Opinion: Time to create cities fit for future

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Lucy Turnbull shares a vision that puts people first when it comes to future urban planning.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Lucy Turnbull shares a vision that puts people first when it comes to future urban planning.

I've been passionate about urbanism and what makes great cities for decades. As an older teenager, that passion was about loving the great buildings of Sydney's CBD. As a city councillor and lord mayor, my passion was for the fabric and infrastructure of our central business district and the services and facilities for city residents.

Now as a grandmother and as chief commissioner, privileged to lead the organisation charged with planning our city's future, it is about the people of Greater Sydney and what sort of city we want for ourselves and our children and grandchildren.

Greater Sydney has reached a “sliding doors” moment. The city's current structure is constraining housing supply and affordability, holding back jobs growth where most of the population lives and has seen infrastructure and services fail to keep up.

The opportunity now, presented by the draft Greater Sydney Region Plan 2056, is to re-balance opportunity for the people of our city, by reshaping it as a metropolis of three unique but connected cities. Taking a strategic view of Greater Sydney's next 40 years, it needs to be a city of great places; places that meet the needs of the people who are at its heart and soul.

Building the human, social and environmental capital that underpins and supports opportunities to pursue careers, education, leisure and live enriched lives is fundamental to what we must do.

The challenge now, having presented the draft region plan to the NSW government, placing it on public exhibition for feedback and commencing a wide-ranging engagement program, is informing councils, industry, business and community groups of what the plan sets out to deliver.

The aim of this draft plan is to take the original three cities vision and turn it into a broad plan based upon objectives, strategies and actions at a regional level. The draft plan sets out 40 objectives across the 10 foundational directions established by the commission.

These objectives are directly supported by actions; the delivery of which will be tracked and their progress reported. Examples include metrics for our 30-minute city, the proportional increase in urban tree canopy, growth in jobs in metropolitan and strategic centres and annual survey of community sentiment towards their city.

This isn't a plan built to sit on a shelf gathering dust – it's an action plan, with key steps under way. We have collaborated closely with the agencies responsible for taking these actions so that there are no surprises or disagreements – we're aligned. 

Our approach will demonstrate the correlation between growth and infrastructure, such as public transport, schools and open space, to allow for timely integration and more effective expenditure on infrastructure by location.

The commission proposes criteria for urban renewal investigation opportunities to include the staging of enabling infrastructure, upgrades or expansions of social infrastructure such as local schools and open space including sport and community facilities. This is the first region plan for Sydney that achieves the “holy grail” of co-ordinated land use planning. It has been prepared in collaboration and consecutively with the Future Transport 2056 strategy by Transport for NSW and the state infrastructure strategy by Infrastructure NSW.

To get back to where I started: where and in what sort of Greater Sydney do we want our children or grandchildren to live? Our 40-year vision for Greater Sydney is about meeting those challenges. A growing Greater Sydney is a city of opportunity. Children growing up in Sydney's west will have university choices on their doorstep, jobs that don't require hours of commuting by car or public transport.

The investment that will bring this change will be attracted by Greater Sydney as a growing, vibrant, confident and successful city – something it always has been and will remain for the foreseeable future.

Lucy Turnbull

Greater Sydney Commissioner