There is currently a debate going on in our cities on the need for population growth which raises the question; is this good for us?
As our cities evolve and develop so rapidly, the likes of hyper-growth, globalisation and urbanisation produce implications on space scarcity and put immense strain on our current infrastructure, demand for housing and environment.
Yet through rocks come diamonds and with these challenges come opportunities to revise the way our cities take form, which can result in a more sustainable urban present and future.
To gain a greater understanding behind how this growth will affect our cities and why this debate is so crucial, The Urban Developer sat down with James Rosenwax, Market Sector Director for Cities at AECOM, Australia and New Zealand.
For a brief context on urbanisation and how it's potentially going to effect the planet, see the short clip below.
I recall back to the NSW Premier Bob Carr declaring in 2000 ‘that Sydney is full’ and in turn locked up large areas of land to prevent more development and investment.
‘Sydney is Full’ became his mantra and saw him hold office for ten years - the longest continuously serving premier of any state.
Late in 2016, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches; the community marched on the main street protesting changes to zoning laws which will bring an increase in density to Mona Vale town centre.
The Council has subsequently overturned the draft plan in the face of this community pressure about population growth in this area.
I attended the rally as an observer, and the anecdotal sentiment was that ‘we do not want change or growth in this area’ – ‘it is not why we moved here’.
In my experience, this sentiment is not uncommon in many areas of Sydney, and this has forced me to articulate the proposition for 'city growth’.
A debate about growth is needed, particularly when you consider Australia has the third-highest population growth rate of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (
OECD) countries (between 2005 and 2013), almost double that of the UK.
Equally, both Sydney and Melbourne’s population is growing faster than expected and with Sydney reaching a momentous 5 million in March this year – both of these cities are in the midst of a period of hypergrowth.
Sydney is currently adding 85,000 people per year, which is well above its historical average of 55,000.
This growth is being driven by economic fundamentals, globalisation and the Australian Government’s immigration policy settings.
Urbanisation and rapid population growth drives demand for housing, transport and social infrastructure, places pressure on the environment, challenges with employment rates and economic growth.
However, while these impacts appear negative at face value, it is not without this growth that we can fund the necessary upgrades to allow our cities to keep pace and remain competitive with highly connected global city networks - all competing for a limited pool of talent and investment.
Having a growing economy and city can counteract any negative impacts these bring.
When I asked a learned colleague in London, Mr Chris Choa, why do Cities have to grow? His response resonated well with me.'James, if we are not growing, we are going backwards’.
In 2015 Japan’s population started to decline. With its ageing population and low birth rate, the population has started to shrink.
How is this impacting Japan? With the Prime Minister focused on tackling the issue, would he bother if it was not a bad thing?
For one, without population growth in Japan, there are not enough employees to provide the work the ageing population requires, and fuel the currently contracting economy. As a major trading partner to global economies how could this affect the wider world?
In the case of Sydney, to adapt and change and invest at the pace that is required to stay in the game during the 4th Industrial Revolution, we require the increasing population.
An increasing population will assist in driving the activity to fund the huge investment necessary to transform our city for the future.
To put this in context, we had the luxury of 229 years to deliver the infrastructure necessary for our current population, and now are facing the challenge of delivering a new generation of infrastructure for the same population again over the next 40 years?
Game changing nation building infrastructure like East Coast High Speed Rail simply don’t stack up with our current population.
Sydney’s new metro system, new stadiums, interconnected parklands,cultural facilities, and Second Airport are all being funded by the future needs of our new Western City and its’ burgeoning population.
If our city stagnated, then these huge pieces of infrastructure that make our life more liveable and prosperous would not come to fruition.
And growth doesn't just bring infrastructure enhancements, as I observe my city, I thrive on the new ideas that come from increased competition. Think of the old milk bar outcompeted by a hipster cafe serving nitrogen infused coffee; I get a thrill from this, equally think of the ubiquitous chinese restaurant replaced by the Asian Salad restaurant offering curated cooking classes on top of healthy eating.
These examples of progress from increased competition may not appeal to you, but I am sure that you can think of an example of growth and progress that brightens your day.
Australian cities have long been criticised for lacking social and transport infrastructure as compared to other global cities. Our city infrastructure is straining under the pressure from our current population levels, so how can we fund what we need today if we can’t rely on population growth to fuel future demand for transformational technologies and city shaping initiatives?
Reflecting on history, the 1st Industrial Revolution signified a game changing technological advancement, and as we now enter the fourth Revolution we see seismic progress that provides a platform for a new way of life. It is this ‘way of life’ that I see provides both the greatest opportunities and challenges for us.
Humans, especially those attracted to global cities, are there seeking opportunity, they thrive on development and want to make their mark.
Would we end up with a mediocre society if we don’t encourage growth? Is that the reality of stagnation?
Progress is in our DNA, and it feels unmodern, even un-Australian, to discourage advancement.
leads his team across Australia and New Zealand as the Market Sector Director – Cities. His philosophy is rooted in his desire to reframe the questions arising when solving the most complex challenges faced by our urban metropolises. Efficient transport, equitable access to essential infrastructure, governance and collaboration, resilience, place and connectivity are his current focus areas when optimising urban environments.