability it has achieved and to prosper, not decline through lack of innovation as experienced by many large, +8m cities in the world. Australia has developed a world class competitive advantage in attracting many immigrants who add to success by bringing entrepreneurship and innovation that should not be lost. New regional cities of +1m on HSR would be built between the three major east coast city CBDs and connected rapidly in an hour or less to each other and to the CBDs, instead of up to 2 hours morning and evening city commutes. This ‘railroad of innovation’ would enhance prosperity and liveability.
Unsatisfied reasons for international immigration to Australia become push factors for internal immigration and new regional settlement. Settlers would flee densification, poorly serviced fringes and loss of liveability.
There would be at least 6 new cities of +1m, one on each side of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane on the HSR line, all connected and near the sea. Settlers would be attracted to the new cities because:
- the same CBD jobs would be available to them whether they choose to live on major city suburbs and fringes or in new regional cities on the HSR line;
- the cost of housing would be less in new regional cities on the HSR route as construction costs are lower than in city suburbs and fringes;
- new city houses would be bigger than densified dwellings in the cities;
- the commute to CBDs would be in less time from new cities by HSR than from suburbs and fringes;
- commuting costs by HSR from new cities to the CBD would be less than from fringes;
- first class education and spacious, healthy sports fields would be better than in the cities;
- the new cities would become self-sustaining providers of jobs as they grow more rapidly on the HSR than the total population grows as they reach the size of Adelaide or more;
- new cities would appeal for their higher quality of life and lower cost of living:
- new, smart, sustainable, liveable new cities on HSR would be a magnet for settlers.
The new cities would have vibrant centres and more space. New schools would be built with large playgrounds and sports fields for good student health, rather than high-rise schools with little space in inner suburbs of major cities of 8m. Good teachers would be attracted to the new cities and new schools, which would offer an excellent education, much better than average. There would be excellent tertiary education and access to experience at other universities on the HSR line.
New cities in the regions would have a local public transport advantage with HSR over fringe areas. HSR would be quicker than from the fringes to the CBDs and less expensive for commuters. HSR would be self-funding within the construction period through sale of 400,000 dwellings built above tracks in trenches in inner-city suburbs, not financed from higher fares over 40 years of operations. HSR commuter fares would be low because it is self-funded.
Also, governments would subsidise commuter fares from a small increase of city land tax for the unearned benefit of sustained liveability because of lower city population and density as more people live in the regions on HSR lines. This would encourage new city development and commuters on HSR. Cost of commuting from new cities would be less than from fringes. Commuting would be free from the irritation of congestion in inner-cities and fringes.
Housing is central to peoples’ interests. Densification in inner-cities would be higher cost than elsewhere because of the high cost of land, higher cost of construction and the need for demolition of the single dwellings on ¼ acre blocks and their replacement by 4 dwellings as planned by government. The Australian luxury of the largest average sized houses in the world would be destroyed.
Fringe dwellings tend to be larger, but are limited to ⅛ acre of land, which is still expensive in the city. Densification will increase in the fringes. Open green spaces would be less high cost than inner-cities.
New cities would average medium density spread between high-rise/high density, medium density and low density further from the HSR station. Land is much cheaper than inner-cities and fringes. Construction costs are lower than in the major cities. Total housing costs would be much lower. There is no need for demolition as in inner-cities. The more open green spaces would be low cost on cheap land. A better lifestyle and lower cost of living would be available in the new cities than in the major cities, even before high densification really takes hold.
New city concept
The central objective of the new city policy would be to settle 10m or more people of the coming population increase of 24m in the regions rather than in the major cities, while protecting liveability and promoting prosperity through greater connectivity, innovation and employment.
Government should do everything to encourage settlement of population increase in new regional cities on HSR as soon as possible to relieve Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane of the disaster of high densification, loss of liveability, and fading innovation and prosperity when people become less connected as major cities grow rapidly to +8m.
The new cities would all be connected to each other by HSR and to the CBDs much quicker than by road or air. They would grow rapidly to between 1m and 3m residents: not too sprawling and not too dense. They would be planned to be self-sustainable from the start. They would be modern, well planned and designed. Space and public transport would be carefully thought out, and reliable smart city digital technology would be employed to enhance liveability, innovation and prosperity.
Each new city would be located near the sea on HSR to take advantage of favourable climate and amenity, instead of inland, especially as global warming increases temperatures. Water supply for large cities would be assured or be well located for desalination plants without the need for costly long- distance water-pipe delivery.
Provision of excellent education would be a key objective in establishing new cities to attract settlers and to ensure future successful.
New cities would have their own local governments and effective governance principles. The cost of government infrastructure is less in new cities than in inner-city suburbs or city fringes. There would develop inter-city competition at all levels, primarily to attract more settlers and investment to grow. High speed NBN would be connected to regional cities from the beginning. The cities would be more accessible for hospitals and specialist medical treatment, as would the facilities of the major cities. This would extend rural life expectancy. Each city would develop its own vibrant living centre.
The latest sports stadiums and training facilities for inter-city representative teams would be built. Local teams would be supported by the growing city populations and intercity competition.
While there would be inter-city competition, there would also be cooperation on innovation and R and D. Each city would focus on its own science and technology development area and become sufficiently expert to be connected to the international world-class best practice team. It would build the business applications and market them nationally and internationally.
Clearly, new cities on HSR in the regions would be attractive for settlers. The opportunity for sustained liveability and prosperity by building regional cities on HSR instead of allowing gradual, avoidable decline of the largest cities is viable and very attractive. The new cities would be attractive to new settlers. It would be a solution supported to their advantage by those living in the main cities. The whole population would experience a higher quality of life and higher standard of living. Innovation and prosperity would grow. Supposed unattractiveness of new cities is not a reason for promoting densification.
Australia would continue its competitive advantage in immigration where migrants bring aspiration, skills, high tech knowledge and entrepreneurship that adds to Australia’s prosperity. They create work and attract foreign investment. They contribute to the reason for and to building HSR.
Australia can continue its world leading liveability and prosperity while growing its population. Densification is unnecessary.