Split. Connect. (Repeat if Necessary.)

Balancing, more than fitting people, is growing cities’ challenge. Problems don’t come because we are too many. Problems come when some are extremely happy and the rest feel miserable. Just like an RV family vacation: no matter how comfortable the trailer is, you won’t please everyone.

About 55% of us live in cities. By 2050, we’ll be 68%. I have no anxiety disorder. Though 30 years… ATMs, Stents, GPS, mobile phones, Tetris, internet, DNA testing: some wonders of the last 30 years. Not to mention that Elton John got married to a woman. Time passes by fast.

In Sydney, time seems to fly. In London and New York the population will grow by 30%. The Australian city will double it by 2056. But no one is freaking out.

Metropolis of Three Cities

The vision seeks to transform Greater Sydney into a metropolis of three cities: the Western Parkland City, the Central River City, and the Eastern Harbour City. Photo credit: Greater Sydney Commission

I met Paul Jones at the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning. Ph.D., MURP, Masters (Development Geography), and Postgraduate Diploma in Urban Studies. Also, Dr. Jones has 30 years of professional experience in developing sustainable urban management, urban development, and planning solutions in Australia and overseas. (You’ve got the hang of it, Dr. Jones!)

There are four bus networks in Sydney: the Commuter, the NightRide, the Sydney Olympic Park, and the School buses. Photo credit: Transport for New South Wales

A big question was whether the three cities plan is a smart move or not. On the one hand, large, compact cities are economically productive and environment-friendly.

On the other hand, proper crowd management can be hard. The infrastructure must support the massive population. There should be housing, jobs, transit, and health care for everybody. Otherwise, social inequities will arise.

I think is a smart move, answers Dr. Paul Jones. It means we are being more equitable in terms of planning. I think that’s a reasonable move. I’m not sure how long it will take to happen.

The Latte Line

The latte line runs from the airport north-west through Parramatta. The wealthier neighborhoods are in the north and east: white-collar jobs and short travel time. Photo credit: Nexus Lawyers.

In the absence of proper infrastructure, the schism was unavoidable. The high costs of housing in the north part make the rest of the residents’ commute a nightmare. New white-collar jobs in the west and south would be a possible solution. Affordable housing in the north would work, too. Also, improving the transit connectivity would do wonders. But leaving the latte line is not an option. Actually, designing an equitable Sydney means getting rid of any line. No matter how posh its name is.

A Close Up of the Far West

When we think of airport locations, we don’t imagine walkers paradises. For this reason, the most arduous task the GSC will probably face is liveability.

The Sydney airport is located in the suburb of Mascot. The Western Sydney International Airport, located within the suburb of Badgerys Creek, is expected to be complete by December 2026. Photo credit: Sydney Airport

Jobs, affordable housing, parks, schools, hospitals, cafes, public transport, street furniture… Where should the GSC start? I think they are all important. I don’t think you can really do one without the other. You do housing, then you gonna fit ecology. Affordability, transport, connectivity, liveability… What does liveability mean? It’s a big thing. That’s the challenge for the Sydney commission to put it all together.

The effort pays off. Urbanization results in larger cities, which create more quality infrastructure.

30’

The GSC presented the 30 minutes city. According to the project, about 70% of residents should be able to run errands or reach work within 30 minutes.

What does ‘a 30-minutes city’ mean? And why? Dr. Paul Jones is skeptical and probably he’s right.

In a 30-minutes city, neighbors don’t need kangaroo’s large, stretchy tendons to run errands. Walking distances should be done with human anatomy as we all know it. Photo credit: National Geographic

There seems to be an unspoken competition between cities. Which city has the shortest commutes? Melbourne, for instance, aims to create 20-minutes neighborhoods. Living locally will strengthen the local economy. Also, it will cut daily GHG emissions.

The obsession is not exclusively Australian. The NYC 2040 Agenda envisages that the average New Yorker will get to work -by transit- within 45 minutes.

The Metropolis of 3 cities plan includes the creation of great places, which will attract residents, enterprise and investment. Photo credit: Greater Sydney Commission

There’s a difference between Melbourne’s 20 minutes and NYC’s 45. But it’s chalk and cheese when you compare them. Anyway, commute time is a good measure of the city’s equity and its walkability. Short commute time equals high life quality. Well-paying jobs and social infrastructure provide a life with dignity and security to all the residents.

Connectivity

Sydney’s train network covers 178 stations over 8 lines. Photo credit: Transport for New South Wales

2056 is a long way off. Nevertheless, Dr. Jones says the plan is running smoothly. The GSC commissions are doing good things. They are trying to make sure there’s a connection between plans and the implementation. They’ve done plans and they need to be delivered on. As he explains, the environmental study and the strategic plan at the beginning of the process were essential.

Does One Size Fit All?

Metropolis of One Expanded City?

Two aspects of the plan make me think of alternatives. First: time. The GSC presented a 40 years long project. No matter how great the results are, people always hate roadworks. How will the Sydney commission calm down the citizens? ‘We’ll soon have three glowing cities… by 2056’ I prefer the short-term trial and error method. If something isn’t working, you just forget about it and keep trying new things.

Second, what if each of the three new cities become crowded and unbalanced? In that case, today’s solution would be tomorrow’s problem. At this rate, by the year 2078, Sydney would have turned into a metropolis of 206 cities (or so).

I think upward expansion would be a good option. Thus, new residents would be able to enjoy the already existing city center’s delights. In reverse, an outward expansion would be destructive because it would produce more social inequities. This would translate into an increase of municipal costs of providing public services. Finally, an outward expansion would damage the environment because urban development can strain natural resources. Wealthier cities grow vertically. I don’t see why Sydney shouldn’t at least try that recipe.

I travel and write about walkability.

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