The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has called for renewed action by all governments to increase the productivity, prosperity and liveability of Australia’s cities through new investments.

ASBEC President Ken Maher said that the release of the Australian Government’s long-awaited State of Australian Cities Report highlighted the importance of investing in cities. Being one of the world’s most urbanised countries with fast-growing cities, Australia needs governments to deliver policies that maximise their value and protect the ‘liveability’ the country is known for the world over.

According to Maher, traffic jams and air pollution are not the only consequences of poor urban policy and design. With Australia sitting on a $53 billion per year cost of congestion time bomb, the quality of life of the average commuter will be impacted, and so will productivity. The greatest value can be achieved from infrastructure investment if it is integrated with the planning and design of cities.

ASBEC calls on the Federal Government to provide national leadership and coordination through a Minister for Cities, supporting urban infrastructure investment with state and territory governments delivering projects, planning, and measuring success through clear indicators. Local Government retains their critical link to meet the needs of their communities and deliver best practice design and sustainable local urban environments. A partnership with industry across government will support this policy, providing the expertise to identify best practice and implement it on the ground.

Maher explains that The Urban Design Protocol, Creating Places for People, identifies factors key to good urban design, including engaging and connecting people with each other, and increasing liveability through the design of vibrant spaces that feel safe and are easy to get around. This protocol should be adopted across all spheres of government in Australia.

ASBEC’s Cities Task Group Chair Jonathan Cartledge commented that a record infrastructure spend will ensure a national focus on how to maximise the value of investments in cities. He observed that the policy framework presented an opportunity for policy-makers to achieve multiple objectives across a wide range of portfolios from health and environment to business and transport.

Calling on Governments and the private sector to work together collaboratively to deliver a 30-year Infrastructure Plan for Australia, Cartledge said consistent indicators were also needed to demonstrate the performance of cities across the country, incentivise best practice and support long-term evidence-based policy development.

GBCA: report welcomed but misses mark on climate change

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has also welcomed the release of the report and says that although it highlights the need for strong investment in our cities, it does miss the mark on emphasising the need to make our cities more resilient to climate extremes.

The GBCA’s understanding of the report is that while density is increasing in the inner cities, there is also a continuing lowdensity growth outwards, making commute times longer and urban fringe-dwellers increasingly distant from employment, education and health opportunities.

According to the GBCA’s Chief Operating Officer, Robin Mellon “Increasing density can deliver improved productivity and a great quality of life in Australia’s cities, but it is only through best practice planning and delivery we can ensure that liveability, affordability, productivity, sustainability and health outcomes will be positive.”

The GBCA emphasises that while it is important to highlight issues such as changing demographics and settlement patterns, there is a concern that the report does not mention the urgent need to make our cities more resilient to climate extremes, nor opportunities for reducing emissions or the impact of our cities.

“We must deliver best practice infrastructure planning and new investment, create sustainable places for people through best practice buildings and urban design, and measure and report success,” Mellon says.

“All spheres of government must work together, and with industry, to develop effective, strategic, long-term planning systems.”

Read: Investing in Cities: Prioritising a Cities and Urban Policy Framework for productivity, prosperity and a better standard of living