Opinion: It's Time To Tackle Urban Sprawl


By Anthony Venturini, Arcadis

We’re pretty proud of our cities in Australia. Locked to the coastal fringes, we boast some of the best views, most comfortable weather and a strong positive approach to life that makes Australia such a desirable place to live.

So, why aren’t our cities ranked the top in the world for sustainability? While there is no one answer, urban sprawl is a huge factor.

Why does this have such a large impact? The answer is a very intricate flow-on effect. When you look at our Australian cities, more people want homes, so more people start to buy.

Housing prices increase as more people buy, so those who can’t afford to live close to the centre, spread further and further out. Yet, those people still need to work. Our travel times increase, our work-life balance takes a huge hit and our overall happiness drops. We are then at risk of developing a disparate, travel-weary and un-happy workforce.

Unlike Europe or Asia, Australian cities have always had easy, cheap access to land and while that was an advantage for decades, it’s now one of our biggest problems. For far too long we’ve relied on constant sub dividing on our city fringes for affordable homes on quarter acre blocks that are absolutely dependent on cars or massive spending on new roads, schools and hospitals.

Aerial view of suburbs surrounding Perth WA, with Perth in the background.

If you look at Arcadis’ 2016 Global Sustainable Cities Index , the cities that topped it globally all had one thing in common: an integrated, green and ‘smart city’ approach to planning and development.

Zurich, Singapore, Dubai and Seoul are all thriving cities with leading markets, however, they don’t have the same issues some of our cities have. They understand sustainability isn’t simply being green, instead it’s about balancing the immediate needs of the population without compromising the needs of tomorrow.

Our cities score highly on ‘liveability’ because of our strong tendencies for art and culture, but they aren’t performing as highly as they could on sustainability.

Now, addressing urban sprawl is not easy. It requires a fundamental shift in the way we think about infrastructure planning – put people at the heart of your city’s planning, not what infrastructure you think you need.

Zurich is a great example of where public sector infrastructure strategies are driving business, clean power, energy efficiency, affordable housing and education.

Zurich skyline

To make this work, urban spaces are focusing on high to medium density living that has seamless transport weaving it all together. We’re talking about contextual-driven cities – cities that connect to their people.

Closer to home, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are all trying to tackle urban sprawl by re-defining their CBDs to include higher density and develop mobility-enhanced spaces, however, once you’re outside the CBD, the sprawl takes over.

This is where families already live with great access to schools, retail and transport, but expanding those benefits to more people often hit the hurdles of ‘not in my backyard’ or vested interests so that these expensive, valuable assets are not being shared more broadly-and yes sustainably.

The fix won’t be easy, nor while it be quick. It will take a united and consistent effort from industry, government, and a city’s biggest stakeholders – the people - to drive real change.

But we have to do it. We already have some of the world’s most liveable cities, it’s time we had some of the most sustainable too.



Anthony Venturini is the Managing Director of Buildings & Urban Development at Arcadis. He is accountable for the performance, collaboration and sustainable growth of designers and consultants who focus on Buildings, Urban Development and Water projects in the Australia Pacific Region for Arcadis.


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