5 Apr 2016

29 March 2016
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Everyone is talking about cities, but it’s time to start developing strategies that tackle our great urban challenges – and to do it now, says chief economist of Urbis, Nicki Hutley.

Hutley has been confirmed among the strong line-up of speakers at The Property Congress in October, and will be exploring how we build cities for generations that don’t yet exist.

“We hear a lot of buzzwords and big picture ideas being bandied about – words like agile, resilient, sustainable, liveable and innovative,” Hutley says.

We need to drill down to strategies that bring these ideas to life by examining the economic, environmental and social outcomes and implications for our cities.

“But we need to drill down to strategies that bring these ideas to life by examining the economic, environmental and social outcomes and implications for our cities.”

For example, no one would disagree on the importance of investment in infrastructure, she says.

“But what do we mean by infrastructure? We keep talking about transport, but the United Kingdom is testing driverless cars which will be on the roads in 2017.”

While our driverless future faces a few hurdles, it is not far away, Hutley says, and when it arrives, it will have a dramatic impact on the way we use our roads.

“We always underestimate the pace of change – and this makes it very difficult when planning our cities.”

Hutley points to other trends – from collaborative consumption to teleworking – that have had a seismic impact on how we build.

“If we collate all the technological change over the last decade, the biggest message we’ve got is that we need less space than we did 20 or 50 years earlier. Offices are smaller because people are hot-desking and teleworking. Virtual shops are shrinking the retail footprint. We are starting to look at higher density schools, and the first high-rise schools aren’t far off. Hospitals and aged care facilities take up a lot of space too, and we need more efficient services to help people stay in their homes for longer.

Crowding more people into our cities is more sustainable but we also need to think about how we maintain their liveability.

“Crowding more people into our cities is more sustainable – both environmentally and economically – but we also need to think about how we maintain their liveability. Can we still afford the green spaces? Can we afford not to have them? There are economic consequences for each decision we make.”

Of course some forecasts never come true, and Hutley points to the bold prediction from last century that we’d soon be building houses without kitchens because we’d no longer need to cook.

Hutley says this is a “good example of how living through great technological and social changes means we don’t necessarily have a clear path forward for what our societies and cities will look like in 50 years. This makes it very hard for us to plan.”

It’s a genuine challenge for policy makers, and Hutley is clear there is no silver bullet.

“But we need to look at real options and ask ourselves whether we should predicate our investments today on the trends of the last 10 years. What are the things we see as potential game changers? What do they mean in terms of the economy, environment and society? And when is the best time to invest? It’s important not to invest too early – nor too late.

The final big challenge for our cities – and certainly for Sydney and Melbourne – is how to provide employment, education and recreation opportunities for everyone, whether they live in Parramatta or Picton, Melton or Maribyrnong.

 

For far too long, our view has been that the heart and soul of our city is the centre, but this needs to extend much further if our cities are to be sustainable.

“For far too long, our view has been that the heart and soul of our city is the centre, but this needs to extend much further if our cities are to be sustainable – and we need to plan for this now.”

Hutley says we need investment in the second CBDs, such as Parramatta, and for a mind-shift to occur. “We have to stop thinking ‘we are here and they are out there’,” Hutley adds.

Decisions such as moving the Powerhouse museum to Parramatta is a sensible one, she argues, as it “send the right signals to the market that governments are spreading investment right across the city. This way we won’t end up with pockets of privilege.

“The property industry needs to be thinking about all these trends, and looking at their design through the lens of social, economic and environmental sustainability.

“Of course, all this is very easy to talk about, but a lot harder to do,” she concludes.

The Property Congress will be held at Hamilton Island from 20-22 October 2016. Nicki Hutley will be exploring the future of our cities with a panel including Agneta Persson, Global Director Future Cities – WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff Sweden, Lara Poloni, Chief Executive Australia and New Zealand, AECOM, Graham Bradley AM, Chairman Stockland and Chairman, Infrastructure NSW, Prof Greg Clark CBE, Global Advisor and Chairman, The Business of Cities and Moderated by Holly Ransom, CEO, Emergent Solutions. Book your tickets today.

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