In her 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, writer and activist Jane Jacobs wrote, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
While Jacobs’ book was primarily a critique of 1950s American planning policy, her quote above remains relevant over half a century later.
Around the world, governments, developers and planners are grappling with difficult decisions about how cities should develop. In an age where technology is knocking down barriers to participation and opening up opportunities for collaboration, the best and most progressive cities are those where communities are playing an active role in helping decision-makers make the right decisions.
When you think about it, it’s a no brainer. Design, planning and development in a city’s context cuts across governance, investment, business and stakeholder buy in, and goes to the heart of a city’s identity. Who better to provide pragmatic, user-driven advice on how cities should develop than those riding our trains and trams on a daily basis, driving or cycling on our roads, playing in our parks and shrugging off the daily frustrations that affect most major cities?
This year, AECOM has launched two people-powered, city-wide conversations about the future of both Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne NEXT and Sydney Connected both sought ideas and input from residents, visitors and those with links to the two cities on issues ranging from business growth and new industry development to social diversity, transport links and the emergence of city precincts.
Sydney Connected was launched in partnership with the recent Sydney Design Festival. We received over 500 responses to our online survey, and the results – released to industry late last month – paint a picture of a vibrant and diverse population wanting a similarly vibrant and diverse city.
It comes as no surprise that, as Sydney confronts the growing pains associated with population growth that will see it home to more than 6 million people in coming decades, 65 percent of respondents named ‘seamless transport links’ as critical to the city’s future.
The replacement or upgrade of elements of Sydney’s creaking public transport infrastructure has, of course, been a topic of discussion for policy-makers for some time, and no doubt a sore point for frustrated commuters for even longer.
While this insight isn’t anything new, it’s yet another important call to action. Certainly, the potential of integrated multi-modal public transport networks comprising heavy rail, light rail and buses is enormous; the public transport networks of Hong Kong and Berlin demonstrate how effective a well-designed and integrated network can be.
But Sydney Connected demonstrated community expectations not just in terms of public transport, but in terms of where and how Sydney-siders are living, or will live.
35 percent of respondents think new housing solutions – evident in Sydney’s growing appetite for apartment living – and the development of precincts within and beyond the City of Sydney are critical to the city’s future.
In some ways, such a finding could be seen as the latest nail in the coffin of the great Australian dream of house and land ownership. In others, however, it simply points towards changing tastes and a realisation that, as Sydney’s population grows, vertical communities and apartment developments will offer the 21st century amenities – including transport links – residents and visitors expect.
There are, of course, all sorts of questions surrounding the sustainability of Sydney’s inner-city apartment boom, as well as others of affordability and social cohesion. But we can also see, through building precincts such as Green Square Town Centre in inner-city Sydney and further west in Parramatta, there is enormous potential for diverse and functional communities that are properly planned, properly linked to transport, and able to cater for diverse and ever-changing needs.
Sydney Connected and Melbourne NEXT have proven valuable opportunities for AECOM to engage the community around the necessary steps our two major cities need to take to evolve. It’s surprised us all how passionate many responses have been, and from this passion we’re hoping follows momentum for positive change.
If Sydney is going to provide “something for everybody”, as Jacobs said in 1961, there needs to be ongoing opportunities for communities to have their say, to connect with policy-makers and planners, and to feel they’re contributing to the future planning decisions that will ensure the Harbour City remains inclusive, accessible, adaptable, and above all, connected.
James Rosenwax is Managing Director – Design + Planning, Australia New Zealand.