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  • Future Hopes: Liveable Cities (Public domain)Source: Public domain
Australian cities are undergoing rapid change. More of us are living in cities than ever before. Experts warn about the urgent necessity to make our cities more liveable and resilient for the future. So, what actions are needed to deal with population influx, new technologies, climate change and sustainability before we get too overwhelmed?
Frank Mathisen and Ildiko Dauda / SBS Radio

21 Sep 2015 - 4:25 PM  UPDATED 28 Sep 2015 - 1:15 PM


Australian cities are undergoing rapid change.

More of us are living in cities than ever before.

Experts warn about the urgent necessity to make our cities more liveable and resilient for the future.

So, what actions are needed to deal with population influx, new technologies, climate change and sustainability before we get too overwhelmed?

Frank Mathisen and Ildiko Dauda finds out what a liveable Australian city will look like in 40 years.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Liveability Ranking and Report August 2015 has named Melbourne as the world's most liveable city.

While Adelaide was fifth, Sydney came seventh and Perth was placed ninth on the list.

Report Editor-in-Chief Jon Copestoke explains the five categories used to determine liveability.

"So we look at stability, that's obviously crime, unrest, threat from terror or warfare. Then we have healthcare, so is the public healthcare sector good, is the private healthcare system good, are people seen by a doctors on time. Then we have cultural environment. Then we have education, the quality of public and private education. And then we have infrastructure which is anything from housing stock, to public transport, the road network and then obviously utilities."

Melbourne's Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is proud of his city's achievement.

"Yes it's quite remarkable to be the world's most liveable for 5 years in a row. It's very tight of course it's point 1 of 1 per cent between us and Vienna and I think about point 1 back to Vancouver. But nevertheless it's a very important accolade and one which we can use quite extensively in marketing both for international students and tourism."

Jon Copestoke says Australian cities rank well because of their relatively low population.

"The cities are midsize so they don't have too many people, too much of population to cope with.  But because they're in developed countries with large expansive space between cities they have a strong infrastructure, their telecommunications and transport infrastructures have to develop more quickly. And as midsize cities they tend to also offer the things that people need to see and do culturally."

However, Australia's mid-size cities are rapidly growing, creating new economic, environmental and sustainability challenges.
Professor Edward Blakely is the Chair of the Future Cities Collaborative at The United States Studies Centre at The University of Sydney.

He says suburban cities are being replaced by high-rise buildings.

"People are moving into larger dwellings that are in apartment buildings maybe they're 30-40-50 levels. So that means the old playground which would sustain a 100 or 200 people have to be rethought. And some of these playgrounds are maybe even in the sky on different levels of the building. And so we're trying to make the Australian city - with our climate which is very good, but our water and other things are very fragile - adapt to this new form of living, including the use of transportation in different ways."

Historically, Australia has been very auto-oriented.

Professor Blakely says cities must start thinking about how to use cars in a different way.

"So the automobile should not be used for transportation to work. But it might be used for transportation for other things after work for shorter tips. And will bring jobs to closer to where people live. These are the programs we're working on now across Australia. And you can see some of the major infrastructure projects going on in Melbourne. Whether improving the rail line and the like."

Award-winning Estonian urbanist Teele Pehk says, a compact city model is the way of the future.

"We need to get away from car centred planning and give more opportunities to more healthier, more sustainable ways of moving around and this kind of compact city model this has its future, and I know that for example Leipzig in Germany they are very much promoting it, this kind of very very local neighbourhood and that you have kind of everything in a very short distance public services, schools, kindergarten for you kids, and shops and or recreational areas. I think that is where we're moving."

Professor Blakely from The Future Cities Collaborative says, Australian cities are implementing some of the European initiatives.

"In Sydney, we're again improving both rail but also creating a city that has more than one centre. Parramatta will be another district centre. And in Brisbane, the attempt there is to use the river in better ways for both transport and to put dwellings along it to make it a spine for better living. So these are planned activities. They are not accidents. They're very carefully thought-out to preserve energy, to increase the amount of work and to make Australian cities more competitive."

Professor Brendan Gleeson is the Director of The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at The University of Melbourne.

He agrees, that we must shift from car-dependency to active forms of transport, like walking or cycling.
"If we can engineer that shift and quickly, it will vastly improve the prospects of greenhouse mitigation. It won't be enough of its own, but there'll be a huge contribution. It will also make our cities more functional and efficient, because if we continue down the road of car-dependency, we're just going to have more congestion, we can't build our way out of congestion. More and more dysfunctionality and all the diseconomy that comes from that model, which has really run its course."

Professor Gleeson says the largest greenhouse emissions come from transport and housing.

"So, we have to do a lot better in reducing emissions from those sectors. And secondly the other major task I guess, the greening necessity and commitments is to prepare our cities for the climate change that is locked in. Our cities are going to be warmer, dryer, places with more extreme heat events and they're going to experience sea level rise, so we need to move urgently to adapt those cities and make them resilient in the face of those changes."

An example of where this action is already happening is the climate adaptation work undertaken by Melbourne City Council.

The council is effectively greening the inner city.
Melbourne's Lord Mayor Robert Doyle says the city has a response plan for extreme climate events.

