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Australian cities are doing well – their states have been counting on them for decades. The need to accommodate more people is used to justify expansion, but it is the rates, taxes and duties resulting from land transfers and construction that drive the endless development of Melbourne and Sydney in particular. Real estate development is the largest contributor to Victorian and New South Wales government revenues.

For example, the city of Melbourne spatial plan project offers new outskirts to the west and north. It continues the course charted in the post-recession 1990s, when Australian governments focused on building on or digging up our great expanses. The plan doesn’t question the rationale for the growth, nor, perhaps, the deeper implications of the pandemic.

The city the council is understandably keen to attract people back to the centre. The city’s plan is to return to Australia high population growth in the 2000s. However, expectations of a new influx of students, workers and tourists from abroad are based more on hope than on reason.

The drivers of population growth are no longer certain, and we can no longer depend on global mobility at pre-pandemic levels. The birth rate is like this fall in the developed worldInternational online education is improving, and research shows it pandemics will continue while cities encroach on the habitats of many other species.

Meanwhile, there are towers erected during the turbulent years of growth half empty and cracked, poorly ventilated, dependent on central air conditioning and not built for more extreme weather or low energy use. Melbourne and Sydney regeneration projects showcase at Docklands and Barangaroo more bleak and desolate than ever.

Better does not mean bigger

Now is not the time for anyone to announce that their city will be”more and better“Cities don’t have to grow to grow, and sooner or later everyone will have to come to terms with the concept regrowth.

Australia needs to become less dependent on importing skilled workers, students, tourists and materials. We can make better use of local resources and produce much more of what we need here.

Australian cities have a very good composition. They have wonderful cultural scenes. Their biomedical capabilities are among the best in the world. Ours education sector can still be exported online and through existing overseas campuses. The manufacturing sector still have a base to build on and provide much more of the products Australians need. And our renewable energy capacity is unlimited.

We can better support local hospitality and cultural events, and increase intercity and interstate patronage. We can invest in research and development and sustain wealth through innovation and production rather than perpetual consumption of the earth.

Rethinking what we build and why

Adapting to global environmental conditions means rethinking not only what and how we build, but also why. Before earmarking land for even more housing developments, for example, let’s consider that a million houses—10% of Australian homes — were empty on census night last year. Almost 600,000 were in Victoria and New South Wales.

The Prosper Australia think tank has been around for many years demonstrateda shocking amount of vacant housing that is not available for rent. A high vacancy tax – much higher than the Victorian rate of 1% of property value, while NSW still has none for Australian owners – will put many more homes on the market.

The developers’ argument that we should build more because it’s the only way to make housing more affordable repeatedly refuted years of careful research.

Over the past 20 years, tens of thousands of luxury housing units have been added to Melbourne and Sydney’s inner cities, with no reduction in prices across the board. ​​​​​​While prices of high-end units may drop slightly if vacancies increase in this submarket, their developers are keeping a close eye on any drop in profits. At the slightest hint of excess, they just stop building.

If housing affordability is the object of urban sprawl, let’s grasp this nettle: the only way to achieve it is to build affordable housing, it’s that simple. There is more than enough land for residential development within the urban growth.

Recent studies from Prosper shows there are 84,000 undeveloped sites in just nine Australian masterplan estates. This does not include numerous urban reconstruction projects that are already underway. Social housing in these areas should be a focus of urban planning before new land is released.

What about “underdeveloped” urban land?

Further expansion of the inner cities of Melbourne and Sydney may only affect low-lying, flood-prone industrial land long considered unsuitable for residential development. It would be foolish or very expensive to build housing there.

However, these areas are and can still be used for production, and not just for the new niche urban producers that the rank-and-file councils love so much. The old industries that are even now being pushed out of Fishermans Bend in Melbourne and Blackwattle Bay in Sydney can easily coexist with artisan bakeries and coffee roasters.

The imperative to promote sustainable local production is stronger than ever now that pandemic and war have exposed the vulnerability of global supply lines. Our shrinking industrial lands really should be preserved for industry until sea level rise turns them into swamps.

This is not an argument for a decrease in construction activity: there is still a lot of work on the reconstruction of existing buildings. They need to be redressed, better ventilated, opened for passive cooling and adapted to a warming climate.

Ongoing regeneration projects in Melbourne and Sydney need much more attention. Docklands, Darling Harbor and Barangaroo could be of serious benefit interventions. The new Fishermans Bend and Blackwattle Bay developments have already freed up more land than their planners know what to do with.

The future plan of the city will consolidate and develop what the city already has. It is a way to create revenue streams that are environmentally, socially and politically sustainable.

Longer commutes affect the cost of living in big cities more than zoning restrictions


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Citation: The Shrinking Case: Stop Infinite Expansion and Work With What Our Cities Already Have (2022, August 8) Retrieved August 8, 2022, from degrowth-endless-expansion -cities.html

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