Australian Major Cities in Perspective


London and New York, with populations of 8m today, are not good models for Sydney and Melbourne populations planned to grow to +8m.

There are great costs attached to Sydney and Melbourne growing to 8m. It means higher densification of middle suburbs replacing single family homes and loss of lifestyle and spatial liveability; more congestion; more overcrowding. There are huge financial costs of renewing and enlarging utilities like sewage and water supply in built-up areas and expanding public transport.

New greenfield cities of 1-3m can be built at less cost in the regions on the Melbourne/ Sydney/ Brisbane High Speed Rail line. A large growing population can be accommodated in new cities in the regions without disturbing the major cities.

The UK and USA are good models of population distribution in the regions for Australia, not London and New York for its cities.


The Australian population is projected to double from 25m to 50m in the next 5 decades within the lifetime of half the present population. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are projected to double in size in accord with government policy and planning. This is very rapid population growth. Government authorities hold out London and New York as ideal models for the future of Melbourne and Sydney.

London has a population now of 8m. It is the only city of 8m in the UK in a total population of 60m. It is only about 13% of the total. The second biggest city is Birmingham with 1.1m. Most people live in the regions. The total area of the UK is about the size of Victoria. It is much more densely populated than Australia. It has a good railway system.

London has an excellent public transport system of underground railways (the “Tube”), district line suburban railways, buses, and black taxis. The London metropolitan area is about half the size of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and its population is denser. It is still highly congested with an average traffic speed of 10mph. London introduced a congestion charge for vehicles entering the inner city. At the same time, it increased the bus fleet by 25% to manage the increase in public transport use.

London was a large city when railway technology was introduced in 1830 with building of the Liverpool to Manchester passenger railway, the first in the world. As a result, all long-distance railway terminals, like Paddington, Kings Cross and Victoria, were built outside the London CBD. In 1863, over 150 years ago, the first underground railway was built by pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. It was worked by cheap navvies using ‘cut and cover’ methods to break the horse and cart congestion in London then. Eventually, the Tube connected all the major terminals and the CBD.

After WW2 in 1954, London scrapped its extensive tram system and replaced it with diesel buses which were free to evacuate people out of the city in a crisis. Sydney also scrapped its trams in the 1950s. Melbourne retained them and extended its system. Today London and Sydney experience bus congestion and poor air quality. London is about to apply a pollution charge to motor-vehicles entering the inner city.

New York is the only city in America with a population of 8m, which is 2.4% of the 330m total population. The second biggest city is Los Angeles with a metropolitan population of 4m, though it sprawls to about 12m. The third is Chicago with 2.7m (the size of Brisbane today). America is the same overall area as Australia. It is more densely populated than Australia.

USA and UK are countries of many “Ballarats” (small towns). There are no other countries with high density cities of 8m in the western world. Australia is planning two of them, a bipolar arrangement, plus 4.5m in Brisbane in a vast country of only 50m people. In 5 decades, Australia may have two cities of maybe 10m plus one of 4.5m making 24.5m or close to 50% of its projected population living in mega-cities. Australia would have high urbanisation and low regional density, the opposite of the UK and the US. If Melbourne and Sydney grow to 8-10m, there will be high urbanisation and high city density with relatively empty regions.

Railway technology was introduced to Australia at a time when Melbourne and Sydney began to grow. Railway terminals were located within the CBDs. Limited underground railways were built much later. Suburban rail networks met the needs of populations up to 2-3m. At 5m, the two major cities are lacking adequate public transport and are stressfully road congested with a smaller population than London spread over a larger area. The average size of Australian houses is twice that of the UK including London. There are many dense ’20-minute neighbourhoods’ in London but the cold wet climate means that few people walk when they have excellent public transport nearby.

Spending on public transport has not kept up with rapid population growth of Melbourne and Sydney in the previous 50 to 60 years as more was spent on higher wages, higher welfare and higher regulation (more public service regulators). It is unlikely that Australian spending on public transport systems can catch up in the next 50 years and achieve anything like London’s which was built less expensively over 150 years. This would be especially so, if the lower average rate of real GDP growth since the GFC continued and became extended long-term.

High wages, high welfare and high regulation would become unsustainable and may need to be moderated. This might be necessary, even if pre-GFC higher average real growth were restored, in order to spend more on catching-up and building public transport systems as good as London’s with the intension of avoiding overcrowding, higher congestion and lower liveability.

Even if excellent public transport systems were built for the two largest, more highly densified cities with populations growing to +8m, liveability would undoubtably decline from the present top 10 world ranking of Melbourne and Sydney to the mid-50s ranking of London and New York today.

The cost to government of doubling utilities would be enormous, in addition to extra public transport costs. Existing utilities do not have enough capacity for 8m. Cost of renewing old existing sewage and water reticulation systems would be in addition to doubling them through established suburbs and inner-city areas. Disruption would be great. The cost of more hospitals and high-rise schools in built-up areas on high-priced land is greater in the major cities. There is little scope for more roads for double the vehicular traffic in leu of better public transport services. Higher densification of cities reduces the established special quality of life, house size and low-density spatial liveability that Australians have achieved and prize. London and New York are not the models on which to base development of Australian cities.

Australia is extraordinary. Its population is growing strongly. There is plenty of room to build new cities of 1 to 3m along the coast in the regions around the major cities where people would prefer to live and there is ample water supply. As one city reached its designed size, another would be started on the HSR line. Many new cities could be built, and a much larger population could be settled in the regions without disturbing the major cities. They would be connected by High Speed Rail and Fast Freight Rail along the north and south trade route that would link all the new and old cities along the east coast in short commuting times. Lower fares and freight rates would provide huge productivity improvement.

Government policy of building fast rail (not High Speed Rail) using upgraded existing tracks to nearby towns and small cities will relieve major cities of a couple of hundred thousand new residents in the medium-term. This supports the policy of growing Melbourne and Sydney to +8m, as it would have little effect on reducing their total growth. It would be an interim measure until big new cities can be started in the regions on HSR which would distribute the large population increase and limit major city over-growth, higher densification and greater congestion to which people are already objecting.


New greenfield cities would be much lower in cost to build in the country than for the same numbers in the old cities, saving hundreds of billions of dollars. Many jobs would be created in the regions. New cities would have their own excellent public transport systems from the start. They would be highly attractive to new settlers and have much lower cost of living. Quality of life and liveability would be greater than in highly densified, overcrowded and congested old cities of 8m. Please see “New Innovative Cities in an Australian Mega-region” on web site

Side benefits would be more affordable housing; lower co₂ production by fossil fuel powered interstate cars, trucks and semi-trailers, trains and planes to meet Paris obligations; stimulation of the economy back to higher growth and more job creation in regions; greater generation of innovation as many more people are brought together readily by HSR to meet and share ideas; and greatly improved productivity and increased international competitiveness would be achieved.

More than 10m of the projected 25m population increase who would clog the major cities can be accommodated in new regional cities at lower cost to government and themselves. Australia would design its own population, settlement strategy and new cities. Huge costs would be saved. High wages and high welfare would be sustained. Prosperity and liveability would be increased.


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