"Sustainability, our environment I mean we plant an extra 3000 trees every year in the centre of the city. We're tearing up asphalt and turn it into green open space, we're retro fitting buildings for energy efficiency, the new buildings we are building, like the library at the dock in Docklands which is a carbon neutral six star building. So the environmental sustainability of the city I think is very important."

Professor Gleeson says, increasing urban tree coverage is one way of reducing the impact and severity of extreme heat events, but more needs to be done.

"There's an example of one central city government that's already moving on this. But we need a much more widespread initiative and response within our cities on this. And really to some extent, state governments are going to have to lead on this, because still at the moment they have the principal responsibility to managing our cities. Of course, that's not to let the Commonwealth off the hook. It needs to come back to the field if you like and it needs to support the states in managing this kind of threats in the cities."

Professor Gleeson says it looks certain that our national population is going to continue to rise.
He says if this trend continues, we could be on track for a population of 40 million by mid-century.

The United Nation 2014 World Urbanization Prospects report, predicts that by 2050, 93 per cent of Australians will be living in urban areas.

And urban population growth will create a greater need for smart cities.

Professor Blakely from The Future Cities Collaborative believes a smart city means using more technology and science in a creative way.

Sydney currently has several smart technology projects underway, including one at Bondi beach.

"That beach receives millions of visitors both from internal and external. To move the waste from that beach area every day costs millions of dollars. We're instituting a new program where that waste now will be collected underground by using vacuum tubes and pushed underground and then from under  ground compacted, some of them recycled....So can you imagine when you throw your waste around there won't be a garbage can any more. There will be just a tube that sucks it away and next thing you know it's made into some new energy, rather than spending all that money to move it."

New technologies will also provide greater social and economic benefits.

Professor Blakely believes mining, manufacturing and factories will be replaced with knowledge-based industries, which is the new currency.

He says the future is going to be where people create jobs, rather than, jobs being brought to them.

So, how will this highly decentralised networked economy affect liveability?

Professor Blakely explains.

"Now there are possibilities happening in some places where people are working from near home.  So they have relationships that they can build in their own neighbourhood, and their clubs and in their associations. It also helps in a very important way, and that is cultural integration in places like Liverpool in the Sydney region where there're 130 different communities. So the skills of people that we had in one single language is no longer the case. You can use your skill, your language background. It's part of a new economy. So neighbours that used to fear one another are now allies."

However, the creation of smart cities will adversely affect rural Australia.

Professor Blakely says farming industries will only employ a few people, while the extraction industries will only have a fly-in fly-out workforce.

"There will be no future for the very small places. I want to be quite honest. But there will be a future for the intermediate towns. The Tamworths and places like these that will create the living centre, and from there people will work and use the land, using equipment, using robots and things like these. But the old movie rural community is probably gone forever. The link among the smaller communities and major cities are going to be fast-trained."

Norwegian designer Adrian Paulsen from the Oslo School of Architecture says liveable cities encourage citizens to live and work in the same area.

"A liveable city enables a varied group of people to cohabitate, live in the same space, and work together in order to make their lives better. A good city will enable you and not hinder you, it will assist you, and not create barriers to allow you to interact with other people, engage in your community, and live a full life."

Melbourne's Lord Mayor Robert Doyle says, to create a liveable city for the future, we have to plan for tomorrow's needs.

"In a sense we've got to take lessons from the great men of the past, who thought about this as a city for education, they thought about it as a city for employment, they thought about it as a green city, and people like Robert Hoddle who laid down our streets, thought about the infrastructure that people would need in a 150 and 200 years. You know if our predecessors can think that far ahead then surely we can do no less for future generations."

Professor Blakely from The Future Cities Collaborative says, we have the model for city building and the future is very bright.

"The biggest reason is Australian cities are good, clean, liveable places already. Melbourne is known as one of the best cities in the world. Sydney is not that far behind. We have an export in building cities. There're going to be more than a hundred new cities built in China, beyond what they've already built. Several hundred in India. Cities are being built in Malaysia and Indonesia. We have the model for city-building."

On indulgence, Professor Blakely shares his thoughts about what a liveable city will look like in 40 years' time in Australia.

"Boy, I hope I'm around to see it! But let me give you some of my fantasies. In maybe a decade I will have a dial-up my driverless car from my carshare, it will come to my house, take me to an event. The car will disappear. 20 minutes before I want to leave, I'll dial a number, a car will be out the front and take me home.  Also, I will be able to work from any place in the world, which I can do now with all the advance technology on the same telephone that I am using right now."

Professor Gleeson from The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute is on the record of producing a rather fanciful prediction of the Harbour Bridge and The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in 40 years' time.

"Might be covered in solar arrays or it might be doing something more than simply just moving traffic, although of course it moves trains as well. You know it's a way of just trying to ignite some thinking about a more imaginative and necessary ways of using our public infrastructure to respond to resource depletion."

And lastly, what about the MCG in the most liveable city in the world?

"The MCG reference is to the fact that because we've had so much vertical sprawl in Melbourne recently, there is a real problem about where people in rather defenceless, if you like, high rise towers and extreme heat events,  can go to be made safe. So one idea is that they could be moved to football stadiums. But these are just sort of fancies and helping us though to think, underlying this with some more seriousness and urgency about the scale and the form of response that we need to make our cities safe and resilient."